What is the first thing that you pay attention to when you are given somebody else’s vehicle to drive? Think about it! Is it not usually the brakes of the vehicle? (Okay, I admit, the title is a dead giveaway but let’s run with it.) At least I always test the brakes before I start driving the vehicle comfortably.
Now, is it not a bit strange and ironical that the most importance is given to a thing that has a purpose that is an exact antithesis to the very concept of a vehicle? A vehicle aids your movement from one point to another, brakes stop it from doing so. And still they are considered as important as, or even more important than, the systems that aid movement-viz. tires, engine and so forth. Their disruptive influence is welcome and essential. They are essential because had they not existed, the vehicle would never have dared travel at speeds it does for the fear of a wreck. Today, a vehicle with brakes is blissfully nimble, confident in the belief that there are brakes that would not let it go astray.
I hope you can see where this is going. Our civilization, as we know it is akin to a vehicle. It continues its relentless march to future and to the utopian ideals that human kind strives for. It has such wonderful tools such as science and technology and culture and traditions and philosophies and democracies et al. These are the engines of civilization, which move the vehicle of civilization forward. For eons, humans have been a witness to this juggernaut continuing on its relentless march.
Now, as a logical extension to this analogy, what are the brakes to the vehicle of civilization? Are there any at all? Are they as important as brakes in a physical vehicle?
The brakes to the civilization are the people who hold on to beliefs that are long irrelevant, refuse to consider new ideas and thwart all attempts to hold a meaningful discourse and discussion on any issue. They still ‘knock on the wood’ a hundred times a day, believe in horoscopes and planetary influences and live in intellectual caves. Every new idea, be it cloning, or erection of new nuclear reactors, or new vaccines meet with an inflexible resistance that make the progress of ideas as protracted as if they are moving in a pond of morass. They are a disruptive influence, without a shard of doubt, just as brakes are. Need examples? Here they are! Opposition to cloning. Opposition to Nuclear reactors. Stuff people believe in.
Now, is there a silver lining to this cloud? Does this self-ordained rectitude serve a larger purpose in social and civilization unpinning of human sociology?
It turns out that it indeed does. Consider what these attitudes do to our innovators. They compel them to make informed and cautious choices. They compel them to make their arguments bulletproof. It is the heat of skepticism that either bakes the hitherto ‘half-baked and worthy’ ideas or burns away the unworthy ones. Look at the safety regulations on the erection of nuclear power plants, all under the pressure of the vocal opposition. Also, opposition can act as a great catalyst to ideas, affecting the rate rather than the inputs and outputs. And just like the catalyst in a chemical reaction, all changes to ideas leave them by. And then they are ready to throw their spanners in the next set of wheels.