By Thesis or by Protest: In Defense of Ideas

by David King on August 10, 2013

ideas In a relatively anticlimactic culmination of a decade’s worth of education, I recently (and successfully) defended my doctoral thesis. Most of the comments and words of encouragement I received prior to the defense were to be expected. But there were a few people who, in the midst of their support, questioned this whole defense thing. Why should you have to defend all the hard work you put in? someone asked. They can’t make things too easy for you, can they? someone else suggested. I could not disagree more. If my experience in academia has taught me anything, it is that ideas should be defended; not only examined and investigated, but seriously substantiated and authenticated whenever possible. All ideas should be defended.

The truth is, ideas are a dime a dozen – something I’ve heard my advisor say countless times, but which has only recently sunk in. Everyone has ideas. Some are better, and some people are idea people. But nevertheless, ideas are only worth the reality – and the potential for manifestation – that they’re founded upon.

What’s more, there are a lot of bad ideas out there; ridiculous ones, and misleading ones, and even ideas that are dangerous when in the wrong minds. The act of defending an idea requires that it be broken down into its finer constituents; thought through to completion and intricately explored; analyzed critically; and discarded if proven unfounded, useless, or worse, hazardous – an unfortunate but necessary fate for all nonsensical imaginings and absurd hypotheses of the human mind. An idea that cannot be seen through to the end, after all things are considered, is a useless idea.

Case in point: The 2014 Winter Olympic Games being held in Sochi, Russia. Let me start by saying that as an advocate for human rights and as a member of the group targeted by Putin’s gay propaganda law, I find what is happening in Russia quite appalling. That being said, there are a lot of bad ideas being thrown around about the problem. Nonsensical ideas, and even ones that get a little dangerous, undermining the real issues at hand.

For example, many have advocated for the relocation of the 2014 games out of Russia, possibly back to Vancouver, in protest of the propaganda law. Let’s really think this one through. As it stands, we’re a little less than 6 months away from the start of the 2014 games. Flights have been booked, accommodations arranged, tourist visas purchased, and the list goes on. The organization of these games is an administrative nightmare at best, and such a relocation would likely result in the games being significantly delayed. Some have suggested bringing them back to Vancouver, claiming that the accommodations are already in place. But the accommodations are not really in place anymore. Housing for athletes and staff has been sold off, and much of the Olympic infrastructure has been torn down or modified for community use. In fact, many of the athletic facilities simply no longer exist. And what about the coordination of public services? Radio and television rights? Recruitment of manpower? Overwhelming cost to the city? The list goes on. (For more details on how impossible of an idea this really is, read the following blog post – Is It Possible to Move the Winter Olympics Away From Russia?) The inescapable conclusion is that this idea is entirely invalid and impractical. This idea, most certainly, cannot be defended.

But others still have applied pressure on the athletes themselves, suggesting that they back out of the games in protest of Russia’s hate law – another particularly impractical idea. Firstly, we should never apply expectations to individuals whose perspectives we do not understand or know firsthand, especially when those expectations involve immense sacrifice. Some Olympic athletes train for over five years for the same event, and in some cases, that training can involve over eight hours a day, six days a week. To ask these individuals to bear the brunt of Russia’s hate law, and to potentially sacrifice years of training and preparation, is an injustice unto itself. Have we stopped to consider the legal consequences of such an action for these athletes? Or the financial ramifications? Many of these individuals do not hold other forms of employment – being an Olympic athlete is more than a hobby of sorts. It is comparable to the expectation that I should sacrifice my 10 years of education and training in protest of an unjust law – an action for which no positive effect or outcome is even guaranteed.

So what’s the danger with such impractical and impossible ideas? For starters, they divert our attention away from good ideas with real potential, by pleading to people’s emotions and offering what seem like easy solutions, no matter their complexities or presumptions. They also have the potential to change the meaning of the underlying problem. This issue is not about Olympic athletes, or about vodka, for example.

What bothers me most about such ideas, and about the political fads and bandwagons they help to foster, is that they are implicitly dismissive of pre-existing problems. Take a look at this article – 76 Countries Where Anti-Gay Laws are as Bad as Or Worse Than Russia’s. The title offers an effective summary of the article’s content, and speaks for itself. By focusing on Russia because of a law that was just recently passed there, we are not only highlighting our ignorance to a larger, global problem, we are also engaging in a dialogue that is disrespectful and dismissive of the lives of hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ people who have lived with similar (and in some cases, more dire) forms of persecution for many years – but for whom the same protests have not occurred. To expect the IOC to pull out of Sochi when half of its competing countries share similar perspectives and laws to those of Russia is nonsensical. When ideas become this uneducated, and this hypocritical, they fall apart. They become indefensible and therefore meaningless.

(It is worth noting here that Canada is wrought with its own human rights issues – see disparities among First Nations people, or the near inability of gay men to donate blood, or the covert displacement of homeless people during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Why didn’t we react with the same outrage to these human rights violations?)

I digress. These ideas are only examples, after all. Without a doubt, Putin’s gay propaganda law is deserving of global attention and criticism. But let’s engage in a more constructive dialogue regarding solutions and forms of protest – one that acknowledges pre-existing issues, one that involves real potential and possibility for solutions, and one that is educated and informed. Knowledge and awareness are, after all, essential precursors to change.

All good ideas should be defended, or at the very least, they should be defendable. They should hold the implicit value to withstand criticisms of the pragmatic and logical sort. The defense of an idea is a test of its true value, a measure of its practicality and potential. Let’s keep throwing about ideas, but let’s ensure that those ideas are of the valid sort. We only need look to many popular conservative perspectives to see examples of invalid, illogical, and all around bad ideas.

Ideas are not like love and peace; they are not inherently influential. They are not all positive thoughts or intentions to travel outward into the universe to manifest on their own. They are things to be developed and seen through by individuals, and so they should be accompanied by the potential for such.

V for Vendetta’s V was correct when he said, “Ideas are bulletproof.” But I cannot help believe that he was referring to ideas with real potential. Defend your ideas. See them through, if only in your mind. The ones that can hold their own – the ones that are indeed bulletproof – are the ones that might just change the world.

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