Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Tyranny of Dead Ideas

I saw Matt Miller on a Big Think video a few weeks back and was immediately taken with his theories on "dead ideas". It's not a complex concept and it is what you think it is -- ideas whose shelf-life has expired. And yet, people tend to cling to these ideas despite the fact that this act leads to some pretty nasty consequences. Miller tackles lots of these ideas in the political realm and discusses such things as health care, free-trade, education, taxes, and the like.

His recent book The Tyranny of Dead Ideas takes an informative, if also somewhat cursory, look at the history of each of the "dead ideas" and proposes a whole new set of ideas we ought to adopt. On the whole, the book is fairly standard stuff and amounts to a litany of liberal-leaning solutions to today's problems (not that that's a problem for me).

Where the book shines out is the call for "court-jesters" who take a withering look at assumptions in a given organization. We so often look at these critics as trouble -- not as team players. But Miller rightly points out how necessary these types are. These people are not your toxically inclined colleagues who carp all day, but are instead people who make hard, but constructive critiques of the organization.

As we move into a new political era, all of the old assumptions that us into the current crisis are coming under the microscope. The Tyranny of Dead Ideas' prescriptions may not be for every person, but the method of radical critique seems to be more relevant than it has in my lifetime. It's easy to say that Miller's methods are necessary, but few people or organizations actually turn the ideas into reality. Now that we live in "interesting times", I don't know that we have any option but to proceed critically.

No comments: