The ideas that we have today are the successful ones.†
Some, like Christianity, are long standing.† It has evolved in response to each of the various material and ideological environments that it has found itself in.† Christian†churches have supported and opposed slavery, apartheid, nuclear bombs, fascism and even capitalism.† If you, dear reader, are a Christian, your religious beliefs have evolved to fit in with the rest of your ideas and your material existence.† Christianity has evolved to be successful.
Some ideas have survived because they are brilliant mimics.† Everything that surrounds homeopathy looks scientific but it is not.† It does not carry out the rudimentary experiments required by science.† Homeopathy†is a successful multi million-dollar industry; it is a mimic.†
Some ideas are successful because they are incredibly virulent.† The idea that the end of the world is near is such an idea.† It has driven people to give up jobs and work full time to alert others.† It led to the explosive growth of Christianity and Islam.† It has led groups to commit suicide and one, Aum Shinrikyo, to release sarin gas into the Tokyo underground.† It is still around today in various forms.†
Some ideas are successful because they are symbiotic with another idea.† Under the conditions of the occupation of Iraq, Shia and Sunni sectarianism have formed such a process. Each sectarian act by one group reinforces sectarianism in the other.† This in turn causes a sectarian response.† The response confirms the original sectarianism.†
Some ideas are successful because they are supported by powerful vested interests.† The story about Iraqi soldiers throwing Kuwaiti babies out of incubators was a lie, put there to encourage support for the first Iraq†war.† There are plenty of other examples.† However, the day-to-day moulding of peoplesí attitudes is more important than a specific lie.† Money lending for a profit used to be denounced as the sin of usury.† Today it is overwhelmingly accepted.† All of the major political parties in the UK favour privatisation.† They favour the anti-union legislation brought in by Margaret Thatcher.† They favour nuclear weapons and the occupation of Iraq.† None of them propose acting against wealth inequality.
Even worse, other ideas and questions are hardly raised.
∑ Why do most people at work fear the head teacher, office manager or foreman?
∑ Why can we put human beings on the moon but cannot get clean water to a billion people?
∑ Why do 26,000 children die every day through poverty?
∑ Why do the richest three men in the world have more wealth than the poorest two billion?
∑ Why do we spend $1,000,000,000,000 a year on weapons?
Human beings are marvellous.†† We have an incredibly rich flora and fauna of ideas.† The natural and un-natural evolution of those ideas is extremely fascinating.† But study and understanding are not enough.† We should not sit down muttering how interesting it is that the Jonestown people killed themselves, that the Hutus were slaughtered, and that neo Nazi ideas are on the rise in Europe.† We are human beings and we are part of the process.
The Tangled Brain†
At the end of Darwin's book, The Evolution of Species, Darwin wrote about how nature could be looked upon as an entangled bank.† I hope I have convinced you that, as a species, our brains are also entangled with weird and wonderful idea sets.† If that is the case, we as a species, and each of us as individuals should consider getting our brains untangled and perhaps doing some weeding.
We all have ideas that are there, not because they are true.† They are there, not because they are morally defensible.† Like the weeds, they are there because they have evolved to be successful.†
Some ideological weeds are easily identifiable.† For example, the idea that there is UFO behind Hale-Bopp or the idea that the earth is flat.† Some weeds are annuals.†† The idea, The end of the world will come on November 14 1993 is dead.† It will no doubt reappear with a fresh date in due course.†† Evidence helps us identify some ideological weeds; the idea that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction was not true.
Think of all your friends and relations.† I am sure that you can find at least one of them, who has ideas that need a serious weeding.† Identifying the ideological weeds in other peoplesí heads is easy.† We all do it all the time.†
However, when we think of our own ideas, it is a different story.† Our own ideas have gone through a process of selection.† They are, for the most part, self-consistent.† We all believe my ideas are all right; it is all those others that are wrong.† Well, we canít all be right!† The vast bulk of us need to do some serious weeding.† The question is which of us? and which are the weeds?††
There is a huge temptation at this stage for me to tell you how to spot an ideological weed and how to pull it up.† There is a problem here.† One personís beautiful flower is another personís ugly weed.† Just as biological diversity is preferable to monoculture, so diversity of ideas makes us all richer.†
Having said that, I suggest three useful criteria for identifying an ideological weed.† The first is truth.† I reject the post-modern idea that there is no objective truth.† I am happy to continue the debate with anyone who disputes this, on one condition.† The person must have a bare arm in boiling water while we talk.† The scientific approach insists on evidence.† It has brought incredible advances to humanity.† I like questions and comments such as is it true? Prove it and What is your evidence?† If the evidence shows that an idea is false, get rid of it.†
The second of the criteria deals with morality.† Let us take the idea that it is ok to kill six million Jews.† It is an immoral opinion, but it is neither true nor false.† However, surely only an avowed Nazi would think it an acceptable idea.† We reject the idea because it denies rights, including the right to life, to individuals purely because they belong to a specific group.
The third criteria, is about vested interests.† If another person has a material interest in convincing you of something, you should be on your guard.† You should not trust a house sellerís valuation of their property or blindly accept the advertisersí claims.† There are plenty of vested interests out there.† At the time of writing, Billionaire Rupert Murdoch, for example, controls 175 newspapers, 9 satellite television stations 100 cable channels and 40 television stations.† He has smashed unions to get that power.† His papers have spread lies.† He has the ability to plant an idea in literally billions of minds.† He, and people like him, have a material interest in preserving the status quo.† Like mimics, the media moguls and their allies are professionals at spreading their ideas.†
When your newspaper, or TV, tells you something, do not accept it at face value.† Ask yourself: who is telling me this? why are they telling me this: in whose interests is it that I believe this? and, †is it true?†† Most importantly, discuss your ideas with others.
Once we have got rid of the weeds, we can cultivate some beautiful ideas; ideas about how we can feed people, deal with climate change, abolish fear from the workplace and rid the world of nuclear weapons and war.†
On one of the anti-capitalist demonstrations there was a placard.† It read Get rid of capitalism, replace it with something nicer.† In order to do this, we need ideas.† I hope this book helps a little with the process.†