I believe in the free market system. Generally this term refers to the economic system, which I also favor. But I am not primarily singing the praises of freedom of markets in the financial sense. I believe the freedom of ideas to float or sink on the sea of practical living is our greatest freedom. When truly bad ideas are floated in a free-thinking environment, they will quickly drop out of sight due to lack of buoyancy. One needn’t look too far to discover examples of this. Those of us with grey hair can’t forget the Edsel or the Yugo as exemplars of the failure of someone’s great idea. As collector’s items, these cars are prized, but as daily transportation, society voted these models off the Survivor island.
Opposite these failed ideas are the really great new things we benefit from every day. Where would we be without non-stick cookware or air conditioning? Has anyone else inadvertently left home sans cell phone recently? What did we do before mobile communication? Don’t we all know someone who is so attached to his Blackberry that orthopaedic surgery is necessary to remove it? Are there people who meet face to face to talk anymore?
The good, the bad and the really bad ideas are all out there. When they depend on economic support to thrive, the free market ruthlessly weeds out the clinkers. But when an idea is launched by a self-supporting institution, say a government body of some type, artificial means often keep holey boats afloat. In the field of education the wreckage of the “whole language” method of reading instruction lies sleeping at the sandy bottom of the sea of time. Sadly, many students who endured this decade- long experiment have since graduated our nation’s high schools without basic reading skills or as functional illiterates. In response, good old fashioned phonics instruction has returned to most elementary schools.
The free market of ideas is working well in non-governmental institutions as well. A generation ago, the mainline Christian denominations embraced the ideas of the neo-orthodox theologians and the result was declining membership rates. Those evangelicals who stayed moored to a more traditional, some would say literal, interpretation of the Bible found their pews overflowing and their churches becoming mega-churches. The idea that Christianity ought to be tied to the truth of the revealed Scripture seems to be the winning position.
More generally, who would argue that meanness is better than kindness, or crassness is better than courtesy? Peace corps volunteers have the idea that less advantaged people deserve our assistance; homicide bombers believe that less enlightened people deserve to die. Some ideas are just inherently, obviously more worthy than others. We mustn’t let the idea fascists dictate what systems or products or lifestyles will rule the day. Let the debate be free; let the market decide; let freedom reign.
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