Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The health of ideas

As I said I would, I've been watching Penn & Teller: Bullshit! on DVD. It's a great show.

I've been reading some criticisms online. Most seem to agree with my assessment, but there is significant pockets of people who don't. The most common criticisms seem to be that boil down to a concern that it's not more of a serious in-depth examination, like, say Frontline. I think this is a fault in the interpretation of the purpose.

On the surface, the show would seem specifically intended to bolster the opinions of Messers Jillette and Teller and enshroud them by declaring opposing opinions to be "bullshit". If you take this as the intention, then the criticism is entirely valid.

The problem is, that isn't, as I see it, the intention of the series is actually to challenge our commitment to sacred cows. By highlighting the aspects of entrenched beliefs that are bullshit, or can, at least, reasonably be argued to be bullshit, the viewing is forced to consider the shortcomings of their beliefs; what they hadn't considered fully enough.

Good ideas thrive on challenge.

The great scientific theories and principles have all been challenged. There have been flaws found in parts of them and those have used to strengthen them. The ones that seemed good at the time are eliminated and science becomes the better for them.

The same is true with political ideas. Challenge allows you to see the small weaknesses and fix them or to decide to rethink the issue and come up with a better idea.

You can see the opposite at work right now.

The Republican ideas, whatever merits they may have, face no significant challenges. They hold a majority in congress and the presidency. Their principles are supposed to be based around a conservative ideology, yet they make radical changes to our rights quickly and with almost no debate. Debate, in fact, is discouraged, often with veiled threats or personal insult.

It should be the most basic principle that, if your idea can't withstand a debate, it's not good enough to use and certainly not good enough to enact as law.

The Democrats, on the other hand, have near total lack for idea and an utter lack of fortitude and strength of character to stand up for the ideas they do have.

The Republicans are acting with greater and greater arrogance. Their ideas are based less and less on principle and more and more on accruing power.

Sadly, this doesn't seem likely to improve any time soon.

My friend Jo sent me the link to Welcome to Fascist America by Gene Callahan. It begins, "My fellow Americans, it’s official now: We live in a fascist nation.

"Now, the term 'fascist' has been thrown around over the last fifty years in a loose way that has drained it of much of its meaning. If someone wanted to cut 5% off of a leftist professor's favourite welfare programme, the professor would call his opponent a 'fascist.' I’m not using the word like that. I mean honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned, 1930s style fascism..."

It's well worth reading... and thinking about, even if you don't agree.

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