Or A Theory as to Why Sidelined Thinkers Are the Ones You Should Read;
Or Why Schoolbook Learnin’ Ain’t Doin’ You No Favors;
Or Isn’t this Just Intellectual Misanthropy?;
Or Laziness & Intellectual Reverse-Darwinism.
Note: By “ideology,” I mean a system of beliefs or knowledge.
Let’s go for the biggest sweeping generalization we can about the majority of human knowledge: it is a diluted perversion of the best things the human race has learned. Let me summarize this controversial thesis in a few bullet points that apply to scientific bodies, philosophical truths, moral movements, and spiritual discovery.
- Either theories that cut against the grain of classically accepted thought must be watered-down for the consumption of the majority, or theories that have been traditionally true but requiring some study to understand must be eviscerated for popular acceptance. It takes an incredible mind to build a theory that is both true and applicable to the world from scratch. The inevitable result is that most people either won’t be able to understand the foundations of the advance, or won’t take the time to do so. Worse than that, the common summary of the body of thought will be inaccurate or insufficient. Truth is not a good friend of abbreviation, and knowledge is spread to people via memes – and so for any given topic, 75-90% of conventional knowledge is simply wrong. We all know that our age is typified by 140 characters and a marked decline of casual nonfiction reading. The type of media we use defines the messages we hear, and entertainment is far more important to most than the work it takes to learn things. Even in written form, the mainstream media caters their message to the middle of the pack, which as most of us know, is not incredibly sophisticated. We resultingly retain a surface-level understanding of anything remotely complex which we learn from the media or school, which becomes painfully obvious when the topic arises. Good examples of this include: the persistence of the argument “Who caused God?” as response to Aquinas’ Prime Mover argument for God; the true meaning of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works; the pervasiveness of the New Atheism generally, despite extremely low brow philosophical claims; the label of “conservative” or “Republican” of any thought of economic or fiscal responsibility and caution; or, the idea that “greed” caused the 2008 recession. Straw men populate nearly the entire world in the average mind.
- Generally, human knowledge follows momentum and the pattern of least resistance. Throughout history, those with the most groundbreaking ideas are generally lone voices that dispatch the common orthodoxy about their particular body of study and turn out to be right about some extreme claim – much to the chagrin of the peers in their field, finally only to die penniless and ridiculed in a gutter somewhere. Perhaps it is not that drastic in all circumstances, but the phenomenon of tenure, resistance to change, and the sunk cost fallacy mean that it truly does take someone with extraordinary bulldoggedness to change the way we view the world – and it often does not happen until the death of the person proclaiming the new approach. Some you may know: Nikola Tesla, Gregor Mendel, Galileo; the discovery of h. pylori; the application of fractals to finance and economics; the development of the germ theory of disease; or, the slow recognition of public choice economics. Most people are far too risk-averse to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy, and advances will always come at the reluctance of the majority.
- True breakthroughs in human knowledge are generally not a collaborative effort by a group of intelligent individuals working on a problem together from knowledge already in the field of particular interest; rather they come from sudden inspiration or genius when some exceptional individual pops into the scene like some sort of improbable deus ex machina. Advances may be captured by incremental and tedious work, but those of note are usually Black Swans. Think: Kurt Gödel, Immanuel Kant, Albert Einstein, Jesus, Leonardo Da Vinci, Sigmund Freud, Thomas Jefferson, Dante Alighieri, Martin Luther. Significant advances in the future will follow the same path – we need polymath geniuses (not hard working people of slightly above average intelligence) and we need them now.
- Powers that Be are able to co-opt ideas originally predicated against their interests to suit those interests. This renders the originally revolutionary idea captured by thought controllers who use it to try and force the belief into their framework to work for them. Even if a movement is directly opposed to the principles of the powers that seek to use it, the movement can be de-clawed and watered down to suit the wishes of the powerful. These would be: grassroots environmentalist movements being purchased by vested corporate interests and bent toward profit by labeling things “organic” or “green”; anti-violence promoters like MLK being given National Holidays by politicians who work to increase governmental war budgets significantly every year; the Constitution / Declaration of Independence being used as a rubber stamp of approval on governmental expansion, as opposed to the restraint it formerly symbolized; communism being hijacked into a top-down imposition of class strata and oligarchy as opposed to a movement driven by and for the people. If it can be watered down and put on the people as some form of manipulation, it will be.
- Stemming from the idea above, any message or system that cannot be co-opted by the Powers that Be will be forever sidelined and remain outside the body of mainstream thinking. If it cannot be used by the powerful to control or manipulate thinking into a pre-approved box that ensures compliance with some overarching line of thinking, it will be ridiculed and fallaciously dissected if not completely ignored. I refer here to: Murray Rothbard, Ron Paul, Malcolm X, Tom Sowell (sociologically), Eric Hoffer, Charles Mackay, Daniel Berrigan, Jacques Ellul, H. L. Mencken, Leo Tolstoy (spiritually/politically); Austrian economics; anarchism; in tantundem bank contracts; the use of lithium as a medicinal remedy to bipolar disorder; the possibility of advances in the combustion engine; the wave theory of gravity; rejection of the lipid theory of fat. If you want to find truth, you may have to look in different places than you ordinarily would, assess the evidence or arguments, and side accordingly.
The moral of the story: For thinkers within the mainstream, it is important to critically assess the masses’ view of the thinker before assuming the commonly held view about the thinker is correct. For thinkers outside the mainstream, it is likely the reason the body of though was not adopted is that (if it isn’t a logically ridiculous body of work), it cannot be co-opted by the powerful, because it is too strongly opposed to their interests.
There you have it. My theory of popular knowledge.