FLORIDA, June 4, 2012 — The Vatican. Multiculturalism. Ayn Rand. The Vietnam War. Do these four very different, but similarly controversial subjects have anything at all to do with lateral thinking?
In this third and final part of my interview with Australian cognitive scientist Michael Hewitt-Gleeson, co-founder of the internationally renowned School of Thinking, we shall find out.
Joseph F. Cotto: In the Vatican, there are new scandals unfolding about a possible international money laundering scheme. Things like this remind me that the separation of church and state is an essential component in any free society. What are your thoughts on the optimal relationship between business and government?
Dr. Michael Hewitt-Gleeson: I’m writing a novel called The Vatican which is a story about its infamous libido dominandi, its insatiable lust for power. Think The West Wing meets The Borgias where power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is secrecy and blackmail, power and survival, sex and rape, bribery and murder contrasted with brilliance, bravery, humanity and love.
The story is set in the near future in Rome in Vatican City - where the Papal office and Roman Curia are located - during the fictional Papacies of Innocent XIV and John XXIV. The drama is the classic timeless and relentless struggle of good and evil. It’s gone on for 2000 years and shows no sign of petering out (bad pun!).
Cotto: Multiculturalism is spreading across the Western world, including Anglocentric Australia, like wildfire. This has led to not only language barriers, but tremendous religious and ethnic conflicts. What is the lateral thinker’s approach to this volatile subject?
Gleeson: I’m in Australia and I don’t see the problem is as you say it is. Notions of “spreading like wildfire” are not the way we experience it here. I suppose you could say that Australia was uni-cultural prior to Western settlement in the 17th century (as were the Americas) but since then it has been a long and relatively peaceful journey of increasing multi-culturalism.
Have there been issues to deal with? Yes, of course. But there have been no multicultural civil wars, no uprisings, no revolutions, no coups and no assassinations. My personal experience of growing up with Italians in the 50s (pasta and espressos), Vietnamese in the 80s (spring rolls and incense) and now Chinese and Indians (gadgets and Bollywood) has made my own life far richer and more interesting. Perhaps others have had a different experience.
Cotto: Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, has been newly resurgent in recent years. As with lateral thinking, it places much emphasis on reality rather than blind supposition. However, it is also fervently Aristotelean and commonly interpreted as an ideology. What are your opinions on both Objectivism and Rand’s legacy?
Dr. Gleeson: There is always the problem of the book and the cult.
Many cultural artifacts like a book or a movie or even music can become so popular that they become fads, movements or even ideologies and cults. Ayn Rand’s books I once enjoyed and also that of her protege, Nathaniel Brandon, whose work I enjoyed even more. I have witnessed the Objectivist cult in America and elsewhere. It happens.
It may even be happening to Lateral Thinking where some of Edward de Bono’s followers are starting to behave like zombies. But it’s not surprising. The Beatles had that effect on some. Jazz maestro, John Coltrane, has been sainted by some and his music made into a cult by others. Even movies like Rocky Horror and The Sound of Music have produced cult-like followings. And, of course, a range of books like Mao’s Little Red Book, The Book of Mormon and Scientology etc etc have produced the biggest cults of all.
Some cults are fun others are not. It’s important to be able to discriminate between them. Especially where children are concerned.
Cotto: Now that our discussion is at its end, many readers are probably wondering exactly how it was that you came to be a professional thinker. What in your life led to not only opening the School of Thinking, but promoting lateral thinking as an alternative to the status quo?
Gleeson: My experience as a young 22 year-old national-service soldier on expectantly returning to the bosom of my country after my tour of duty in Vietnam was the motivation for starting SOT. The cognitive dissonance I experienced was shocking to me and to other Viet vets I’ve discussed this with.
We thought, like our fathers were welcomed home from WWII, that we would also be welcomed home. The rejection from family, friends and fellow Australians was such an unexpected ambush that many of us had to find ways to process the disappointment, anger and betrayal. We felt we had been deeply used and abused. It was a difficult time for all and in my own case I wanted to do something about it.
I decided that if young people could be taught to think for themselves that, in the future, they might be less likely to be manipulated by Big Government, Big religion, Big Business and Big Media so I took it on as a mission. I was able to use many of the skills that I learnt in the military and it has been largely a positive, constructive and peaceful way for me to divert my energies, emotions and lifetime. It may have been a little subversive, too.
If formulating and promoting a scientific discipline for thinking out of the box is subversive, then I would have to agree.
From discussing the ancient Greek origins of Western philosophy to how contemporary politics might be defined in a manner beyond left and right, many complex and controversial matters have been covered over the last few days.
A refreshing change from yet more of the punditocracy’s ramblings about the John Edwards trial or Wisconsin’s gubernatorial recall, to be sure.
I do hope that lateral thinking gains popular traction over the next several decades. It already has in the worlds of business and government, and if it is good enough for these settings, then one can only imagine what might happen if it were taught in grade schools and colleges as an academic subject.
A future that bright may just turn the box into a lyceum.
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