Why Mill and I Love Stupid People
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 [http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/04/opinion/04krugman.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=general] 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?
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.
song from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJhLtOu0M9s&feature=related