A strange discussion ensued after commentators read Dougald’s post, “Bringing on the Future.” In his defense, I wrote the following:
I could speculate about the misunderstandings and the miscommunications, but in the end such armchair thoughts would only amount to musings and conjectures. What struck me in what I read, though, was the extent to which we’re confused about the nature and place of ideas in contemporary society.
Here’s how I’d recast Dougald’s original line of thought.
Ideas don’t matter in all places and at all times. Most of the time people, if they’ve survived and flourished, have managed to get on with the ideas passed onto them, ideas that were embedded in practices, routines, and ceremonies. Nothing wrong with that provided that the ideas do indeed promote flourishing, provided that the community is a beautiful whole.
However, ideas *really* start to matter when “things fall apart, and the center cannot hold.” Dougald’s claim is that we’re living through such a period. I agree.
But why do they matter *now* more than they did previously? The answer seems to be that we’re in an experiential and cultural bind: we can’t go on the way we had, we’re not sure how we can or should go on, and yet we feel the urge to go on nonetheless.
It follows that we can’t help but think on our feet: try things out, use our wits, see what *could* work, imagine daringly yet cautiously, and so on. Thinking becomes visceral, tactile, vital. If we don’t think, we perish (at least in some soul-sense).
Finally, the successful ideas will come to matter later on if and only if they help us make sense of things–that is to say, they help us survive and flourish. Their success will be measured by the degree to which they become second nature.