On the ideological/artistic environment

ideas, whether they are political, philosophical, cultural or artistic, are like the flora and fauna that make up a forest. (or any other ecosystem, but for the sake of the metaphor, let’s stick with forest.) any individual idea can have a constructive or destructive effect on the environment and organisms around it. some are parasitic and survive by killing surrounding life. some are mutualistic and rely on others to survive, others just float above and keep to themselves, or exist primarily to nourish others.

but what characterizes something so rich and complex as a forest (or, if you follow my metaphor, a culture) is balance. the strength and stability of the ecosystem relies on a balance and diversity of all the constituent parts. if you have a garden, maybe you want to pluck out all the weeds so you can grow some flowers, but if you went to a forest and uprooted every single one of some type of plant or animal (or introduced something foreign in order to effect the same) you’d probably be doing all kinds of damage without realizing it.

i think culture works kind of the same way. these days it’s all too common to see people calling for every instance of an idea to be eliminated, implicitly because a competing idea is seen as obviously preferable.

now of course everyone thinks they know what’s good, and of course you should defend what you think is right, whether it’s a political stance or a way of blowing your horn or writing a tune – but i think this kind of idea – the “weeding” of the cultural garden, so to speak – is a trap. the world is not a garden that you can cultivate according to your own preferences. the world is a forest – WE are the forest. the strength and beauty is in the balance of diverse elements. the tree only survives if it can effectively compete for resources with other trees, but it equally only survives if the other trees are nearby, preventing soil from drying out, fertilizing the ground when they die.

we all think our own ideas (artistic, political…) are the best ones. but they only exist when we allow the richness of diversity. history shows us that any time we have attempted to destroy an idea by preventing people expressing it, the consequences have been disastrous – and conversely, allowing the expression of ideas you disagree with allows you the freedom to express ideas that others may disagree with.

people who believe they can forcibly eliminate an idea, despite the lessons of history, have probably never expressed a truly unpopular idea… but maybe now we’re a little far down the garden path!

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