Monday, October 26, 2009

Ideas that breathe

I like to create ideas and then give them room to breathe. And I've realised that the only way ideas can truly breathe is if there are people around who are willing to give them sufficient space to breathe. Fundamentalists of all kinds – not just within religious circles – tend to be pretty comfortable in their space, and so squash any idea that may force them to consider the fact that their view of reality is in some way incomplete. I know many of these people who, for whatever reason psychoanalysis might offer, take the oxygen away from an idea until it dies. An example of this sad phenomenon would be as follows. 

In some conversations, when I mention that I read quite a bit of philosophy (only when I'm asked, of course), or (more subtly) insert some kind of philosophical notion into the flow of our discourse, it's incredible to see the reactions of the people I'm with. Occasionally, people nod their heads and go, "Oh really! That's fascinating!" or "I've never thought of it like that before", but more often than not I've received blank stares or some kind of rebuttal in the form of a statement: "I'm not very philosophical" or "Let's not go into that right now." The first statement is an obvious lie – everyone is a philosopher just by living in this world. But not everyone is a very good philosopher. 

I really don't blame people for their inability to want to engage with even the simplest unfamiliar notion (Take Socrates's "The unexamined life is not worth living" or Chesterton's "A yawn is a silent shout" for example). I think it's uncomfortable for most of us to have to challenge our own lived-in status quo. I dare say that all of us, in different ways, are prone to taking the oxygen away from interesting ideas. But, obviously, in thinking about this, I've realised that the kind of person I want to be is someone who listens well. In the end, the idea that I listen to may be flawed, ridiculous, daft or untrue; but how will I know that unless I let the idea come out of hiding? 

I can't help thinking of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein as a metaphor for this where the people of the town want to kill the 'abomination' that Dr. Frankenstein has made before they understand the nature of the monster. He may be ugly, but what if underneath that vile exterior he is a really peace-loving guy? What if the monster is really not a monster at all. Sadly, in the tale (as far as I can recall), the monster becomes monstrous precisely because that is how he is treated. 

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