Sample G23 from William C. Smith, "Why Fear Ideas?" The Personalist, XLII: 2 (Spring, April, 1961), 191-197 A part of the XML version of the Brown Corpus2,006 words46 (2.3%) quotesG23

Used by permission. 0010-1830

William C. Smith, "Why Fear Ideas?" The Personalist, XLII: 2 (Spring, April, 1961), 191-197

Arbitrary Hyphens: scientifically-trained [1470]anti-polio [1480] mud-beplastered [1560]Note: barnsful [1520]

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During the last years of Woodrow Wilson's administration , a red scare developed in our country . Many Americans reacted irrationally to the challenge of Russia and turned to the repression of ideas by force . Postmaster General Burleson set about to protect the American people against radical propaganda that might be spread through the mails . Attorney General Palmer made a series of raids that sent more than 4,000 so-called radicals to the jails , in direct violation of their constitutional rights . Then , not many years later , the Un-American Activities Committee , under the leadership of Martin Dies , pilloried hundreds of decent , patriotic citizens . Anyone who tried to remedy some of the most glaring defects in our form of democracy was denounced as a traitorous red whose real purpose was the destruction of our government . This hysteria reached its height under the leadership of Senator Joseph McCarthy . Demagogues of this sort found communist bogeys lurking behind any new idea that would run counter to stereotyped notions . New ideas were dangerous and must be repressed , no matter how .

Those who would suppress dangerous thoughts , credit ideas with high potency . They give strict interpretation to William James' statement that `` Every idea that enters the mind tends to express itself '' . They seem to believe that a person will act automatically as soon as he contacts something new . Hence , the only defensible procedure is to repress any and every notion , unless it gives evidence that it is perfectly safe .

Despite this danger , however , we are informed on every hand that ideas , not machines , are our finest tools ; ; they are priceless even though they cannot be recorded on a ledger page ; ; they are the most valuable of commodities -- and the most salable , for their demand far exceeds supply . So all-important are ideas , we are told , that persons successful in business and happy in social life usually fall into two classes : those who invent new ideas of their own , and those who borrow , beg , or steal from others .

Seemingly , with an unrestricted flow of ideas , all will be well , and we are even assured that `` an idea a day will keep the sheriff away '' . That , however , may also bring the police , if the thinking does not meet with social approval . Criminals , as well as model citizens , exercise their minds . Merely having a mental image of some sort is not the all-important consideration .

Of course , there must be clarity : a single distinct impression is more valuable than many fuzzy ones . But clarity is not enough . The writer took a class of college students to the state hospital for the mentally ill in St. Joseph , Missouri . An inmate , a former university professor , expounded to us , logically and clearly , that someone was pilfering his thoughts . He appealed to us to bring his case to the attention of the authorities that justice might be done . Despite the clarity of his presentation , his idea was not of Einsteinian calibre .

True , ideas are important , perhaps life's most precious treasures . But have we not gone overboard in stressing their significance ? ? Have we not actually developed idea worship ? ?

Ideas we must have , and we seek them everywhere . We scour literature for them ; ; here we find stored the wisdom of great minds . But are all these works worthy of consideration ? ? Can they stand rigid scrutiny ? ?

Shakespeare's wit and wisdom , his profound insight into human nature , have stood the test of centuries . But was he infallible in all things ? ? What of his treatment of the Jew in The Merchant Of Venice ? ?

Shakespeare gives us a vivid picture of Shylock , but probably he never saw a Jew , unless in some of his travels . The Jews had been banished from England in 1290 and were not permitted to return before 1655 , when Shakespeare had been dead for thirty-nine years . If any had escaped expulsion by hiding , they certainly would not frequent the market-place .

Shakespeare did not usually invent the incidents in his plays , but borrowed them from old stories , ballads , and plays , wove them together , and then breathed into them his spark of life . Rather than from a first-hand study of Jewish people , his delineation of Shylock stems from a collection of Italian stories , Il Pecorone , published in 1558 , although written almost two centuries earlier . He could learn at second hand from books , but could not thus capture the real Jewish spirit . Harris J. Griston , in Shaking The Dust From Shakespeare ( 216 ) , writes : `` There is not a word spoken by Shylock which one would expect from a real Jew '' .

He took the story of the pound of flesh and had to fasten it on someone . The Jew was the safest victim . No Jew was on hand to boycott his financially struggling theater . It would have been unwise policy , for instance , to apply the pound-of-flesh characterization to the thrifty Scotchman . Just as now anyone may hurl insults at a citizen of Mars , or even of Tikopia , and no senatorial investigation will result . Who cares about them ! !

Shakespeare does not tell us that Shylock was an aberrant individual . He sets him forth as being typical of the group . He tells of his `` Jewish heart '' -- not a Shylockian heart ; ; but a Jewish heart . This would make anyone crafty and cruel , capable of fiendish revenge .

There is no justification for such misrepresentation . If living Jews were unavailable for study , the Bible was at hand . Reading the Old Testament would have shown the dramatist that the ideas attributed to Shylock were abhorrent to the Jews .

Are we better off for having Shakespeare's idea of Shylock ? ? Studying The Merchant Of Venice in high school and college has given many young people their notions about Jews . Does this help the non-Jew to understand this group ? ?

Thomas De Torquemada , Inquisitor-General of the Spanish Inquisition , put many persons to death . His name became synonymous with cold-blooded cruelty . Would we gain by keeping alive his memory and besmirching today's Roman Catholics by saying he had a Catholic heart ? ? Let his bones and his memory rest in the fifteenth century where they belong ; ; he is out of place in our times . Shakespeare's Shylock , too , is of dubious value in the modern world .

Ideas , in and of themselves , are not necessarily the greatest good . A successful businessman recently prefaced his address to a luncheon group with the statement that all economists should be sent to the hospitals for the mentally deranged where they and their theories might rot together . Will his words come to be treasured and quoted through the years ? ?

Frequently we are given assurance that automatically all ideas will be sifted and resifted and in the end only the good ones will survive . But is that not like going to a chemistry laboratory and blindly pouring out liquids and powders from an array of bottles and then , after stirring , expecting a new wonder drug inevitably to result ? ?

What of the efficiency of this natural instrument of free discussion ? ? Is there some magic in it that assures results ? ?

When Peter B. Kyne ( Pride Of Palomar , 43 ) informed us in 1921 that we had an instinctive dislike for the Japanese , did the heated debates of the Californians settle the truth or falsity of the proposition ? ?

The Leopard's Spots came from the pen of Thomas Dixon in 1902 , and in this he announced an `` unchangeable '' law . If a child had a single drop of Negro blood , he would revert to the ancestral line which , except as slaves under a superior race , had not made one step of progress in 3,000 years . That doctrine has been accepted by many , but has it produced good results ? ?

In the same vein , a certain short-story plot has been overworked . The son and heir of a prominent family marries a girl who has tell-tale shadows on the half-moons of her finger nails . In time she presents her aristocratic husband with a coal-black child . Is the world better for having this idea thrust upon it ? ? Will argument and debate decide its truth or falsity ? ?

For answers to such questions we must turn to the anthropologists , the biologists , the historians , the psychologists , and the sociologists . Long ago they consigned the notions of Kyne and Dixon to the scrap heap .

False ideas surfeit another sector of our life . For several generations much fiction has appeared dealing with the steprelationship . The stepmother , almost without exception , has been presented as a cruel ogress . Children , conditioned by this mistaken notion , have feared stepmothers , while adults , by their antagonistic attitudes , have made the role of the substitute parents a difficult one . Debate is not likely to resolve the tensions and make the lot of the stepchild a happier one . Research , on the other hand , has shown many stepmothers to be eminently successful , some far better than the real mothers .

Helen Deutsch informed us ( The Psychology Of Women , Vol. 2 , , 434 ) that in all cultures `` the term ' stepmother ' automatically evokes deprecatory implications '' , a conclusion accepted by many . Will mere debate on that proposition , even though it be free and untrammeled , remove the dross and leave a residue of refined gold ? ? That is questionable , to say the least . Research into several cultures has proven her position to be a mistaken one .

Most assuredly ideas are invaluable . But ideas , just for the sake of having them , are not enough . In the 1930's , cures for the depression literally flooded Washington . For a time the President received hundreds of them every day , most of them worthless .

Ideas need to be tested , and not merely by argument and debate . When some question arises in the medical field concerning cancer , for instance , we do not turn to free and open discussion as in a political campaign . We have recourse to the scientifically-trained specialist in the laboratory . The merits of the Salk anti-polio vaccine were not established on the forensic platform or in newspaper editorials , but in the laboratory and by tests in the field on thousands of children .

Our presidential campaigns provide much debate and argument . But is the result new barnsful of tested knowledge on the basis of which we can with confidence solve our domestic and international problems ? ? Man , we are told , is endowed with reason and is capable of distinguishing good from bad . But what a super-Herculean task it is to winnow anything of value from the mud-beplastered arguments used so freely , particularly since such common use is made of cliches and stereotypes , in themselves declarations of intellectual bankruptcy .

We are reminded , however , that freedom of thought and discussion , the unfettered exchange of ideas , is basic under our form of government .

Assuredly in our political campaigns there is freedom to think , to examine any and all issues , and to speak without restraint . No holds are barred . But have the results been heartening ? ? May we state with confidence that in such an exhibition a republic will find its greatest security ? ?

We must not forget , to be sure , that free discussion and debate have produced beneficial results . In truth , we can say that this broke the power of Senator Joseph McCarthy , who was finally exposed in full light to the American people . If he had been `` liquidated '' in some way , he would have become a martyr , a rallying point for people who shared his ideas . Debate in the political arena can be productive of good . But it is a clumsy and wasteful process : it can produce negative results but not much that is positive . Debate rid us of McCarthy but did not give us much that is positive . It did something to clear the ground , but it erected no striking new structure ; ; it did not even provide the architect's plan for anything new .

In the field of the natural sciences , scientifically verified data are quite readily available and any discussion can be shortened with good results . In the field of the social sciences a considerable fund of tested knowledge has been accumulated that can be used to good advantage .

By no means would we discourage the production of ideas : they provide raw materials with which to work ; ; they provide stimulations that lead to further production . We would establish no censorship .