How to spot a really choice Foolish Idea
  • things that are done for their own sake
  • ideas whose time has come, gone and come back around for more punishment
  • shiny objects of no utility
  • concepts that go completely against the grain of common sense and good judgment

Brian added a comment below (you have to log on to read it) that ideas that lack common sense should go unstated. I don't agree, at all, although he has a good point that common sense is a cultural commodity; I think furthermore that it's clear that what is "common sense" varies from country to country, and in fact that's an even stronger argument for the careless discard of the fear of foolishness.

I think the whole underpinning of Wasteflake lacks common sense. Common sense (at least the American variety) would have us find other, financially rewarding ways of spending what free time each of us spends here. But, it's too much fun to hang out here for me to worry about offending the common sense gods.


Also, we should note the difference between a Foolish Idea (something done for its own sake, done because it's interesting and amusing, not done primarily for profit or prestige) and a foolish idea (something trivial and dumb).

And yes, common sense varies considerably from culture to culture and time to time. For example, the medical establishment ignored Semmelweis's suggestions that doctors should wash their hands before examining women who had just given birth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignaz_Semmelweis). That was before germ theory was developed. Today, say that doctors should wash their hands before examining any patient, and the response is pretty much "well, duh, that's just common sense."


Christos projects are good examples of Foolish Idea: (quote from The Guardian
Christo has referred to his creations with some pride as "irrational, irresponsible, useless". "The world can live without these things," he says. "We like to have them. When they appear for a few days they carry this tremendous freedom of irresponsibility."



Here are a few heuristics I use for spotting FoolishIdeas
  • A fix for a problem that depends on getting large numbers of people to "realize" that a particular course of action is the "right thing to do" which invariably is really code language for spontaneously coming to share the values and biases of that idea's promulgator. No mechanism for getting large numbers of people to think or do the right thing is ever proposed. This is the AndThenAMiracleHappens strategy.
  • An idea based on the world view that everything is someone's fault, and therefore if there a problem, the solution has to involve somebody getting somehow punished even if an equally workable or better solution which doesn't involve punishment is available. This is the YesButCanWePunishThemAnyway strategy.
  • An plan that correctly identifies an undesirable behavior a complex system is exhibiting but then tries to correct for this behavior by applying brute force on the system in the opposite direction (literally or metaphorically). To coin a phrase, this is the MakeBadStuffIllegal strategy.
  • The assumption that people or circumstances are out to get you and anything you try to do will be foiled by people or circumstances and therefore there's no point to doing anything. A very tempting way to think because it appeals to our laziness. This is the ItWontWork strategy.
  • Rounding off the list, theres the other popular rationalization for doing nothing which is that every possible negative outcome no matter how unlikely or minor needs to be anticipated and prevented before anything is to be done. A zero tolerance for risk, embraced by people who don't understand that we live in a probabilistic universe. The GuaranteedSafe strategy.

Oh, thought of another heuristic... when an idea is refuted point by point, and it's proponent then miraculously pulls brand new justifications for doing it out of nowhere. One of two things is happening-- either they have a real agenda that isn't in your interests so they're not going to tell you what it is and just keep coming up with ever more outlandish excuses. Or, they've stubbornly committed themselves to this idea for emotional reasons and will say anything to rationalize their position.

Hummm... In my original thinking these would not necessary be FoolishIdeas so much as DumbIdeas. For example, it is a FoolishIdea to hang 7500 gates with saffron fabric in Central Park, NYC for people to gawp at 16 days. It is a DumbIdea to start a war in order to make the world a better place. The GuaranteedSafe strategy seems to getting close to where I've been muddling about in RandomThoughts. We'll I'm off to see the gates before they are unfurled; more later.
Created by steve. Last Modification: Friday 11 of February, 2005 09:51:12 EST by steve.