The Good, the Bad, and the (Un)convincing

In my mission statement I posed two questions: “How do values spread and persist?” and “Which values do good?”

Let’s substitute “ideas” for “values” for the purposes of this discussion. The concepts are more general and the word “idea” just flows better here.

These questions suggest two measures of performance for ideas: spread and consequences, respectively. Many things affect these but I’ll treat them as properties of the ideas themselves here. Both are continuums but I give them binary labels for simplicity. I’ll use convincing/unconvincing for spread and good/bad for consequences. These make for four possible combinations:

Bad and unconvincing ideas are the norm. Everyone has these all the time. Mostly harmless, unless you manage to convince yourself or a friend.

Good and unconvincing ideas work great – if only people took them seriously. The discoverer might have a good life following his idea but we never get to hear about it.

Good and convincing ideas are what we are after. These ideas are good and they spread.

Bad and convincing ideas are dangerous. It sounds great and people buy it, but there’s some subtle flaw that ends up ruining it. If the flaw is bad enough and the idea spreads fast enough, a convincing bad idea can destroy civilizations.

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