12/31 2018

The Idea Tristan Johns

"Books won't stay banned. They won't burn. Ideas won't go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas." - Alfred Whitney Griswold

In the face of adversity, when it seems that everything good and pure is at stake, the temptation to throw ourselves straight into battle seems to yell in our ears. This is admirable, and it is a human response; we are fighters. However, it is at the same time an outdated response. One might even refer to this sensation as fight or flight. But today, fight or flight is not the only resolution to a problem. Our physical might is vastly outweighed by modern military, and the sheer size of populations are too great to sway easily with force. Physical, aggressive response is becoming less efficient at changing culture. What steps up to replace this outdated system is the humble idea.

The power of persistent thought has always been a driving force in humanity's progression. The alchemical process of changing the natural environment to do our bidding (such as agriculture) no longer required a farmer to learn everything through experimentation. Instead, one can learn how to read, and by doing so he gains access to knowledge that would have taken a lifetimes to acquire. Preserving information across time is a matter of increasing human efficiency. And if one wishes to have the greatest impact, they can do so by striving to release the greatest idea.

An idea is a type of virus. Ideas that are found to be useful by the host are propagated to new hosts. This allows the idea to survive across time. An example would be religion, and its masses of followers diligently spreading The Word. This pattern of self-replication allows an idea to cover greater distance than any one person could achieve. If the idea is strong enough to be passed on, the new hosts will use the idea to change their environment. Slowly and surely, the idea shapes the evolving world regardless of where the original thinker of the idea currently is.

More and more the virus of thought has implanted itself into our way of life. The printing press decentralized written thought from monasteries and the elite. The internet decentralized the printing press and the library. We are slowly coming to terms with these mighty brains we possess and how to use them. The battles of the idea may become one of the last remaining battlefields of modern humanity. I yearn for a people that is aware and sensitive to the ideas they hold and create. And I feel it is coming. The realization of the word as something more than a gossip protocol or flirtation strategy, but the latent ability to move mountains.

Revision I (1/15/19)

This is an addendum to the original article. By attaching my new thoughts in this manner I aim to create a dynamic conversation with my own thinking process. Opinions change and it can be important to know what changed and why.

An example occurred to me that shifts my original idea. This example originally transformed millions (perhaps billions) of lives for the better, but at the same time it created waves of suffering. What's interesting about this example is it comes from one of the purest intentions known to western culture. Even from the holiest background, an idea can create both positive and negative effects. the idea I speak of is the same as preached by Jesus Christ.

With the message of love and forgiveness, you wouldn't think such an idea could cause bloodshed in its name, but the mighty crusades tell us differently. People are willing to kill over their opinion of who the son of God is, all while ignoring the truth behind His words.

I am not bringing this up to disparage or weaken the message of Christ; I only use it as an example of the power of thought. We may write books with the intention of peaceful change, however our ideas may never perform as intended. Given enough time and confusion, an idea may seem pleasant on the surface while being harmful in the action.

Revision II (3/2/19)

And clearly, I am not the first to have such an idea, I am merely presenting it in another form. This article indicates the idea has gone all the way back to Egyptian times.

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