10 Dangerous ideas

DangerousAny idea can lead to terrible actions, misunderstandings, unintended consequences. But some ideas seem especially dangerous on their face, not necessarily because they are wrong, not just because they are big ideas, not because acting on them would be imprudent, but because, knowing what we do about human nature, it’s very likely that such ideas will end up harming rather than helping people. These ideas are not framed as proposals for what should or should not be done. They are simply ideas, beliefs not always fully articulated, that people might act on or have already. I’ll elaborate these dangerous ideas as time permits.

1. Humans can withstand or control natural phenomena, such as climate change, pandemics, water and food shortages, population density, and the human genome. It’s a dangerous idea because when it’s wrong, the consequences are catastrophic.

2. The main meaning, or purpose, of life is reproduction. That’s a dangerous idea that could destroy the earth, and in its implications, reaches into every facet of life.

3. Science is a highly specialized method of conversation by which a culture comes to consensus about what is true. Science thus has no privileged access to truth. The idea is dangerous for rejecting a critical myth that makes modern society possible.

4. The idea that there is no topic that cannot, in principle, be investigated by science, and that there is no domain where science is impotent, is dangerous because of what it omits from inquiry.

5. The confusion, or conflation, of church doctrines, scriptures, and the pronouncements of religious leaders, with divine revelation, is extremely dangerous for not being susceptible to discussion.

6. Many people believe that virtue, freedom and happiness are entwined with the economics of wealth and consumption. It is a dangerous and pervasive idea that may be impossible to shake because of the Fundamental Attribution Error.

7.  Rule by mob is a terrible way to govern, even if it is better than any other method. Still, because it is mob rule, democracy is a very dangerous idea.

8. Communism is dangerous because its fundamental sentiments are egalitarian and utopian, and that makes it attractive to people of good will. What makes it dangerous is that it fails to accommodate intractable human greed, so inevitably degenerates into totalitarianism.

9. Tribalism is dangerous because of its inevitable tendency to alienate, then denigrate and exploit anyone not a member of the tribe, whether the tribe is a family, a club, an ethnic or economic group, or a nation.

10. Individualism is dangerous when understood absolutely, as it often is, to mean that each person is, or should be, a self-sufficient being. The idea is dangerous because it severely limits human potential.


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