…and nobody sees or hears it, an environmentalist still sheds a tear.
Bob Capozzi wrote several weeks ago about Richard Weaver’s old adage, “Ideas have consequences.” Bob objects to the importance of this statement, arguing that without being “true, well articulated, developed, and then put into action,” ideas aren’t likely to have much consequence.
However, the phrase itself embodies a consequential idea. Weaver is reminding us to be careful of the ideas that we promote, because they are dangerous weapons. He is saying that we cannot be concerned only with intent, but that the content of ideas is also important. For example, when we realize that communism, fully-implemented, leads to the death of millions of innocents, we are less prone to speak gleefully about it. And our own ideas must be solid to successfully repel the bad ones.
Consider the exact opposite, “Ideas do not have consequences.” What would happen if most people adopted it as a guiding truism? Individuals would have no ability to successfully navigate through life – they would constantly be denying the possibility that recognition, classification, decision-making, or planning could make a difference to them. These are ideas and therefore, as ideas, they couldn’t effect change. The juror could flip a coin on whether to convict a murder defendant, and it would make no difference in honesty, as evidence, motive, and opportunity become mere diversions, and life and death are as indistinguishable as Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee.
Logically, another possibility is available – “Some ideas have consequences.” I think this is closer to the truth, but I think it misses an important point – ideas “happen” in the mind, an event just like a tree falling in the real world. It may not seem to have tremendous or relevant effects upon our lives, but it happened – it had physical, chemical, and biological effects on the surrounding area. In a small way it contributed to the balance of the ecosystem and the health of every living thing on Earth. Similarly, even those ideas which are later discarded, must have some effect on our own minds, even if they never leave the space between our ears. Just as the eco-system as a whole is important, the sum total of our ideas matter for our own lives.
So, perhaps the most accurate statement would be, “Ideas have consequences; some ideas have greater consequence than others.” The ones which are “true, well articulated, developed, and then put into action” will likely be ones of greater consequence. Richard Weaver’s idea is one of these ideas that have great effect, because it meets these very criteria. Its lasting appeal is demonstrated its use by persons such as Nobel laureate James Buchanan and we should be thankful for its longevity. Rarely is so much said with so few words.
-- Kevin D. Rollins