If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it is that, really, no kidding, “The pen IS mightier than the sword.”
That is, ideas exercise immense power over people and societies. And, arguably, the less “intellectual” a person or a society is, the more powerful will be his or its controlling ideas about the world, because those ideas are absorbed as one grows up and then held, UNEXAMINED, for a lifetime. Such unexamined ideas come to seem fully as real as one’s own body.
But most of them are not real at all, or they become unreal as society changes (which it does very fast these days!). They were never anything more than stories we tell ourselves and each other to make the world understandable and coherent. Here are some examples of once-absolutely-unquestioned ideas that have now been abandoned:
1. The divine right of kings (Inheritors of thrones demonstrate by ascending to power that they have been chosen by God to rule. Henceforth they are entitled do anything they want to the rest of us.)
2. The earth is the center of the universe.
3. The heavens are a set of crystal spheres to which planets are affixed, and which rotate around the earth and in so doing cause the planets’ movements. They are all SPHERES because the sphere is a perfect form, and the heavens are perfect, since they are in God’s domain.
4. Virtuous women usually don’t enjoy sex: They only do it out of duty to their husbands. Only sluts enjoy sex.
5. The free market, after a recession, always returns to equilibrium later at full production and employment. (Say’s Theorem, refuted by the Great Depression, which lasted essentially from 1930 to 1942, and was only ended by the vast economic stimulus of WWII) http://books.google.com/books?id=mJ4TfKL4wcAC&pg=PA86&lpg=PA86&dq=%22Say%27s+theorem%22&source=bl&ots=qty9oKDsSa&sig=Z0Qh3x-stBAuxifV1FkmPM9yGVY&hl=en&ei=D_0XTJnNJcT7lwe-_9DnCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CDEQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=%22Say%27s%20theorem%22&f=false
6. Smoking is at worst a bad habit. It is health-neutral.
7. Japanese manufactured goods are junk compared to our own (Virtually everyone believed this when I was young back in the 1960s.)
8. Any introduction of socialism into a society, including any substantial level of social benefits for poor and working people, leads inevitably directly to Communist dictatorship (refuted by a bunch of European democracies that have subsisted quite nicely as democracies since WWII, thank you).
9. And, finally, in the article cited below, a pretty smart guy identifies a fundamental idea held by many Americans which is now gradually becoming untenable, fueling incredible rage in some circles, most notably that of the “Tea Party” movement.
Check it out. It may clarify a lot for you. It did for me.
Hint: No class of ideas is harder to give up than ideas about yourself that make you look good to yourself. I know. I’ve had the experience. About 20 years ago I had to give up the idea that I was born to be one of the Masters of the Universe.