Science Fiction Project - Free Culture
Analog - All editorials - John Wood Campbell
* * Back * *


It is terribly hard to convince a man he's wrong, under the best of circumstances. But it's even harder to convince him thoroughly that he's wrong - when he isn't. Things like the old folk-superstition, anciently held by the peasants of Europe, that, if you get a bad cut, putting a few spider webs over it will stop the bleeding. It's terribly hard to convince them that that's a silly superstition.
It just happens that the alien protein of spider silk is both highly reactive - that's part of why it's sticky - and highly alien; it causes the blood platelletes to shatter and cause clotting almost instantly. The strong network of spider-silk threads then form an excellent framework for the clot to establish itself on. A freshly made spider web is usually quite clean, and is more reactive than an old one. Works much better than the kind of highly non-sterile cloths a peasant is apt to have around.
It is, by the nature of things, the inevitable fate of any great leader in thought to have a horrible time getting his ideas over to his fellow man. He's a great leader because he has brand-new and important thoughts - thoughts that are highly disturbing, too, since they mean the abandonment of older, less effective ideas, that have long been cherished. The inevitable consequence of that situation is that every great leader blows his top every so often about the asininity of Mankind, the stupidity, recalcitrance, and general no-goodness of thick-witted, non-thinking, stubborn Man. Galileo's original papers are, I understand, marvels of vituperative language, much of it unprintable in any modern book. Every great leader has had excellent reason to fulminate about the recalcitrance and stupidity of Man - on how Man rejects stubbornly those things that are wise and good and sensible, clinging leechlike to his pet superstitions, his pet emotional responses, and his beloved - and stupid - superstitions.
In the Eastern tradition, the Great Thinker simply retires into himself, thinks his own great thoughts, and lets those who want to take the trouble to learn come to him. The Western tradition puts the Great Man on the spot; if you're so darned smart, let's see you do something useful with your ideas! And the first useful thing you can do is teach me. If you can't do anything useful with your ideas - why should I supply you with useful food, clothing and shelter? Why should I spend my useful-to-me time listening to you?
This, too, has caused more than one of the West's Great Thinkers to blow his stack on the subject of "gross materialism". I suspect a certain undercurrent of resentment that the world wouldn't give him the gross material to eat that he found necessary.
Now perhaps it would be worth while to review this situation, and see whether the indictments of Mankind's stupidity, recalcitrance, et cetera, are justified. The West's brutally ruthless tendency to make Gerald Genius get in and pitch for his living - to make his wonderful ideas useful - has unquestionably been exceedingly hard on the dispositions of many great, and potentially great men. It's distracted them, and forced them to spend time earning a living that they would prefer to have spent working out their great ideas. It's certainly been a handicap to those men.
But... well, maybe it has been worth while, at that. The East tried it the other way; it may well be that they achieved some mighty spiritual triumphs - but that's going to be hard to determine in another couple of centuries, since the highly teachable Western concepts are rapidly flooding over and submerging the original Eastern concepts (the Western concepts are more teachable, because about ninety per cent of the time of a Western genius had to be devoted to sweating out some way of getting his idea across. The result was that the great talents of first-order geniuses were channeled into developing teaching methods. It was darned hard on the geniuses - but the Race of Man had found a way to harness its greatest thinkers to the benefit of all!).
But I have a feeling that the result has also had its bad aspects; the Teachers have been teaching under violent protest. They've been teaching, all right, but with the boiling, colossal anger and resentment of truly tremendous personalities - and a lot of that angry resentment leaks through, too. The essence of its message is "Man is a thick-skulled, thick-witted, fumble-brained dope, who will learn nothing unless it is driven into his stubborn noggin with a bludgeon! And if he isn't bludgeoned into learning, he'd remain a stupid clod forever!".
These are the attitudes of a frustrated and angry genius, a Galileo who was far ahead of his time, a Copernicus, Newton, or a Plato's attitude. Their ideas were obvious to them - but they were geniuses, men of abnormal power and stature. Is it appropriate to condemn Mankind for not being made up entirely of top-level geniuses?
Naturally, the genius doesn't want to be lonely - he wants understanding friends. Sorry; the penalty of being out in front of the crowd is that there is no crowd with you.
Actually, the genius probably doesn't want to be a leader; he is simply trying to be what his nature makes him - and it makes him lonely because his nature is unusual.
Well - "A poor workman quarrels with his tools". If the genius wants to work with Mankind, he might, perhaps, do so more efficiently if he got over blowing his stack at their stupidity, and tried taking the viewpoint he so violently demeans - that they are not stupid. That they have a great, and very ancient wisdom. That the flash of genius can be flashing in the wrong direction. Hitler was undoubtedly a genius; so was Ghengis Khan and many another of Mankind's great geniuses-in-the-wrong-direction.
The trouble is that the great men have transmitted not only their very real and very great wisdom to the culture - they've also transmitted their anger at Man.

Since geniuses suffer most intolerably from Mankind's intolerance of new ideas, the culture has a great schism in its thinking; it insists that we must be tolerant - and is intolerant. Possibly things would work better if we acknowledged that Intolerance is a great, useful, and necessary thing - properly used. It's worth noting that three billion years of evolution has produced a human organism that is so intolerant that you can't tolerate a skin-graft from any individual... unless you happen to be a one-egg twin, in which case you can tolerate a skin-graft from your genetically identical twin.
Three billion years of evolution doesn't make nonsense; why is intolerance a good and necessary thing? I don't know... bu"t I've a strong hunch we'd do a lot better with controlling intolerance if we first found out what it was meant to do, and how it was meant to be used. Most communities feel that it is wrong to tolerate a thief, pervert, or a sadistic killer. Let's try the demeaned viewpoint that Intolerance is a sound, necessary, and valuable function - in its proper place.
When the United States tried the experiment of Prohibition, it held "There is no place for a liquor seller". Since people do want liquors, there obviously is a place for liquor sellers. Denying this fact pushed the liquor seller underground, where he operated without thoughtful control. The result was very bad liquor, poisonous liquor, and uncontrolled distribution of liquor. Fortunately alcohol is one of the best antiseptics, so bacterial contamination of the liquor due to dirty handling didn't add to Mankind's woes. Just imagine what would have happened if it had been milk!
So long as we insist "There is no place for Intolerance in human thinking!" we are going to have Bootleg Intolerance - uncontrolled distribution, badly organized intolerance, poisonous intolerance. I have a hunch that if we tried that demeaned viewpoint, we might accept that Intolerance is a fine and necessary thing - and wind up with a lot less, much more sanely distributed.
Of course, the powerful and sweeping condemnation of Intolerance that is standard in our culture is an excellent example of a type of thinking that our culture sweepingly condemns - thinking in terms of categories and sweeping generalizations. Inasmuch as the culture itself teaches that we should think in those terms, and does so by example, while teaching that we should not do so in terms of preachments, I'm a little confused as to what the culture does believe. The culture preaches that you should not think in sweeping generalities - but the culture does think in precisely that manner. It's a "Don't do what I do; do what I say!" problem.
Possibly thinking in generalizations is another of those demeaned and suppressed concepts that need to be brought out of the Bootleg class. Since mankind does, and has for a long, long time thought in those terms, and has, somehow, managed to survive, maybe there is a modicum of validity to it that needs to be found. You can't get a man to give up an idea when it's sound and valid; you've got to find the area of its validity, acknowledge it belongs there - and then he'll be able to agree there are places it doesn't belong. But saying it doesn't belong anywhere, under any circumstances, doesn't get you far. So long as you insist on that attitude, you can't regulate it, channel it, or apply it where it does fit.

Let's try taking the demeaned viewpoint; assume that thinking in categorical terms is valid, and see how it could be used.
1. Juvenile delinquents tend to grow up and become criminals.
"Why, that's no way to judge a man! I have a neighbor who was a juvenile delinquent, arrested seven times, and almost sent to reform school. But he's a fine man - an engineer with a big job in an important construction company. You're thinking in categories, and you know that's not sound".
2. Individuals who have no fixed address, no family, and no fixed associations in any business tend to be untrustworthy.
"That's nonsense! I know a man who's a business organization consultant. He's a bachelor, and he has no fixed address, and naturally, in his work, changes from one business association to another rapidly. That doesn't mean a thing; it's just sloppy thinking".
3. Individuals who carry concealed guns are usually open to considerable suspicion.
"Oh... nonsense! I suppose you'd say that a detective was a crook because he carries a concealed gun!".
4. There is a tendency for social deviants such as criminals to take to flashy and extreme styles of dress.
"That would make most of the teen-agers I know criminals! You can't judge a man's character by his clothes, and you know it".
5. This individual was a juvenile delinquent; he has no family, no fixed address, no business associations, is carrying a concealed gun, and is flashily dressed. I suspect he may be a professional criminal, and will take precautionary measures on that basis.
Perhaps the major trouble with the use of thinking-in-categories is that most people do too little of it - they don't use enough categories. Senator McCarthy evidently feels that one-time interest in a Communist-associated organization is adequate proof that a man is untrustworthy - though it happens that his other category-associations include twenty or thirty conservative political, economic and religious organizations. It isn't that categorical thinking is itself wrong - but that, like any good thing, it can be used wrongly.
If you have a piece of glass, and put a streak of lacquer on it that absorbs ten per cent of the transmitted light, you can't blacken it with that. But if you put thirty such streaks across the glass, and they all intersect at one point... it won't be black, of course, but it'll be awful darned dark looking.
Maybe the human race would get along a bit better if it didn't try to totally suppress things that Man, over the megayears, has learned the hard way - by evolution. Not all animals with big teeth are carnivores. Not all animals with claws are carnivores. Not all big animals are carnivores. But if you enter a region that is totally strange to you, and you see a large animal, with large pointed teeth, that has claws rather than hoofs, and does not have horns - you have no logical data, of course, about the nature of this individual, it's just pure suspicion, but you're rather apt to live longer if you suspect it of being a hunting carnivore.
On the other hand, as Couvier, the great Zoologist pointed out, the traditional Devil is obviously herbiverous; he has horns and hoofs.

May 1955