‘Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation’, sniffed the anti-conformist Oscar Wilde. Today we too prize individuality and originality almost above everything else. We lionise the solitary genius or the promethean hero who overcomes all the odds to force their unique vision on the world. We fetishize the unique, the one-off – in art and music, politics and every aspect of our lives.
But this cult of the original is very recent in human history, and a minority one at that. Even today most cultures don’t share it. It also happens to be very one-eyed: it’s increasingly clear that much of our success as a species stems from the heartily unoriginal, and much of our lives as individuals depends on learning or stealing ideas from others. We are Homo mimicus.
Mark Earls will explore the lie of originality in all its aspects and show the value of ‘social learning’ (copying, to you and me) to help us put unoriginality back in its rightful place. And of course most of what he says will be other people’s ideas.
This Secular Sermon took place at Conway Hall on 9 September 2012.