Dangerous Thinking

Apparently, ideas are dangerous.

In a way it sort of makes sense; an idea is, essentially, a plan or model for doing something. If that plan or model is developed and then carried out, it could...ahem...upset people, from the grey shades too frightened of change to even consider it to the people who have vested interests in resisting certain changes. And ideas are intangible, so (the line of reasoning goes) you can't kill them/evict them/whatever the slogan is at the moment.

"Books, pamphlets, newspapers, plays
are burned"
Pardon my cynicism and my bad language, but bollocks to that. (Actually, that's probably an insult to bollocks.) Ideas can and will die; people are silenced or killed, or they simply change their minds. Books, pamphlets, newspapers, plays are burned, locked away, or forgotten; people, too, forget, as do ages. Music dies and disintegrates. Art fades. Maybe some future generations happen to chance upon those ideas, but few seriously revive them. They don't gain new life, they become zombies. When it comes to the immortality of ideas, I am very, very pessimistic.

And people regard ideas, those abstract things, as property! What else is intellectual property? What else is copyright but people saying "I own the rights to these particular ideas"? Hell, even if our capitalist society can't put a price on ideas (which it's very good at doing, just like it's good at putting a price on everything), it can certainly attribute them to someone or something (yes, I am aware that this practice has been going on for longer than capitalism). To me, it makes less sense to say that this idea was Socrates's or that idea was Plato's than perhaps it does to other people; chances are other people had those ideas before Socrates or Plato, but didn't write them down, and other people have entertained the same thoughts Socrates and Plato had, independently of knowing that Socrates and Plato actually thought about theses things.

Some of you may be arguing with me now. Some of you may regard me as foolish or quick to jump to conclusions. Those are fair charges and I'm happy to defend myself against them as best I can. They're certainly not charges hurt by some of my ranting; I'm not good at following where others lead, preferring to strike out on my own path and entertain ideas unlike those I see. I'm sure if I do enough questioning I'll get on the road to truth.

And this...well, this is why I get scared when I hear people shriek about the "dangerous idea". As if an abstract little thing that dies with its last record could be dangerous on its own! An idea put into practice is dangerous, not one that's merely discussed and debated. You see, the road of the questioner is not a nice road to take; it's often very difficult and confusing and your only reward is a sometimes painful honesty, compared with the relative ignorance and bliss of those who take a different route. You meet a lot of terrible ideas along the way, and sometimes you have to entertain them to see just where the line between good and bad is.

And people don't like that. People get ideas about what's good and bad drilled into them from a very young age and they don't really like to think critically about those ideas, lest they find something they don't like, lest they find holes in their logic and actually have to work on them. So, of course, any idea they dislike or which they are told they should dislike is automatically a bad idea, a dangerous idea, and one that cannot even be thought about. Apparently this idea is so dangerous that even discussing it can result in its corrupting the surrounding area, or so those people say. Debating it, or even touching on it, is tantamount to endorsing it.

I say that's bullshit. I say that ideas should be brought out into the open and discussed, even if you don't believe them, even if you virulently disagree with them, because it's good practice for discussing and defending ideas you actually do agree with. I say that the same should go for bad or wrong ideas - because if they're so bad and so wrong, they can be easily rejected. And I say this because every idea needs questioning in order to be refined and perhaps eventually tossed aside. Yeah, sure you can live your life never thinking seriously; you can follow the crowd and shy away from seriously doubting things. Maybe you took the right route, or at least one that is less wrong. But of all the decisions I've made - and I regret many of them - the decision to look beyond the surface of this world, to probe my own thoughts and to try and hammer out a truthful model of how I should live, no matter how miserable it might make me, is one of the few I look back on with pride and a sense of justification.

And to try and scrape beyond that surface, guess what you need to do? Question orthodox opinions. Question heterodox opinions. Question even when you need to question your most cherished beliefs. That doesn't lead you into the brightest of places, and it leads you to what some might call those dangerous thoughts, those thoughts that are perhaps strange and more than a little cruel, those thoughts that people think should be locked up in the darkest of dark mental vaults with the key thrown away. And why? To stop anyone from putting them into practice.

Excuse me for asking, but isn't that a bit extreme? This is like me being too scared to go outside in case I get run over. Yes, maybe I'll never be run over, but I'll never see any places other than my own dwelling. I'll never taste the outside, never stroll in a park, never spend hours wandering around a bookshop. It's worth it for a little risk, don't you think? And it's the same with dangerous ideas - you meet them, you see what's wrong with them and so you don't actually carry them out, or you hopefully have people around you who can stop you from putting them into action. And for that price you step into a whole new world of trying to make the best universe-model you can, of trying to live the best you can rather and of stumbling a little less aimlessly through life.

I can't tell you that doing that is worth it, not when I'm as young as I am. I can tell you that it has made my life a little more worthwhile and that it has given me greater understanding and appreciation of the world we live in. I find it difficult, sometimes, to take pleasure in this world, and trying to figure it out at least gives me a little solace and grounding that perhaps we all could benefit from - if we admitted it to ourselves. Perhaps a little danger is a good thing.