Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I wrote a post on privileged ideas being a bad thing last week. I'm not entirely happy with it on the basis that it sounds like a declaration that privileged ideas are bad rather than an argument against them. So this is an attempt to expand on the idea, forgive me if I mangle it.

I think one of the problems with the previous post, is that it is somewhat muddled. The initial post was sparked by proponents of an idea labelling criticism of their idea as infringing on their right to speak. Either they didn't think about their response to criticism or that they assumed their freedom to speak privileges their ideas. I am more inclined to the view that people don't think their way through what they are saying. This off the cuff response to criticism gives rise to the same problem as assuming ones ideas are privileged though. They may not have thought about it, but in attempting to make any criticism of their idea an infringement on their rights, then they are construing an attack on their idea as a personal attack on themselves rather than a criticism of their idea. This effectively an endorsement of their idea in public while privileging it, not allowing it to be subject to criticism.

An idea, when it is put forward in public, should become subject to criticism. Criticism, analysis and investigation allow an idea to be compared to the real world, to be refined until it reflects the world. The world I am referring to is not just the physical world, it also partly constituted by world of human interaction or the state of affairs of the part of humanity that the idea is concerned with. We each wander through the physical world with our own view of how the world works. Where those views intersect, we have human interactions and for an idea to be useful it must be able to cope with those interactions. 
So in the case of the previous post, where the idea was the vaccinations are bad. The Anti-vax people put forward their idea and others critique it and oppose it. In the incredibly unlikely event that the anti-vaxers idea had some merit, the only rational way that the general population can have any confidence in it is if it can stand up to any opposition that cares to put itself forward. As criticisms of an idea are brought to bear, the idea either accepted, modified or is discarded as it is found wanting. To characterize opposition as an attack on the anti-vaxers ability to speak freely is not only false, but it attempts to deflect criticism of their thesis, privileging it.

The logical conclusion of this is that if ideas are privileged by their proponents, brought to the world and endorsed without allowing the world to oppose, investigate or analyse it, then it becomes easier to have ideas in the public sphere that are wrong or even harmful. Worse, it demonstrates incredible arrogance on the part of the people/person attempting to privilege an idea. And it is arrogance. It is telling the world that their idea is special and takes priority over the real world, it may be unintended, but it's still there. And arrogance is one of the least helpful traits in sorting that which is useful from that which is harmful. The most useful trait in that search is humility, the ability to admit that you might be wrong.

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