Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I live in a world of ghosts. Not the scary movie kind. These ghosts just drift around muttering. What do they mutter? Various thoughts: "The unexamined life is not worth living." "Whatsoever you did to the least of these, you did unto me." "It still moves." "We hold these truths to be self-evident…" "We will fight them on the beaches…" "Are you now or have you ever been…" "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" "I have a dream…"

These are the ghosts of our intellectual ancestors. Some are good. Some are evil. The ghosts are real, and they are all around us. If you can hear them, you can draw power from the good ones, and they can help you to know how to counter the bad ones. But if you don't know the ghosts are there, they can play intellectual poltergeist or worse.

Ideas define the reality that we live in. I am not saying that ideas change reality. But we act on the reality that we perceive, and that perception is largely defined by the ideas we receive. Galileo did not cause the earth to suddenly start revolving around the Sun, or Jupiter to suddenly have moons. But his writings redefined our view of the reality that we live in, which is almost as powerful as having changed reality itself.

Other ghosts have created false realities, just as compelling. The twentieth century mirage of human perfectibility through Marxist-Leninism, if somehow it could just be carried out correctly, drew in thousand or millions of believers and caused untold suffering and death. The perceived reality of religious fundamentalists of all stripes continues to cause suffering and conflict. These are powerful ghosts.

Many people don't hear the ghosts. They haven't been taught about the good ones or the bad ones. They don't know the grand sweep of intellectual battles between the ghosts. Sometimes this might be comforting: some of the ghosts can be a bit tedious and full of themselves, along with those of the living who spend too much time talking to the ghosts. But ignorance of the ghosts is not a defense against them. They defined the world we live in. Their allies and acolytes work to define the future. If we don’t hear the ghosts, we are at their mercy - and some of them are quite malevolent.

What ghosts do you hear? What are they saying, who are they arguing with, and why? Which ones should you really learn more about?

"A people with no history is like a person with no memory."

Listen to the ghosts. Find out more about them - the good ones to be listened to for advice, the bad ones to be forewarned about their living allies.