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Iconoclasty, Science, and You


    An iconoclast is defined as one who makes it a practice to bring down idols and smash popularly held illusions. Most people view this as a negative thing. The trouble with that viewpoint is that nature is in and of itself iconoclastic. It is in the nature of things to change, and a static belief will collapse of its own accord, and under its own weight.
    The most famous but unrecognized iconoclastic statement ever made is hidden in plain sight in the Bible. "Thou shalt not bow down unto any graven image." It does not say, "thou shalt not worship idols," although that is what the phrase is conventionally taken to mean. Rather, it says not to "bow down to," which means "do not allow conventions to rule you."
    More important is the phrase "graven image." How much closer can you get to the words "static idea" without actually saying them? In fact, the Hebrew for this phrase is actually closer to "static idea" than to anything else. This commandment is an indictment of the human penchant for popularity cults.
    There have been in human history many ideas which, once popular, have assumed the proportions of divine writ in terms of human reaction to them. "The earth is flat," for instance. The theory of "aether," for another. Every time an idea of this nature has arisen, it has fallen to the scientists to provide martyrs. Again and again, one man stands against the mob, defying ideas which though false have gained a life of their own.
    Too many of these iconoclasts have died for their defense of reason. Again, to use the Bible as an illustration, Adam and Eve are sent out of Eden because they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Not because they were sinners, but because innocence depends on lack of knowledge. Once an understanding of morality is gained, there can be no innocence. They were sent forth from the garden because it was a place of innocence, and they were by definition no longer innocent.
    Human beings have a built - in tendency towards the static. Inertia is as strong in human behavior as it is in physics, and for the same reasons. The difference is that humans can act against inertia, even thought they so rarely choose to do so. This, not intelligence, language, or the ability to walk on two legs, is what distinguishes the human race from animals: animals will always follow the path of least resistance, and humans have the ability to deny the path of least resistance.
    A fox with its leg in a trap will chew its own leg off to escape; this is the path of least resistance, to flee a superior foe rather than risk death. A human in the same situation may very well choose to remain in the trap, in order to attempt vengeance upon his or her captor; or perhaps choose to set a trap for the trapper. Animals cannot do this. An animal in captivity will always choose flight over fight, never vice versa.
    The Bible warns us against this. Human beings, having been given knowledge of good and evil, cannot afford to fall into the trap of inertia, because laziness with regard to morality inevitably leads to evil. Morality is a constant vigilance and struggle, and the conflict is what refines us and makes us improve. Without change, there can be no growth, and all life functions under the same rule: grow or die.
    The role of the iconoclast is a critical one in human existence. An iconoclast serves to remind us, and on occasion to demonstrate personally, that just because ideas are widely held does not mean that they are correct, merely that there are lots of people who share it. Communism has been amply demonstrated as a flawed political system, but there are still multitudes who believe in it. Just because they are a majority in some places gives no indication as to the idea's validity.
    To put it succinctly, there are over a billion communists in the world, but that doesn't make communism any smarter. What the communists, in particular, are so desperate to receive is an iconoclast; but when he or she comes, I for one feel sorry for them. The human race has a long-standing tradition of killing the messenger, however important the message.

                                -12 June 2000
                                -Priest of Chaos