Monday, August 30, 2010

Glenn's Book of Quotes Number Twenty-Three

“All truth passes through three stages. First it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed, and third, it is accepted as self-evident.” – attributed to Arthur Schopenhauer

Schopenhauer probably never said it, but I still like it. It reminds me that if I find myself in opposition to a new or not widely held point-of-view, I should address it with an open mind, generous heart, and a civil tongue. In other words, listen to Wil Wheaton.

After all, you don't want to be the schmuck people are laughing at for the rest of the century. Do you want to be like Louis Spohr, today remembered only because he called Beethoven's Fifth Symphony “An orgy of vulgar noise?” Or Friedrich Nietzche, who addressed the question of the intellectual capacity of women by suggesting that women who became scholars had something wrong with their sexual organs. Lord Kelvin was chilly to the idea of x-rays, calling it a hoax. Pasteur's theory of germs was called ridiculous. Plate tectonics was long held to be as reasonable as the flat-earth hypothesis. What will be tomorrow's self-evident propositions? Once, people turned hoses on those who demanded racial equality. Tomorrow, will those opposed to marriage equality be widely seen as similarly evil? Once, we knew that the platypus was a fraud. Tomorrow, will someone find a yeti (probably not, but wouldn't it be nice?).

The other side of this coin is that if you find yourself in the minority position you need not despair. In time you may find yourself in a position to laugh at those fools at the institute who called you mad.

Of course, there is a danger in this. I've seen this quote, or some variation on it, used by crackpots to encourage each other. Some things really deserve ridicule. And some things should be violently opposed. I've seen the quote used by truthers and birthers, racists and zealots, and generally people who are evangelizing for some pretty crazy notions. Just because you are being ridiculed and opposed doesn't mean that you are the sole possessor of Truth. It is, after all, just possible that you're nuts.

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