Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ideas Can Fail

Ophelia Benson asks us to suppose that

commenters here and there said that people who believe in Santa Claus or Loki or parking angels are crazy. That would be insulting to such people - and that would be just too bad. If you believe fanciful things for no good reason, then you just have to put up with people in the wider world saying those beliefs are silly. Your best friend may humour you, your siblings and colleagues perhaps will too, but you can't expect all of humanity to oblige. You just can't. In the public realm, ideas and beliefs have to stand on their merits. If they can't - then there's something wrong with them.
Yes. It's so utterly fundamental and yet it needs repeating: meritless ideas are the ones that have no basis in reason or observation, and they often, though not often enough, fare poorly as winners of respect. Ideas are not like elementary school chess tournaments where every participant receives a ribbon for having completed all rounds of play. No, when it comes to ideas, a few receive and deserve winner's medals and accolades, while many do not, and this is as it should be. Continuing:
This is obvious in the case of beliefs in Santa Claus and parking angels. Generalized discussion of the absurdity of belief in Santa or parking angels doesn't generally trigger outrage about militant fundamentalist new aclausists. Christian beliefs, like other religious beliefs, are not fundamentally different from other such fantasy-based beliefs, but people in Christian regions think they are because of long habit and social norms. That's an illusion. It's an illusion that ought to be patiently chipped away at until it is gone. It's not an illusion that ought to be cherished and cuddled and pandered to.
Ideas can stand athwart well-established norms and yet be superior to fantasies. Baseless ideas are failed ideas, and pinning medals on them only serves to debase the medals.

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