People love big ideas. They give our life meaning, our daily grind purpose. Big ideas are also how our basic decency is given away to serve those in power.
It doesn’t matter what kind of big idea you are talking about. “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel,” is what Samuel Johnson observed. We have seen very recently how questioning someone’s patriotism was used to silence debate on a war with no purpose and no goals. Certainly, more people have died in the name of the Prince of Peace than just about anyone. How can these things happen?
Because life is not about big ideas. The big ideas that are thrown at us are invariably used to justify the machinations of whoever is throwing them out at the time. Big ideas do have their purpose, such as the call to liberty in the American Revolution. What mattered in that cause, however, is that the leaders stayed true to the higher calling and did not abuse the cause as happened later in France.
Simon Bolivar is another great example of a hero who had a higher calling. Had he lived, his love of freedom and vision of a united South America might have been realized. Today, the echoes of these big ideas are abused by Hugo Chavez as a thin excuse for taking over every source of power that might oppose him. What does it mean to be a Republico Bolivariana? Whatever Chavez says, apparently. Just focus on the big idea. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
The big idea is essentially the same as the bigger better deal (BBD). This is a standard con trick where you get the mark’s imagination working against their own common sense. In a well run BBD, people believe that things will be better if they only stay true to the vision that was laid out before them. The only trick is planting that vision with a silver tongued story that connects, compels, and ultimately ensnares. With this you can bilk people out of money or bed women – or build a political movement. The choice is yours, once you have the skills.
It doesn’t matter if you are trying to gain political power or any other kind of power over people. The big idea can do it. Describe what a state of “enlightenment” is in a way that everyone will desperately want it; your philosophy and religion will have followers. Never let them stray from the path that is proscribed, because that can cause dissent. The big idea must always lead them.
The teachings of Jesus have probably been abuse and used as a big idea more than anyone else in Western culture. This is remarkable, because even a casual reading of his words makes it clear that what mattered most was tending to people’s basic needs. Yes, there was a big idea in there, but it was given purpose and meaning through works. Those who have abused his teachings have an amazing ability to ignore the works.
A wise person has to ignore these big ideas, or at least the aspects of them that seem bigger than life and the people that made them. If a big idea serves people well, then it must be flexible enough to adapt to the world as they already know it. Big ideas that are held up as immortal immovables are nothing more than a variation on the BBD, and as such are the work of con artists. A genuinely big idea has to be bigger than that.