Categories: "Fundamental Rights"

Taming the Beast

Taming the Beast

Sometimes you know a bad idea without thinking too hard about it:

  • Let's get drunk and then go whitewater rafting, at night.
  • I've tried other drugs and they didn't hurt me . . .
  • I can stop anytime.
  • Crimes against a person or people: murder, kidnapping, rape, assault, genocide

Sometimes the bad idea needs a little more thought to get how bad it is:

  • Prostitution: Everyone needs a job.
  • Cheating: I'll only fudge it this once.
  • Theft: It's only a pencil.

Or practice:

  • Gambling
  • Gaming
  • Dieting
  • Exercise
  • Any obsessive activity that pulls us “away” or that invites self-destruction.

Or sometimes it's a matter of context, sometimes good, sometimes bad:

  • Marriage/Divorce/Children
  • Choice of Work/Education
  • Duelling
  • Polygamy
  • Licentiousness
  • Alcohol, Food, Exercise, Drugs
  • Religion, Science, Education

Or degree:

  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Neuroticism

But this is a column about politics, so we're going to be discussing here ideology and the wanton commitment to an idea.

What Makes an Idea a Bad One?

I'll posit that a bad idea is one that unjustly denies another person his humanity, his liberty, or his property.

But here's where it gets sticky. A job, for instance, could impinge on your liberty, but help you secure your property or develop yourself as a human. But so could serfdom, and under the right conditions, I suppose slavery.

Or what if something provides only a good, but only to those who can afford it, say locally grown, environmental impact free, cruelty free, non-GMO food; or an impact-free self-driving car; an experimental treatment; a spa treatment; a massage; a jacuzzi; travel?

Or is there a lie in this last paragraph? Wouldn't there also be a good to the person who provides the good or service?

A Continuum

The point is there is a continuum. And now I'm going to adjust my idea of a bad idea, an extremely bad idea is one that declares it is just without allowing for further examination or for another to question its justness, thus doubly denying a person his humanity, his liberty, or his property.

Perhaps the most glaring example would be the race theories that, when overlayed on an inbred european, perhaps even worldwide, and particularly German, anti-semitism, gave rise to the mass slaughter of groups of people simply because of what they believed, where they were born, or how they lived.

This particularly so when one looks at the archetypal Christian man: Can anyone really imagine Jesus leading a pogrom or rounding up people, denying their humanity, and calling for their wholesale slaughter?

A bad idea is one that pre-supposes its rightness and will brook neither evidence or discussion that it is wrong. And this is where we've gone off the tracks.

It's not Red or Blue, Black or White, Haves or Have-nots

Neither Trump nor Biden is the devil. We could make an argument for Hitler, or we could say he was just possessed of a bad idea (as was too much of Germany, Europe, and the world), and empowered to carry it to its logical conclusion.

And there are good, or at least positive, ideas. I don't think there are many who would disagree that people should have a fighting chance, that they ought to be able to get healthcare, or food, or shelter, or education, or equal opportunities, or access to new worlds.

And when these good ideas met with committed people and institutions willing to provide them, we got (often sponsored by religous institutions) free hospitals , soup kitchens, the salvation army, privately donated public libraries. In fact, I would suggest that these “good ideas” gave rise to good people willing to pursue them.

And when these good ideas met an unregulated private market, we got flop-houses, and hobo camps and skid row. These at least allowed people to stand on their own two feet, or not, with a certain degree of dignity and hope, maybe not much, maybe with not enough direction given early enough to actually choose to stand, but the possibility was there.

But perhaps a disproportionate allocation of resources is the natural state. There has always been a distribution. Once, a third of Africa was enslaved. A quarter of the Roman empire were slaves.

A Personal Test for a Good/Bad Idea

I guess this is my point: You can't have a good idea without being able to examine the bad in your idea, and putting it up to a test. And here are some questions that should be a part of it:

  • Can you articulately state the case for why your idea might be a bad idea? Can you marshall the evidence? Do you know the numbers?
  • Are you willing to engage in conversation with those holding contrary positions in an effort to better understand the other and—dare I even say—approach the truth of a matter?
  • Are you willing to embrace and discover the humanity in the person who holds a contrary opinion? Are you willing to find the common commitments you and your “adversary” share?
  • Are you willing to consider that a value system other than yours might also be a valid value system? Are you willing to adjust your view, and your idea, to accommodate those who do not agree?
  • As much as you may feel an urgency to challenge or question established hierarchies, are you willing to plumb them for their embodied wisdom, and vice versa?
  • Are you willing to listen?
  • Are you willing to consider that your idea is given by your group or concerns for social status rather than the truth of your idea?
  • Are you willing to give them up—your family, your friends, your whole social structure—for your idea? Will you safeguard their humanity, liberty or property at the same time?

Then maybe you've got a good idea, or you're on the right path to one. And when we find ourselves given by a world given by people committed to good ideas (including you), your idea won't cause you to be pushed to the margins. Rather it will cause others to engage in a constant search for the truth, or at least a good idea.

A Personal Note to my German Cousins

I've been meaning to write for a long time to invite my German cousins to re-examine their current ideas.

It's true they were possessed by some of the worst, perhaps a human/societal embodiment of evil itself.

What are the New Ideas?

But I question what new ideas this has given rise to.

My mother's generation, born in Nazi Germany, still had children. My cousins barely have replaced themselves. Their children have chosen largely not to reproduce.

They recognized a beast perhaps, maybe they were indoctrinated to see the beast in themselves, but that beast lies inside each and every one of us, and it doesn't lead to any one ineluctable conclusion. But it's one thing to tame a beast, another to deny it its nature.

Perhaps there is a value in a Volk, a people, a nation given by a common set of ideas. Community is a basic part of being human, whether it's given by faith, or nationality, or a common ideal (as long as it's not made up of bad ideas).

If we take it from a Christian perspective, what is your cross to bear? What is the sacrifice to be made now for a new and better world tomorrow?

I reject that suicide, individual or national, is the appropriate course.

There is something perverse in the the excuse of not overtaxing the environment to not have children. To take this to its logical conclusion, you should commit suicide now. Please don't by the way.

The people who take this nihilism to it's logical conclusion are the ones we see engaging in mass shootings. They suggest the world is not fit for humanity.

So I make a value judgement that this world is fit for humanity, and our job is to explore that, to tame the beast, to find a better way, to engage in a world given by a dedication to good ideas. It is what liberal education was meant to be.

I further judge that the only way to discover this humanity is to give birth to it, including literally. Your job is to plumb the institutions you are rejecting for the wisdom you have left behind. It is also to question your current ideas to make sure they are good ones.

As devastating as Christianity has been to my people, there's a good argument to be made that it has been a large part of what has given us the amazing world we enjoy today.

The Challenge

My challenge to you is to be willing to discover it, to take the good from it, to explore the value systems, and to engage it, to test its ideas for “goodness” and truth.

And we may come to a different truth, but we can commit to a world where we allow our truths to live together, to not give rise to Bad Ideas.

Beyond this, I challenge you to find your own beast, and channel it toward the good ideas, toward truth. I assert it is the only way to move the world forward.

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