What makes an idea look serious?

The seriousness of an idea cannot be perceived solely from its content: seriousness also comes from who expresses the idea and who responds to it.

If the only people who ever discussed gravity were patients in mental hospitals, gravity would not be thought of as a serious idea. Outside of mental hospitals, not only would there be no supporters of the idea of gravity, we wouldn’t even talk about it. This doesn’t mean the sexism of icebergs is a serious idea simply because some tenured professors have published a paper on it, but it does mean the gravity being discussed solely by mental patients will never even have a chance.

Eugenics–meaning, the top-down enforcement of who may reproduce with whom in order to control the health and intelligence of future generations of humans–was once a serious idea, openly supported by intellectuals and included as planks in major political party platforms. The idea’s content has not changed much, but it is no longer considered serious, because now it’s only earnestly talked about by neo-Nazis and (to the extent I’m not being redundant) nihilistic teenagers.

Conversely, many of what we now think of as serious ideas started out as not-serious ones. In each of those cases, the transformation happened because the set of people expressing and responding to the idea changed from “a few crazies” to “many normal people.”

If you have an idea you think ought to be taken seriously, then your job is to dissociate as completely as possible from the crazies who already like your idea (they might even have to be “purged”) and to sell your idea to everyone else, who won’t buy it as long as crazies are still waving its flag.

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “What makes an idea look serious?

  1. If you have an idea you think ought to be taken seriously, then your job is to dissociate as completely as possible from the crazies who already like your idea (they might even have to be “purged”) and to sell your idea to everyone else, who won’t buy it as long as crazies are still waving its flag.

    -Any empirical evidence for this?

      • I don’t think there was any need to express disapproval. Expressing disinterest would have done just as well in both cases. “David Duke/Bill Ayers is his own man. What he does has no bearing on my campaign and its goals.” would have been a perfectly satisfactory answer.

      • No way. Expressing disinterest in Duke is exactly what Trump did in that infamous CNN interview. Even though he disavowed Duke in other places, you see where disinterest got him.

  2. Obama never totally disavowed Ayers, or ACORN, nor did he disavow Khalid Rashidi. He did disavow Churchill, and that didn’t seem to hurt his standing amongst his following.

    Who are we to judge who the crazies are in any given scenario ? Could they be, in Trump’s case, the deplorables? The kkk thinks everyone else are the crazy and wilfully blind, or the devil. So one side’s crazies are another side’s visionaries.

    I just heard Nigel Farage speaking at a conservative event in nyc. He makes more sense than most other politicians I’ve heard lately. He speaks with conviction and calm vision about the future of Gt Britain. And yet he’s cast by 50% of Britons as crazy, unhinged, dangerous and xenophobic. He’s used to being dumped on and ostracized, and revels in the insults, which, coming from the quarters they do, spur him on to greater belief that he’s on the path to saving Europe and the West.

    He probably does have, among his supporters, those whom honest, fair thinking people would deem to be in your neonazi crazy category. It didn’t stop him from inspiring and securing the Brexit, once considered such a cockamamie idea, that Cameron was sure it had no chance.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s