Sunday, October 17, 2010


Some Dangerous but non-religious Beliefs

Continuing my tirade about things that people believe that aren't so - actually I am expanding on a farorite saying of my father.  He would say, "It isn't what you don't know that hurts you.  It's what you know that isn't so."

I am thinking particularly about the Anarchist movement in Russia during the nineteenth century.  The Anarchists were appalled at the conditions of the poor and the not so poor people.  They wanted western style reforms for Russia, such as freedom of speech, free and fair elections, government of, by, and for the people rather than for the aristocracy, and all that.  They believed ("knew") that the key to bringing these liberal ideas to Russia was to abolish the Tsar.  They also believe that the way to abolish the Tsar was to kill him.  Accordingly, they plotted to kill the Tsar.  Eventually they succeeded.  The Tsar that they killed was the most liberal and progressive man to occupy that office ever.  All that happened was that a new Tsar was installed.  He was ultra-conservative.  The Anarchists learned nothing and continued their efforts to kill whatever person happened to be the Tsar.  Eventually another group, much better organized and more realistic in their thinking managed to overthrow the entire government and replaced it with their own.

This bit of recollection - actually, remembering things that I have read, as I am not old enough to have witnessed the assassination of the Tsar in the 1870's - led me to wondering about other movements of poorly informed idealists in history.  Today we have, of course, the Tea Party Movement.  Their goal is similar to that of the Russian Anarchists.  They want to destroy "big government."  If only government can be made small so it doesn't spend much money, collect much in taxes, issue regulations that annoy businessment, etc., things will fall into place and we will be back in the good old days when everything was wonderful.

I think another example of misinformed idealists is the crusade movement in Europe.  The aim was to recover the holy land (Israel, Jerusalem, etc.) that had been conquered and occupied by Arabs and Turks who installed Islam as the dominant religion of the area.  I don't know for sure, but I suspect that there were some influential clerics who told the people that God was punishing them for allowing the infidels to take over the holy places, and that things would improve for everyone if only an army of brave and armed men went to the holy land and chased the infidels out.  I know that conditions of life for most people were pretty miserable then, at least by modern standards.  People died early in life from diseases which they believed were caused by God as punishment.  Most people were poor.  Soap was extremely expensive, so everyone stank.  Acolytes used strong incense in churches to conceal the collective body odor of the congregation.

The crusades were a complete failure.  They didn't liberate the holy land and they didn't persuade God to lift the curses of disease and poverty from the people.  They also caused the Muslims to have bad feelings toward Europeans, which have lasted to the present day.

There are many other examples of idealists who foolishly had simple solutions to complex problems.  I will write about them later.

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