Monday, October 11, 2010

Bad ideas

They say that if you don't like the weather in Seattle, just wait fifteen minutes: it will change.

With bad ideas, it takes a little longer. One can take comfort in the precept uttered by the German physicist Max Planck early in the previous century: "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”

Indeed that outcome often proves to be the case--if one lives long enough. However, there are two troubling issues. The first is the revenant or vampire problem. Bad ideas may die, but they can come back as specters to haunt us. A couple of generations after the death of that megabore Thomas Aquinas, his ideas were judged dead, replaced by nominalism and other philosophical currents of the later middle ages. Yet in the nineteenth century, we witnessed the rise of Neo-Thomism, a current of though still prominent inmy youth as seen in the works of Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson. One of the few positive accomplishments of Benedict XVI is to relegate that rubbish to the dustbin of history where it belongs. But who is to say that Thomism may not at ssome point gain a new vampiric life?

The second problem with Planck's Law is that, as it retreats, the noxious set of beliefs may be supplanted by something even worse. During the 1980s, those of us who do grounded gay scholarship were troubled by the appearance of the Social Construction fad, which alleged in some of its wilder versions that there had been no homosexuality before 1869. In former days I expended considerable energy combating this foolishness, even as friends urged patience: it would collapse of its own weight, they said.

So indeed it did--to be replaced by Queer Theory!

Today I long for the relative sanity of Social Construction. The lesson is, I fear, be careful what you wish for.

POSTSCRIPT. Bad ideas are sometimes likened to "ear worms," those annoying jingles that keep repeating themselves in your head once you have been subjected to a hearing. Such ideas are also compared to an infestation.

These days in New York we are coping with an appalling problem with bed bugs. I went through this calvary three years ago and have been (I trust) free ever since. But now a close friend has the problem. In such a personal crisis, the support of friends is important. But the most significant asset is resolve--resolve, resolve.



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