July 03, 2010
Guns don't kill people, but ideas do?
A lingering question which arises from yesterday's post about Cultural Marxism is this one:
Are ideas by one person responsible for behavior of others?
Let's start with, Who is responsible for an idea?
Normally, credit goes to whoever has a new or original idea, regardless of the idea's rightness or wrongness. If some engineer were to come up with a proposed solution to the Louisiana oil spill, it would be his whether it worked or not. Credit for a good idea, blame for a bad idea. Of course, in the normal scope of things, those who decided to and did implement the idea would be held immediately responsible. And accountable. That's easy to do when there is a hierarchical chain of command, such as in a corporate setting. With government, it becomes much fuzzier because of the political dimension.
Then there are academic ideas, sometimes taking the form of scientific claims. Anthropogenic Global Warming theory is packaged as scientific fact, even though it is opinion. Those who endorse it are often loud, almost evangelical proponents who liken those who dispute them to Holocaust Deniers.
AGW is not a bad illustration of responsibility. The proponents claim that the opponents should be held responsible for vast environmental catastrophes and untold misery, and the opponents claim that the AGW people will be responsible for the destruction of the economy.
But again, are the ideas of these people responsible? Or are they themselves responsible for their actions? This is an important distinction, because if we blame an idea (at least, in the way the Cultural Marxists of the Frankfurt School are being blamed for many ills of modern society), that switches the focus to the originators of the idea and tends to absolve the later followers. I have long had a problem with that, because it means that Hitler was more responsible for the Holocaust than those who did the killing, even though Germans were at one time perfectly free to ignore or laugh away the crackpot ideas of a failed young artist who became a psychopathic beer hall orator. This is not to say that Hitler was not responsible for the implementation of his ideas, for he was not only the guy with the ideas, he was also the guy who implemented them directly -- by being Der Fuhrer.
Karl Marx is another matter. Wrong as he was, his ideas contemplated the German workers leading a revolution which would represent the next step in human evolution. The idea of ragged country people banding together and murdering urban people en masse (as happened with the Khmer Rouge) can hardly be squared with Marxism, yet the Khmer Rouge called themselves Marxists, and many would argue that Marx's theories "caused" Cambodian genocide. I doubt Marx would agree if he could be awakened from the dead and asked. People say that "ideas have consequences" but how far does it go?
For years it has annoyed me how people will blame Timothy Leary for the fact that young people took LSD.
Wow. It's getting to the point where almost anything you can think of can be found online. I just remembered an interview of Leary on the Wally George Show in which Leary was called on the carpet, and blamed for the ruined lives of millions, and here it is.
(Highly entertaining, and it illustrates what a charming ham of a person Leary was.)
Might as well blame William S. Burroughs for young people using heroin. True, he never coined a slogan like "Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out." But suppose in a fit of advocacy I coined the slogan "RELEGALIZE DRUGS." I did think of it years ago, and while I have no idea whether I was the first, suppose I had the requisite Ph. D. in the right areas and was given credit for it. Would I be responsible if drugs were eventually relegalized? Would I be to blame for all who died of drug overdoses? I don't see how. I can't control people, and I am not responsible for what others do with my ideas. Besides, relegalizing drugs was not my idea, but a copycat idea. Legal drugs has already been tried, in an unwitting "social experiment" which took place from 1776-1914, and which failed utterly to destroy the country or the culture. Even the use of drugs by American presidents raised few if any eyebrows.
So in the absence of compulsion (which is not an idea but an action upon the idea), I have a serious problem seeing the ideas of one person as being responsible for the actions of other people. It makes about as much sense as blaming a distillery for the actions of a drunk driver. Or Nagai Nagayoshi for the actions of speed addicts or meth lab operators. This may all sound childishly simple, but the fact is that we live in a society which blames guns for the conduct of people, and even entire breeds of dogs for incidents which result from the conduct of irresponsible dog owners.
Suppose further that an idea is not especially original, but reflects a crass political attempt to repackage other ideas in the hope of manipulating people, as in the case of what they call "Cultural Marxism." Promote sex, drugs, and rock and roll in the hope of destroying America! The Frankfurt School had a lot of truly obnoxious (and far more dangerous) ideas, like the dissemination of the doctrine that there is no truth, or the idea of "repressive tolerance." But did these ideas really do damage? Or did the people who believed in them do damage and use them as justification? I don't think the problem lies with bad ideas so much as the fact that bad people like bad ideas and use them to do bad things. People gravitate towards what they like; good people tend towards good ideas, and bad people tend towards bad ideas. Not only that, but bad people can use good ideas for bad purposes. The notoriously anti-American Communist Party was really big on racial integration. Eventually, racial integration became a reality. Does that mean the Communist Party should be credited for it? I don't see why.
Whether an idea is good or bad, I think that the greatest single factor which determines how far it will go is how popular it is. Ideas resonate with people who like them. The popularity of an idea says more about the people who made it popular than the originator.
DISCLAIMER: This post was not my idea. M. Simon made me do it.
MORE (07/04/10): Speaking of Cultural Marxism, Ann Althouse has a highly illuminating video showing how Marx's nonsense led to runaway nihilism on a college campus in the 1930s.
Consider yourselves warned -- especially those who are easily offended!
Many thanks to Glenn for the link, and a warm welcome to all.
Comments appreciated, agree or disagree.
posted by Eric on 07.03.10 at 03:06 PM
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