Ideas are for living. They are king. If you think big ideas don’t reach into your life, I’m sorry to say you’re mistaken.
I’m no fan of John Maynard Keynes’ economics … but I do like his ideas about ideas!
“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else.”
It’s not just about economics and political philosophy. Ideas affect every sphere.
He’s saying that ideas are powerful. Eventually they rule the world. What about those who think they can avoid the influence of big ideas?
“Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back (The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money).”
“Academic scribblers from a few years back” … could we be living under the influence of their pens and not even know it?
I believe we are.
Big case in point—the English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
He’s a prime example of the supremacy and reach of ideas. And he’s reaching right into your life today, whether you’re in touch with it or not.
Darwin was the official naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle. The ship circled the globe throughout the southern hemisphere on a scientific survey expedition between 1831 and 1836. On the journey he studied geology, plants, animals, and fossils.
In 1859 he published On the Origen of Species, presenting his theory of natural selection and evolution.
Though his interests began in science, his ideas of natural selection and evolutionary theory began to creep into other fields of study as his career progressed.
By 1871, he was beginning to develop concepts about evolutionary psychology, evolutionary ethics, and how evolutionary theory could be applied to society in his book The Descent of Man. Darwin’s Christian faith “devolved” over the course of his life.
Ideas = seeds
Ideas are seminal. Like seeds, they germinate, develop, and spread.
Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) was a British philosopher, sociological theorist, and political theorist. He is known for coining the phrase “survival of the fittest” after reading The Origen of Species.
The seeds of natural selection and evolutionary thought were in Darwin. Spencer diffused evolutionary theory into much wider realms including the human mind, culture, sociology, society, ethics, and political theory. He truly was a social Darwinist.
Did you know that social Darwinistic thought is doing these things?
- Fundamentally changing the value of human life in a society
- Shaping and directing psychological counseling
- Unleashing the stifling effects of radical environmentalism
- And even ballooning the size of the federal government’s role in your life?
John Maynard Keynes clearly saw the supremacy of ideas. Do we?
Ideas—we underestimate their power and impact
Most of us underestimate the power and effect of ideas in general.
We don’t fully appreciate the extent to which evolutionary thought has spread in the late 19th century, throughout the 20th century, and into our time.
It has reached into every conceivable realm of study, increasingly influencing modern history since the early 1900′s. Darwinistic thought is just one example of the power and influence of ideas.
For good or for bad, ideas always rule. When bad ideas rule, we have “madmen” in places of authority and influence.
We would do well to have a better grasp of history. We only hurt ourselves by underestimating the power of ideas. Less television and all manner of electronic devices … more reading. Less popular culture … more thinking, conversation, and dialogue.
We need more awareness. We need better interpretation of our times. And then we need to exert our influence. Awareness. Interpretation. Influence.
Q4U: In what ways can I engage the world of ideas right now? How can I be more of an influence?