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Why Mill and I Love Stupid People

April 4, 2011

Sometimes, when people say things, I want nothing more than to punch them square in the face.  It’s true.  There are a lot of people in the world who make incredibly passionate, and ignorant proclamations, and I often want to punch them for it.  I don’t obviously.  Not merely because of my smaller stature (I like to think that I’m fun-sized), and therefore lower probability of victory, I don’t go punching people willy-nilly in the face because sometimes, more than geniuses, the world needs some idiots.


I had never thought of this in such concrete terms before I read Mill’s “On Liberty.”  As a fairly liberal individual, as many at the school are, I believe in the theory of global warming.  Even qualifying it as “believing” frustrates me because I take it so blindly and obviously as fact; however, there are many that don’t believe like I do.  I recently read an article by Paul Krugman for the New York Times (yes, the same guy who wrote the Econ 102 textbook) in which he lambasts global warming deniers []  The entire time I read the piece, I revelled in his metaphorical face punching until I remembered Mill.  Was there a benefit to society from these deniers?


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Deniers have continuously hindered the progress of green energy innovation and policy, an especially noticeable trend in America, which produces 1/5 of the world’s greenhouse gases.  Krugman optimistically finishes by basically saying we are royally screwed.  Opposition to popular opinion definitely does have negative impact in this scenario, but it the opposition did produce some good.  It encouraged more research on the subject.  Deniers researched more to prove global warming wrong, while the government pretty much the whole world, researched more to prove it a fact.  As Mill argues, opposition can help people better see why they are right, which certainly isn’t a bad thing.  When, however does it become bad.  If humanity as we know it is thrown into some post-apocalyptic, O-zone depleted, Sahara Desert hot wasteland, would Mill argue that silencing the deniers would have been a good thing?  Mill says opposing viewpoints are good, because as people, we are infallible, and prevailing wisdom could be wrong; but if by the scientific method, it is studied extensively by many unbiased groups that all support the existence of global warming, can we assume correctness?

I believe Mill would not say silencing the deniers is allowable.  What would have happened if Christopher Columbus didn’t question that the world was flat?  We’d never have gotten that catchy “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue” jingle.  And what if Galileo and Kepler and Copernicus had been silenced (yes, I know Galileo was silenced, but after he discovered a tremendous amount).  Mill would argue that the deniers give the supporters an invaluable opportunity to show the world that global warming is real, and make a much more powerful argument for climate control than if the deniers had never existed.

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  1. Anthony Sinishtaj permalink
    April 4, 2011 10:38 PM

    I would say impartiality does not exist. Mill would never silence people because as he states, what’s right and wrong is a matter of perspective. People believe one way is right by tradition. Then, people find new information, and a new traditional way of looking of things is made. This one stays until a different perspective is brought up yet again.

  2. Shane Malone permalink
    April 5, 2011 1:46 AM

    This is a great post. I have also read that article and many others by Krugman, (Krugman was/is my ap econ teacher’s faviorte economist), and I’d agree that while the question that you pose if global warming is studied extensively by many unbiased groups that all support the existence of global warming, can we assume correctness? I’d say that in this common area we live in we could assume it is corrective but Mill would not fully agree. I feel that he would value what other people had to say just as much as what the majority of people were saying.

  3. cfrankel permalink
    April 5, 2011 2:47 PM

    I find it ironic that you made the connection of Mill to Christopher Columbus. I made this similar connection in a previous blog post about 2 weeks ago. I completely agree that Mill would be opposed to silencing those who are opposed to popular belief. Nice connection!

  4. lapinsk12 permalink
    April 5, 2011 4:00 PM

    I completely agree with you. We need those thinkers out there to question the norm and the accepted of the world. You bring u great examples in Chris Columbus. Think where we as a country would be without his intuitive thinking and nonconforming theories and personality

  5. April 5, 2011 6:39 PM

    I thought this was a very well thought out and well-written post. Global Warming is a great example for where Mill’s testament holds true. I often find it unfathomable how people can still believe that global warming does not exist, but more research into the matter definitely doesn’t hurt. When I was reading your post I automatically thought about the debate over evolution and Charles Darwin.

  6. Brian Fisher permalink
    April 5, 2011 6:49 PM

    I definitely agree with this post and your assessment of Mill. Mill would never allow an individual’s opinion to be silenced. In this case, Mill would by all means want to hear all of the relevant information regarding global warming as it allows the audience to gather more evidence. Furthermore, you bring up fantastic examples with Christopher Columbus, Galileo, Kepler, and Copernicus as these infamous thinkers would have never been able to share their knowledge kept their opinions inside.

  7. Josh Langer permalink
    April 5, 2011 8:10 PM

    Like most of the people who commented, I agree. It is very clear that Mill believes everyone has the right to state their opinion. However, I wouldn’t go as far to say that arguments that oppose your beliefs are stupid. While some people’s idea may seem a little farfetched, they may be right in the end and get the last laugh. But yes, at the end of the day everyone should be able to state their opinion and that is why journalism in America is so great.

  8. Rebecca Birnbaum permalink
    April 6, 2011 12:02 PM

    I thought this was a great post, although “stupid” kinda devalues other people’s opinions. I think the reason why expressing opinions is so important is to understand various perspectives rather than dismiss them as being naive or ignorant. Obviously, there are always opinions formed without adequate research and/or understanding of the topic, but it’s the opinions that are “way out there” that define either end of the spectrum and encourage debate.

  9. kaycohen23 permalink
    April 6, 2011 8:37 PM

    I found your post to be quite thought provoking. You raise some good questions when thinking about those people who “go against the grain”, and challenge commonly held beliefs. Although these individuals pose a threat to some established ideology, they also have the potential to shed light or publicize new viewpoints concerning a specific issue. An interesting topic that you addressed was the global warming debate and how Mill would respond to those people who deny the existence of global warming. In this case I would have to agree with Mill, although after extensive research global warming is supported, those individuals with opposing opinions to the research should not be silenced. This is because these people have the potential to bring new ideas or challenges to a seemingly stable theory. These challenges can help to make the idea in question more “true”.

  10. alexqhe permalink
    April 7, 2011 2:10 AM

    That’s a great extension to Mill’s point that you made, and one that brings to light the relevancy of the issue even today in a country where we laud freedom of speech. I think that today it’s not an issue of whether or not we’re able to speak freely, but the possible social stigmas that arise as a result of completely candid speech (being labeled as stupid or ignorant, etc.). But I guess that as Mill mentioned, the truth will prevail if it is indeed the truth. After all, it’s not as if the concept of being stigmatized for our thoughts is a novel one.

    Oh, and I just wanted to point out that I think you meant “fallible” when you stated that “… Mill says opposing viewpoints are good, because as people, we are infallible…”

  11. Valerie Van Hulle permalink
    April 7, 2011 4:18 PM

    This is a very thought provoking blog post.
    While I can relate to your frustration in regards to some people’s “interesting” points of view, I agree with Rebecca’s statement that calling them such a term “devalues” their thoughts.
    While I must agree that I strongly find some people’s views to be idiotic, I think calling them stupid passes judgement on a view as false. It was Mill who stated, “To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty”.
    I appreciate the correlations you make between Christopher Columbus and global warming. It is all very interesting.

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