What do we do with ideas we think are bad

To listen or not to listen, divisive ideas, and 5 links worth your time

Living with two teenagers, many of the ideas I encounter on a daily basis are bad. But you don’t have to spend time with kids to be exposed to bad ideas. We can probably all relate to the experience of being in a meeting and listening to someone offer up an idea he thinks is great but makes the rest of us stifle a groan. 

If, for some reason, you can’t relate to either of these experiences, just turn on the radio, tune into a cable news show, or spend some time on Facebook. I think you’ll agree with me: bad ideas are all around us.

Different kinds of bad

Not all bad ideas are equal, however. 

My teenagers’ bad ideas are usually bad because they’re ill-considered and, if acted upon, could lead to injury. Those groan-inducing ideas suggested by colleagues in meetings won’t cause physical harm, but we still consider them bad because they’ll result in busywork or more meetings. 

But there are other kinds of bad ideas. These are often the ideas we encounter on Facebook or in the media. Most of these ideas aren’t immediately going to cause us harm and they don’t necessarily create more work, but they violate our sense of justice, conflict with our view of the world, or are simply wrong. 

Wasting time?

Do we have to listen to things we’re sure are bad ideas? In the case of my teenagers, I usually listen long enough to point out the flaws in their reasoning. In the case of meetings, the best workplace cultures encourage co-workers to do the same (though perhaps more patiently than I do with my kids). 

It’s easy, on the other hand, to turn off the tv or radio or navigate to a different webpage when we encounter ideas we think are bad in the media. Time is scarce, so why waste it listening to or reading things we have confidence are wrong? 

You might even argue that being exposed, over and over, to what we consider bad ideas will make us worse off and lead to dangerous consequences.

Harmful ideas

That’s exactly the argument that legislators across the country are making as they consider legislation to prohibit teaching “divisive ideas.” Their opponents argue that restricting the teaching or discussion of critical race theory or “wokeism” is an attack on free speech as well as the first step on a slippery slope of censorship and silencing of important perspectives. 

This week, our five links give you an opportunity to consider different points of view on a matter that is being debated in state legislatures and in school districts right now. You might think teaching critical race theory is a bad idea. Or, you might think not teaching critical race theory is a bad idea. Are there ideas so bad, that we should banish them from discussion? Or is there something valuable to be gained from listening to things we think are wrong and considering if there’s something to be learned? Whatever your position, I hope you’ll start a conversation about how we respond to ideas we think are bad when, because of the consequences, we can’t afford to just turn them off or ignore them.

5 links worth your time

  1. The New War on Woke,  ARC Digital – Jeffrey Sachs, a lecturer in politics at Acadia University, reviews efforts by legislators across the country to prohibit the teaching of “divisive concepts.” He worries about the consequences of these bills and, more broadly, our failure to subject ideas we think are bad to thoughtful consideration and discussion. 
  2. Critical Race Fragility, City Journal – Christopher Rufo defends the legislation against the teaching of “divisive concepts” that Jeffrey Sachs questions. He argues that this legislation is not an attack on free speech but a defense of American values. 
  3. The Campaign to Cancel Wokeness, New York Times – Michelle Goldberg, an opinion columnist and one of the writers Christopher Rufo cites in his City Journal piece, gives her account of the argument Rufo is making against teaching critical race theory. 
  4. What Happens When a Slogan Becomes the Curriculum, The Atlantic – A “strong proponent of significant ideas dear to Black Lives Matter activists,” journalist Conor Friedersdorf reports on Evanston, Illinois’ use of the Black Lives Matter at School curriculum. Despite his sympathy for the ideas included in the curriculum, Friedersdorf raises concerns about the line between “education and indoctrination.”
  5. What the 2020 debate over free speech missed, Vox – Sean Illing looks at recent examples of “cancel culture” stories in the news. He reminds us that “free speech only ensures a contest of persuasion. It doesn’t ensure that any particular style of discourse will prevail.”

Photo by Negro Elkha on Adobe Stock