Are "Dangerous Ideas" For Real?

It is often held up as an ideal for free debate that all ideas should be brought out in the open.

Humanitarian, racist, xenophobic, liberal, conservative, communist, capitalist democratic, ecological, socialist, religious, and more: all these ideas and philosophies should contend in free competition, and the better will vanquish the lesser. Whether this debate threatens any political power structures in irrelevant as far as the validity of the ideas goes (although we all know that authoritarians often oppose ideas that would threaten their rule). Any ideas that require support by force are by definition inferior, because they cannot stand on their own.

It is assumed that in a fair debate, the winning ideas will be those of the more compassionate, such as tolerance and fair play. How true is this, really?

Are there really any truly dangerous ideas out there? Ideas that are logically unassailable, but would lock us into some mode that would make us less flexible and able to respond to the challenges of the world? Are there ideas that would crash our minds, that would threaten humanity as a whole or even all life? Or is it more a case of differing, incompatible axioms, so that debates never get started on the same playing field?

Posting this in GQ was probably a dangerous idea … I suspect it will wind up in GD.

What neighborhood are you going to construct the arena in, and who’s going to enforce the rules of a fair fight? Political power structures may be irrelevent in some idealist sense, but they are a fact of life. “the better will vanquish the lesser” contains the seeds of “we KNOW we’re better, therefore we are justified in opposing our will by force”. You aren’t going to escape it.

Assumed by who? Dependent on what it means for an idea to “win”, it’s still a horse race, as far as I can see.

IMO, this is true most of the time.

I believe National Socialism in 1920s Germany is considered to be the classic example of letting a bad idea go unchecked.

Okay, this is a lot less clearcut than I originally thought–because in the real world one cannot separate ideas from their political surrounds. “What arena”, indeed.

But I am still wondering…

In Snow Crash, the antagonsts had gotten access to the base language or ‘machine code’ of the human brainstem, could insert it into unsuspecting people by showing them video with it as a pattern, and could control people remotely. That would seem to me to be a dangerous language, though I’m not sure it would count as an idea.

Is it possible to crash the human mind with an idea?

Mods, feel free to kick this one over the fence to GD. :slight_smile:

In a fair debate, the idea of tolerance and fair play will usually win, but mostly because a fair debate requires us to take a public stand. No-one has anything to gain by jumping up a soapbox and say: “I advocate backstabbing, the use of brute force, and the ruthless use of any means neccesary to get what I want. Now who wants to be on my team?”
I think it is telling how our ethics are when the “fair and open debate” is on how to treat our opponents.

Books like : “The Prince” by Macciavelli, or “How To Become a Corporate Backstabbing Rat” make me feel uneasy (I read both, BTW). They are undoubtedly logical. These books are (perversely?) sold with the excuse that they enable you to recognize and stop behaviour like that from others. Yet, the thought has crossed my mind that these are “dangerous ideas”. I don’t think it stops anything to forbid those books though.

I’m reminded of a TV-show where the PC public booed and hissed at a writer who wrote a book where one of the characters was a fascist, who explained his attraction to the idea. I was amazed at the stupidity of that public. So ready to fight the good fight, to be the “good guys”, to join the résistance! Too bad they do it fifty years too late. Too bad they seem to think evil convienently announces itself in a Punch-and-Judyshowlike manner: “hehe, I’m a Nazi kids, that’s right! Bwhaaha! Now where’s Puch, so I can torture him?”

Sunspace – It’s been a while since I read Snow Crash, but I think you’ve conflated two theories presented there: one the theory that there’s a certain visual pattern that can cause all computer literate people (but not others) viewing it to go catonic; the other theory that there’s a universal ‘proto-language’ that all listeners will automatically and involuntarily obey.

Needless (I hope) to say, both theories are, well, entertaining fiction, to put it nicely.
Wild extrapolation from loose analogies between human minds and microprocessors and narrow technical mathematical theorems wildly extrapolated to human minds can, in Stephenson’s hands, make a good read, but don’t expect any protolanguage hackers any time soon.

Human minds are too complex, redundant, irrational, and varied for any single ‘logical idea’ to crash all humans’ minds.