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August 2, 2006

great articly on creative thought (ultimately)

What You Can't Say

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Comments (24)

Thanks. I'll use this next time I teach to push my students to think for themselves (or at least to think about why they don't feel like it some times.)

Posted by: Chelly at August 3, 2006 12:55 AM

First Thoughts: The only place one is truly free is in their mind. - "In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man; brave, hated, and scorned. When his cause succeeds, however, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot." - Mark Twain - Question the Answers -Ralph Nader .......

First impressions: I have to digest this interesting and introspective article a little more to comment on what I agree with, what I think he left out, and what is reality. My immediate thoughts regarding those issues are. 1. The internet; lack of face to face communication. 2. The current political climate; high alert, mostly fear and stress. 3. Apathy and materialism. 4. Poor education. 5. Social norms and the collective consciousness. 6. History. 7. Self-Discipline. 8. Habits; safety, survival, death.

Second Impressions: I have some trouble with his logic regarding scientists in the following context. “You can see that in the way they dress.” This may seem a petty example, however, I attribute this to what I think he does throughout the article, scratches the surface. How ever much I am willing to agree with his analogy regarding scientists and their lack of fashion sense, he disregards the science of right and left brain function which by some account accounts for their lack of fashion sense and social norms. But, I am willing to dissect the piece both from the whole and the parts and discuss its attributes and the lack there of, if anyone is interested. And in the spirit of the article, I’ll throw something controversial into the “digs” of the thinking mans scientific mind: “Charles Darwin, right or wrong?” Anyone?
What’s that I hear, the chirping of crickets?

Posted by: nader at August 3, 2006 1:20 AM

Hmm. It’s interesting that the author seems to assume, if you answered “no” to the question of whether you have any opinions you’d be reluctant to express in front of your peers, that the only possible explanation for this is that all of your opinions are widely accepted, rather than simply that you respect your peers enough that you wouldn’t be afraid to tell them how you really felt about pretty much anything, even if you knew going in that some or even all of them would disagree with you.

Maybe he just needs to get better peers?

Posted by: rosey at August 3, 2006 4:16 AM

articly - this a test?

Posted by: articly at August 3, 2006 8:47 AM

Sure, assumptions should be questioned, ideas should not be cast aside without study simply because they are socially unacceptable, but some ideas have been tested and found wanting. For example, we know that the idea that some people are racially inferior is not only socially unacceptable, but blatantly false. The idea has been considered and tested over and over and we can toss it on the dung heap of intellectual rubbish alongside the concept that the sun revolves around the earth. Racist ideas are no less wrong because they are called racist.

My greatest concern is that the idea of attacking taboos can be used by both sides, arguing that Israel is wrong is often labeled as anti-semitic, but that doesn’t mean the idea shouldn’t be considered. On the other hand, holocaust denialists often say that they are challenging a fashionable but inaccurate idea. In this case the weight of the evidence is against them, but in a sound-bite society where no one takes the time to present the evidence, attacking ideas because they are fashionable can be just as dangerous as attacking them because they are unfashionable.

There are some other points where I would argue with the article. It says that the word defeatist is no longer relevant. I would argue that the word defeatist is used today by supporters of the Bush administration much as it was used in Germany, not only at the end of World War I, but also as it was used by opponents of the Weimar government including the Nazis.

The article also suggests that the society that is shocked by an idea is most likely wrong. The idea that people of African origin are naturally inferior and are better off as slaves than free men is utterly shocking today, but that doesn’t suggest that we are wrong about it.

The statement that people with a PhD in physics could earn a PhD in French Literature, but not vice-versa, is a perfect example of a fashionable, but not necessarily accurate idea. Either individual, in reality, is undoubtedly intelligent, but their brains work very differently. Either might be able to master the other’s field, or neither.

The author’s advice about what to do about it is problematic as well. You may have some thoughts that should remain just that, but many ideas benefit from discussion and some things are important enough that they need to be spoken no matter how dangerous. The world would be a dark place indeed without Jesus, the first abolitionists, Ghandi, or Noam Chomsky. Better advice would be to analyze your ideas; decide, as objectively as possible, which are worthy of further consideration; then discuss those ideas with people who you can trust to be intellectually honest so as to expand them and further evaluate them; then decide if an idea is important enough that the truth (or you version of it) about it must be spoken, regardless of the consequences. Humor and metaphor are indeed useful tools, but remaining silent is not always an option and isn’t attacking a broader concept rather than the point in question very similar to the attacks on heresy that the author is deriding?

The commments on strength and weakness are interesting, particularly if applied to the religious right in it's strength since the election of Ronald Reagan, its villification of liberalism, and its current nervousness about its own position.

Posted by: GustavSnarp at August 3, 2006 12:12 PM

Here's another thought:

Perhaps sometimes fluctuations in morals occur not because of the whims of fashion or the balance of power, but because other factors in the society have changed and allow and or necessitate a change in morals. The articles example of ages of consent is a perfect example. Agrarian societies typically have younger ages of consent than industrial ones. If we take this to the extreme of the middle ages we find that girls were married off to the most appropriate man available as soon as they were of reproductive age. Similarly men were of fighting age as soon as they were strong enough to wield a weapon. Society didn't urge them to wait until they could make informed decisions because there were no decisions for them to make. The decisions belonged to the parents or to the nobility. More importantly, there weren't really many options. Today these decisions are expected to be made by the children and the options are virtually limitless. Therefore we have raised the age of consent to (hopefully) allow the children to develop some maturity and an idea of the alternatives available to them before they make the decision.

So the economic development of the society and the structure of marriage precipitated the change in age of consent, rather than this change simply being a convention of moral fashion.

Oh and Darwin, right or wrong? Both.

Posted by: GustavSnarp at August 3, 2006 3:00 PM

"Oh and Darwin, right or wrong? Both."

You win, because you agree with me and I accept your answer, but we are only two in the pond of the divine slime of life, which makes us even more right, right? Nice job btw on the “articly.” I plan on reading both again and sticking in a few more pennies later. Anyone have a URL for the bio of the author?

Posted by: nader at August 3, 2006 3:16 PM

Well I think it's a little more complicated than that.

Posted by: MattyD at August 4, 2006 1:52 AM

Thanks for linking to this essay. Interesting ideas and analogies that work, mostly.

So, can we expect time-travelers from the future to come back to deride us for our benighted opression of coprophagists? Maybe Chuck Berry will be re-evaluated as a freedom fighter.

Posted by: sgazzetti at August 4, 2006 6:21 AM

The author didn't discuss how influence effects ideas, in that, without it even the most taboo of beliefs means little. It is significantly less dangerous for common folk to express radical ideas against societal norms than it is for someone of influence. I could, and do, go around saying things that are considered improper and indecent on a regular basis, and I have found little resistance. My lack of status keeps me more or less safe from punishment. Maybe I just don't speak loudly enough.

Posted by: Maligndeviant at August 4, 2006 7:47 AM

I only read about three paragraphs and made a quick assumption about the nature and direction this articly =) was taking. Anybody heard of Myers-Briggs?

Go read about David Keirsey's Rationals, the NT temperament. This is me, this is ze, this is the intellectual free-thinker without great regard for conventional thought or behavior. It is simply a naturally and statistically infrequently occuring type of personality.


Posted by: slidermsu at August 4, 2006 1:15 PM

"Maybe I just don't speak loudly enough."
or maybe you have tourettes?

slidermsu looks you have everyone in a nice little box.

"Well I think it's a little more complicated than that." MattyD

nuff said.

"expect time-travelers" my understanding of time travel, if ever possible, would only allow you to go back as far as the time you created the device to send you back into time. So if you created a time machin today, today is as far back as you could go.

Here's something worth looking into and fun; http://www.tenthdimension.com/flash2.php click imagining.

Posted by: nader at August 4, 2006 6:06 PM

That was awesome, Nader, *barks* thank you. Never really thought about anything past the fourth dimension.

Posted by: Maligndeviant at August 4, 2006 7:01 PM

Dispositionally I found myself really agreeing with a lot of the thinking in this article, tho I did bristle a couple of times at the broad strokes about types of people, like the comment about how scientists dress. But I took these mostly as instruments of his writing style, for quick and smart transitions rather than argument.
As someone who has generally found herself thinking against the current most of the time, I am torn between seeing it as a function of a certain capacity to resist currents and as a function of, as Myers-Briggs might plot me, personality style. I imagine that it's some of both, like most things. A disposition that makes a certain technique more appealing and easy for me, like having big hands is handy (!) in learning piano or palming a basketball and primes the pump, so to speak, for the bigger skill.
I think the author is dead on right about the precarious balance between strength and weakness that precipitates a nervouse lashing out against certain things. When someone lashes, chances are high that there is fear of vulnerability at work (as well, perhaps, as sincere maintenance of an idea).
What to do about it....chances are all we can do is learn and teach people to think carefully and creatively, nip around the edges of convention. Human culture seems to require both inside the box and outside the box thinking, in something like the current/persistent proportions. So the key is to minimize the evil done in the midst of this combination, and maintain the conditions for creative process.

Posted by: rondocat at August 7, 2006 9:35 PM

Freedom of speach is a hypocritical statement. "@!#$ the government," you might say. And Uncle Sam replies by throwing you in jail. The government contradicts itself all too often,

Posted by: Phast Phood at August 14, 2006 2:07 PM

your website is on TIME's 50 coolest websites!! congrats

Posted by: aaron at August 15, 2006 12:30 PM

My guess about the dutch these days is, they are like cadillacs. (ok, WE are like cadillacs)
We have been labled ourselves for so long as open-minded that we forgot to keep track of what it means these days. We make crappy cars! The first people who pointed this out, lost their lives to the argument. By this time we have all agreed that they might have been right in pointing this out, but there still isnt a business strategy formulated to get some quality back in the product. What's left are unimployed workers looking for guidence. And we all know what unemployment does to moral....

Personaly I think farmers should be glad to be listed among pornstars. This way, maybe one day they have a chance of making the official 'rare-and-way-too-kinky-fetish' list, next to 'sheep' and 'midgets'.

Posted by: dutch wife at August 19, 2006 11:12 AM

the rules/norms were created because they are fun to break. this is especially apperant with "curse words". some words are banned, but their synonyms are fine. the only reason the rule is there is so that you can step over the line. its not to make people say the words less, the word couldnt possibly be bad when the idea is fine to express, so why would people want the words destroyed? they dont want the words destroyed, they just want to make them fun to say. i think this is true about other things too, but maybe not universally true.

Posted by: sfertg at August 29, 2006 7:25 AM

The issue about the past is useless. We have to think about, but with no remorse. What should concern us is the future regarded through the mirror of the past.

Posted by: Flower at September 5, 2006 4:20 PM

he speaks the truth!

Posted by: PD at September 7, 2006 11:40 PM

Self-aggrandising, entertaining, contradictory, logically wanting article. Maybe this article is only useful to conformist types and people who share the author's tunnel-vision.

Posted by: Dom at September 12, 2006 12:05 AM

Snx for you job!
It has very much helped me!

Posted by: icogletle at March 20, 2008 5:27 AM

Thanks Ze for bringing this 2 my attention... have not read it all yet but intend 2. There even is a french translation that I'll be passing around...Danke Vielmals!

Posted by: Marie at July 14, 2008 6:23 PM

I'll stand on the precipice and throw out a few things you can't say...

Darwin was right and it has made religion obsolete. Only the scientists truly know this and maybe in another 5 centuries it will be accepted by the general population just like the earth revolving around the sun.

*most who deride Darwin have never read him. They should read Darwin and then Dawkins if they would like to understand our world.

We don't have a resource problem on our planet, we have a people problem. If people keep procreating at our current rate, we will run out of stuff. If every two people had just one kid then in a generation or two we could halve the world's population and have enough resources. Is it going to happen? Nope, were gonna choke on ourselves... maybe Soylent Green will be the answer.

The gods of today are no different than the gods of the past... they are non-existent. We need to accept that we have limited brains and only understand a limited bit of the universe. Instead we open up really old books and quote them as if they have some meaning today... sorry they don't.

The US government is corrupt and run by organized bribery. Lobbyists are just the bribe handlers of the rich. Sure the people get to vote on which flavor of politician appeals to them, but in the end they all bow down to or get bogged down in the money train.

I have more things ya can't say in public, but these are enough for now.

Posted by: John P at July 14, 2008 6:52 PM

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