The Virus of Ideas

Ideas are like viruses.

They spread from person to person. If a person is infected they can pass the idea on to someone else.

Some people are immune to some ideas. Others are susceptible to them.

Ideas change the people they infect. They can turn someone into a political activist, a religious zealot, or a suicide bomber.

Some ideas (like some viruses) can cause much damage. Consider the AIDS virus, or SARS.

Epidemeology is the study of the distribution of diseases. It is an advanced science and is vital for containing the spread of infectious diseases. It teaches us how to prevent infection, and how to treat those who are infected.

I think that we need an “Epidemeology of Ideas”.

It is moot whether a particular idea is “dangerous” or not. I don’t want to be drawn on which ideas are “good”, “bad”, “dangerous” or “helpful” because each person will have a different opinion depending on their point of view.

But a society may feel threatened by the spread of a certain philosophy. For example, western societies feel threatened by terrorism.

The usual response to this perceived threat is to increase surviellence, military presence, etc – trying to prevent terrorist acts.

I think this is akin to doctors trying to stop a runny nose, or reduce a temperature. It’s dealing with the symptom rather than the cause.

We need to ask more probing questions such as:

  • How is the destructuve idea communicated from person to person?
  • What makes someone susceptible to such an idea?
  • How do we prevent people from being infected by such ideas?
  • Once infected, how do we remove the infection?
  • Can someone not infected with such an idea still spread it? For example, someone who doesn’t beleive in a certain philosphy might promote it for their own personal gain.

These questions raise more alarming questions about human rights, freedoms, democracy, freedom of the press, etc.

I’ll try and explore some of these questions in my future postings.

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