virus: The Battle of/for Ideas (was: Faith and Works)

Tim Rhodes (
Mon, 10 May 1999 19:13:41 -0700 (PDT)

On Mon, 10 May 1999, Eric Boyd wrote:

> Now Tim, you should know me well enough to know that I don't lie!

No. I'd toyed with including ..."or is just hopelessly optimistic" after, but decided against.

> Perhaps I was too bold in speaking for others -- but I don't think
> it's possibly to "attack" individuals over e-mail -- one can only
> attack ideas and viewpoints.

It's interesting that we have the proverb "Sticks and stones can break my bones..." whereas many other cultures have proverbs like, "The tongue has no bones, but can break them." (Sicilian, if I remember correctly) I think we're lying to ourselves and our children when we tell them "...names can never hurt me."

> Now, if, via Phaith or some other
> mechanism, that *means* we attack the individual, then how are we to
> share any type of discussion?

By being (wait for it, kids...) _conscious_ (you guessed it!) of the fact that the "battle of ideas" is a ruse--simple a propaganda tool, like making your opponent seem less than human so it's all right to hurt them. Believe it or not, there really is another human being at the other end. And they really are being attacked for their ideas.

But who benefits from this propaganda? If I can convince myself that I'm attacking "your ideas" and not attacking "you for your ideas" then the gloves can come off. Ideas don't cry. I can be much more ruthless and impersonal in my attack and do so completely without remorse. It benifits my memes, clearly; they get a better chance at propagation. Because I don't let social rules or human concerns pull me back from their spread, any memes that can link themselves with the meme <it's only a battle of ideas> get a leg up on the others. And simple natural selection takes care of the rest.

But if we both share that meme, if neither one of us pulls back for the sake of the other (because it's only a battle of ideas, after all), who benefits from that? Certainly not you or I. We get to get beat-up and beat-on with wild abandon for the sake of "the battle of ideas." We get the kind of society where compassion is weakness and compromise a moral sin. ("Failing your ideals.") We get a world where ideas are more important that the people who hold them, more important than the social structures that contain them. More important that you or I.

And who benefits from that? From our becoming selfless tools serving the propagation of our ideas to the destruction of ourselves? Well, who do you think benefits? The memes, of course. Not us.

It isn't <a battle of ideas>, its a battle of individuals _with_ ideas. It _is_ personal and it always has been. No, it's not pretty. People will get hurt. Our words have repercussions, and sometimes they aren't nice. That's the way it is. Conflict causes pain. We need to be responsible for that pain--not our ideas, not out memes, but _us._ And glossing that over with platitudes so that we might become better and stronger warriors in the cause of our memes doesn't change that one way or the other. It just makes us into better tools.

And aren't there enough human tools out there already?

-Prof. Tim