When ideas (should) die.

The concept of falsification is central to ideas in the sciences. To prove something true is much more difficult than to prove something not true. If we adopt this principle when dealing with ideas, and systems of thought, how would we go about determining when an idea can be dismissed and should be removed from the toolbox of ideas?

If we use Marx’s communism as a baseline, as this is a system that has on multiple occasions been implemented fairly in line with the conditions laid out in “Das Kapital”. In each case the implementation has resulted in tyranny, mass murder and a lack of rights for the individual. This holds true in the Soviet Union, Cambodia and North Korea, plus many of the less well-known communist states in Eastern Europe and Africa. In every case there has been a tendency that progress towards the ideal state Marx describes stops with the dictatorship or rule by the revolutionary committee.

Evaluating parts of a whole

Therefore, we can draw the conclusion that as a whole, within the conditions laid out by Marx, communism can be dismissed. However. we can not draw the conclusion that each individual piece of his doctrine can be dismissed. Parts such as public ownership of means of production, his value theory, or the assertion regarding the distribution of the results of production.

It thus follows that each of these have to be handled as individual pieces of a constructed whole, with the goal being to determine whether or not these stand-alone ideas work well inside another system.

For instance, in evaluating subjective value theory from Austrian Economics vs Objective value theory from Marxist economics, we must look to reality to see what is required for trade to take place. However, many Marxists would argue that when viewed in aggregate, objective value theory wherein goods are priced according to the cost to produce the goods, deals with the most optimal allocation of limited resources within a society. Whereas subjective value theory deals with the individual instances of trade, where a trade cannot happen unless both parties view what they are looking to trade for as having value to them above what they are willing to trade for it.

If Trader 1 has 10 gold coins, and trader 2 has 200 lbs of steak, they cannot trade if both trader 1 and trader 2 agree that objectively, the 10 gold coins are worth more than the steak or vice versa.

However society can argue that the cost to produce 200 lbs of steak is the equivalent of 10 gold coins.

Therefore, the conclusion must be that both objective and subjective value theory holds under a different set of constraints, but do not have general applicability to all trades.

In this case we have dismissed Marxism as a whole, but accepted one of many ideas within the system. In the manner, one can accept that old moral codes such as the golden rule and 10 commandments are beneficial to maintain social cohesion as stand-alone ideas without having to accept their baggage.

The general maxim to draw from this discussion is that while whole systems of ideas can be dismissed as whole, the individual parts must also be tackled alone in order to fully dismiss a system. An analogy from computers, would be that a bad batch of motherboards do impact the whole system, but one can replace just the motherboard, without having to replace the remaining parts.

The consequence of this is that dismissing a system of thought needs to happen on two levels, as a whole (sum of the parts) and as the parts themselves. Furthermore, in evaluating the system and the parts, areas of synergy or of requirement must be reviewed.

In effect, a system of thought should always result in better results than the individual parts could alone, if the system is worthwhile. This is normally referred to as “synergy”. Requirement on the other hand, deals with the objective conditions that need to be in order for the system as a whole, or for parts to function. To draw on the computer analogy once more, every part requires the power supply in order to operate, the power supply itself only requires a source of power, but it is worthless without the other components, because the only purpose for which it exists is to power the components.

Finding the components of an idea or part of an idea

The method for finding underlying components is to continue to probe a system’s parts in depth over time. You will know when you have reached the fundamental idea, as this does not require any other ideas. If we problem classical liberalism in the tradition of writers such as Thomas Paine, we arrive at a basic maxim regarding the freedom of the individual and the rights of the individual versus the rights of the group. We can summarize this as “What is the price the individual has to pay, in order to get the security of the state?” furthermore “What is the price the state is permitted to charge from the individual from this security?” However, if we probe even deeper, the individual is a concept from nature, the group is a concept from the individuals, thus it follows that individuals must have rights in a situation where no group exists.

As these rights exist without the group, it follows that this is the starting state of rights and that any restrictions on these rights must require the cooperation of the individual. An individual as a general rule has 2 states:

  1. Stand-alone (not a member of a group)
  2. Member of a group

Therefore it follows that an individual may make a choice of whether it wants to be a member of a group, or not. Therefore it follows that membership in a group is conditional and based on a cost-benefit analysis by each individual based on rights given up vs privileges gained.

Thus one can conclude that the Natural Law from the enlightenment is based on the individual as a core idea.

If one were to evaluate Marxism in the same way, one would find that Marxism is based on the best for the group, not the individual. This follows from the abolition of private property and the collectivization of results, embodied in “To each according to their need, from each according to their ability”.

This is in many ways a profitable approach, because most ideas and systems of ideas have unstated ideas or premises, that once seen often result in dismissals of whole systems or subsystems of ideas.

The final goal

The final goal of this long and accurate process of reason is to have a system of ideas fully mapped out, into individual ideas and how they relate to each other. This should give you a bird’s eye view of how the ideology functions and what has to be true in order for it to function. Once you know what has to be true, then you have the core premises, the conclusion will naturally follow.

For instance, in order for gender feminism to be true, the patriarchy has to exist as a social system that seeks to keep women subservient to men in political, economic and social matters. If this is not true, then it follows that all the ideas that are based off this central premises have to be reevaluated at well. This includes every other system of thought based on the concept of systemic oppression. This is going from the specific [A system that oppresses women] to the general [A system that oppresses GROUP].

The great thing here is that this does not have to be evaluated from a perspective of pure reason, it can be evaluated with practical reason, because we have ample historical evidence of how such systems operate and what they look like. We have women prior to 1900, we have black people in the United States of America up to and including the civil rights movement, we have South African Apartheid, the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany, and the caste system in India.

In all these systems the following was true:

  • The oppressed group suffered discrimination in economic and political power through the legal system. This was done by giving them less rights than other groups within the country legally. Either in the form of less positive rights or more negative restrictions.
  • The oppressed group had their social status marginalized by widespread negative portrayals in popular culture, and the media.

For instance, black people in south Africa had less rights in that they could not vote, they could not attend certain schools and society was overall segregated.

Jews in Nazi Germany were not permitted to own and operate businesses, their property could be confiscated without grounds, and they were segregated from the rest of the population by law.

Women prior to 1900 generally did not have the right to vote, women up to and until 1960/1970 did not have equal rights in the workplace (equal pay, being hired for certain jobs etc)

Black people in the U.S were negatively sterotyped in the media, and in pop culture, by things such as blackface or other approaches that sought to influence the public perception of black people.

These examples clearly show that systems of oppression enact oppression via the legislative branch of government. Furthermore, they undermine the social status of a group through widespread negative stereotyping in popular culture and mass media.

This gives us a basis for evaluating which groups are actually oppressed and which are not, based on the 3 areas outlined in the textbook definition of feminism:

A) Social – how is the group portrayed in popular culture and the media in general. You can test these by a fun association game:

  • If I say spousal abuser, what is the image in your mind?
  • If I say rapist, what is the image in your mind?
  • If I say criminal, what is the image in your mind?

B) Political – is this group denied equal political power through being denied the right to vote or otherwise equally influence the political system. Furthermore, are there specific laws in place that negatively influences this group, or alternatively that benefit this group.

C) Economic – is this group denied equal opportunity to gain educational qualifications and jobs.

As a final note, if you wish to continue down the train of thought I started in the latter part of this post, please do not mistake equality of opportunity for equality of outcome.

More reading

Critical Thinking for Students: Learn the Skills of Analysing, Evaluating and Producing Arguments by  Roy van den Brink-Budgen

How to Win Every Argument: The Use and Abuse of Logic by Madsen Pirie

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

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5 comments on “When ideas (should) die.

  1. Yang Ho says:

    About your addressing of whole to part conclusions (I forgot the proper name of the fallacy): why is it not reasonable to conclude something of the part if the whole is homogeneous? Is it just that the line of reasoning is bad and that there is another way to derive the conclusion?

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    • Thank you for your comment. The name of the fallacy is “Fallacy of composition” assuming that if something is true of a part of a whole, it is also true for the whole.

      The best example I’ve read, is that if someone stands up during a cricket match, they can see better. Thus if everyone stands up they can see better. This is obviously not correct, because if everyone stands up not everyone can see better. In this case, even if the whole crowd is homogenous and thus the same height and width, the conclusion is erroneous.

      This fallacy is the opposite of the fallacy of division, which is assuming that something being true for the whole is also true for all of its parts. For instance, if a 3rd grade class got a Grade-point average of 3.5, it follows that everyone in the class got a grade of 3.5.

      In reference to your specific question of why it is not reasonable:
      A) The whole may have additional properties that do not exist in each part.
      B) The parts may have properties that influence the whole.
      C) Something may not be true of all parts.
      D) Something may be true of all parts, but not of the whole.

      This is why I advocate looking at each part as individual parts and as each whole both as a whole and as composed of individual parts. Once you know for certain what the characteristics of each part is, and the characteristics of the whole, you can look at the totality of the system. The reason why such reasoning is bad, is because it is prone to errors due to generalizing. The dangerous part in your question, is assuming that a whole is homogenous.

      I hope that answered your question.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yang Ho says:

        Thanks for the comprehensiveness. I sure you are aware of the controversy of inductive reasoning. The gamblers and these fallacies seem to resemble inductive reasoning (except in that they don’t include “probably”).

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      • Science does have a preference for deductive reasoning for a reason. Many fallacies do resemble inductive reasoning but inductive reasoning as I can explain it is the ability to see what is not there in the data. Grounded theory is a great way to approach inductive reasoning in a structured and scientifically acceptable manner.

        One could argue that the core principle of science is being able to replicate (and thus verify) findings. As a result, inductive reasoning is often mistrusted because it is inherently difficult to document fully.

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  2. […] “V for Vendetta” says, “Ideas are bulletproof“. As I’ve written about before bad ideas are in many ways like the ebola virus, you can quarantine the infected, you can attempt […]

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