Dangerous Ideas

by Steve Mason

We make some of our greatest gains
when we see old things in new ways

Galileo took a squint through his telescope and, son of a gun, saw right away that it was the Earth going around the Sun and not vice versa. The church figured this was a Dangerous Idea because it meant that humans weren't at the center of things after all and, if that was the case, the Pope might have to get a job. So a big fuss was made and Galileo - after being told exactly where the inquisitors were thinking about inserting his telescope - changed his tune.

"It looksa like the Sun shea go round 'n' round." It wasn't until the 20th Century that the Vatican officially changed its tune and said, "Hey look, it's the Earth that goes round 'n' round. Who woulda thought it?" However, despite such apparent backpedaling, Catholics were reminded in no uncertain terms that the Holy Father was still infallible - thus giving the term Papal Bull a whole new meaning.

Anyway, there you have a classic example of a Dangerous Idea. It's something you suspect might be true, and while you don't know for sure that it is, if it is, all Hell is going to break loose. Darwin was another guy who came up with a Dangerous Idea, only this time it's not just Rome but places like Kansas City that are running scared. Just because humans and monkeys share 99% of their DNA doesn't mean you want to jump to any conclusions. No sir! Intelligent Design says a that a big designer in the sky - even bigger than Gucci - put us together like a high-end handbag, only in place of a label we got stuff like an appendix and wisdom teeth. Monkeys, by such reckoning, are mere knock-offs.

But don't get the idea that Dangerous Ideas are always confined to the world of science (which - if you wait long enough - is always wrong anyway). Politicians get them all the time. Jefferson hit on a doozy! "Hey Tom, maybe you want to rethink that 'All men are ...' line"? But that came about only because of an earlier King George gaffe. "I say we tax their tea!" Bush Sr. was sure "No New Taxes" had a certain ring, though at least FDR knew "We have nothing to fear but...the current World Depression and the coming World War" wasn't going to fly. And Bush Jr's. "Mission Accomplished" still can't be dismissed out of hand. Remember that guy who was sentenced to death for converting to Christianity but instead got off for being crazy (I don't know why that had to be an either/or thing)? Well there's a guy who was almost killed but wasn't, so maybe things are looking up.

At this point I should come clean and admit that I like Dangerous Ideas. I frequently have two or three even before breakfast. For example, it occurred to me that religion is a WMD. You stack Hiroshima/Nagasaki against the Crusades/Jihads, and thermonuclear devices might as well be vitamin-enriched for all the damage they've done. Remember that horrific war between Iran and Iraq? Do you think it was just about "Spell it with an N" Bang Bang. No - spell it with a Q" Rat-Tat-Tat. I don't think so.

Here's another Dangerous Idea right off the top. There are no addictive substances, only addictive people. The difference is between use and abuse. Most people use something like alcohol, and what's more, they use it to good advantage. It serves as a kind of social lubricant and, probably because of its tranquilizing effect, has been shown to add years to the average life span. This is more than you can say for sodas that contain a teaspoon of sugar per ounce, and milk shakes that include a mega dose of fat as well. That some people abuse alcohol is obvious, but what has that to do with the clear majority who merely use it? Shouldn't the emphasis be on curtailing addictive personalities instead of perpetuating the myth that some substances have magical properties that hook users into becoming abusers?

Here's a really Dangerous Idea. The Holocaust is a hoax. It must be a Dangerous Idea because simply repeating those five words will get you jailed in more than a dozen countries including Belgium, France, Germany, Romania and Poland. There are people who believe that the Apollo moon flights were a hoax. They have web sites and newsletters claiming that Neil Armstrong's shadow slants the wrong way, and that the American flag can be seen to ripple in the breeze of a supposedly airless world. The last I heard, nobody was locking them up. Being goofy isn't against the law, so what is it about questioning the death camps that creates such a stir? Is there a fear that support for Israel will diminish? Personally, I think the best way to create doubt is to deny it. This reminds me of that actor who will sue anyone who says he's Gay. Is that really the best way to convince people you're straight!

Finally, is it possible that our system of government causes us to elect the absolute worst candidates for leadership roles? Even a brief look at the lessons being learned from evolutionary psychologists, makes it clear that groups work best when the man up front finds himself in that position only because others rush to get behind him. That being the case, the individual selected as chief might well resist efforts to force him into a controlling position. Those who beg for votes, or maneuver to get on top, are probably the least well qualified for command. Washington refused the crown he was offered on more than one occasion, and thereby followed the example of the Roman who, after finding himself in a similar position, returned to his plow and his fields. As election time rolls around, keep in mind that the one who will kiss a baby, wear a funny hat, take off his jacket, loosen his tie and roll up his sleeves while saying he's going to work for all Americans is, more than anything else, showing signs of a personality disorder.

Look At It This Way

Then again, are Dangerous Ideas really all that dangerous? It's pretty well established that the Earth is not at the center of the universe, and yet I don't see any major decline in religious belief. That willing rejection of reason we call faith is still going strong. So what was the church worried about when it put Galileo under house arrest, and burnt a few of his contemporaries at the stake? Today, all sorts of Nervous Nellies are terrified that kids are going to have their lives ruined because of a fleeting glimpse of Janet Jackson's nipple. And yet, anyone with half a brain knows the next generation will contain a few outstanding adults, a few who need killing, and an overwhelming majority stuck someplace in the middle. That's not to say there aren't ideas that will change the future, far from it. It's just that - nobody knows which ones they are.


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