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Five Dollar Fine: Kill Your Ideals, Then Rebuild Them

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Well, we don’t really care about your clothes or your hair
This party’s open to all
Yah we like a good joke and it’s alright to smoke
We got just one rule on the wall.
  — Chris Ledoux, "Five Dollar Fine" 

As I sit here writing this I’m feeling a bit feisty, a bit like a fish swimming upstream. It’s occurred to me that bucking conventional wisdom is a dangerous proposition, especially when conventional wisdom is so widely held and the view you hold is in a very small minority.

But then I sit back and think, think of all the wonderful arguments that have taken place in the halls of Congress, among groups of disparate individuals bellied up to the bar, and at dining room tables across the country and throughout history.

To think of all the turmoil our nation has endured throughout its rich history – from the founding of our nation, to the Civil War, to the civil rights movement and the tectonic shifts in industry as we moved from an agrarian society to an industrial powerhouse, and a shift that’s currently underway – we have endured and come out the other end stronger and the better for it.

Throughout all of these major changes in our nation’s composite makeup there have been several similar memes that have emerged that are worth looking at as they bear heavy significance to the trials and tribulations we face today.

The marketplace of ideas — yeah, I know it’s a subject I’ve railed about before, but indulge me one more time. See, it takes all types and all ideas thrown out there and laid bare to come to the best decision. If I’ve got something to add to the mix, I fully expect for it to be taken in, rolled around, and any possible hole poked in it.

Ideas are made stronger when they’re subject to the scrutiny of mass review. You get to see all the things you didn’t think of, all of the laws of unintended consequences and what have you, before the idea is acted upon. The only real problem I see with all this today is that people have entirely too much ego invested in their ideas.

No one should be considered an idiot for having a notion that’s contrary to popular acceptance; at one time the popular view was that the world was the center of the universe. It must have been an awkward scene when Galileo and Copernicus raised their hands and said, “Um, I don’t think that’s exactly correct…” Education, education, education – one can never be smart enough. I don’t get this whole notion that somehow one is an elitist by being educated or having gone to the best schools. I don’t know about you, but I want smart people running things, from my city government all the way to the top; I really don’t want the village idiot in charge of things. But even more than that, by educating ourselves, we are more prepared to engage that marketplace of ideas.

If I know through learning that the bill of goods you’re trying to sell me is bogus, I can go back to the empirical data that proves where your plan has some holes. I can point to examples in history and instead of saying your whole notion is off-base, I can say that we need to be aware of this one thing that caused problems before. (Take a look at history – not much of what we are doing today hasn’t been done before in some way, shape, or form.)

That said, I would challenge each and every one of you out there reading anything that asserts itself as fact-based to fact-check. In the journalism business, reporters happen to go to almost all of the meetings they report on but the information put in the paper is easily obtained by contacting the a clerk of record or a quick Google search. And when we are wrong, call us on it; lord knows we’re human and as much as we try to get everything right, we do make mistakes or don’t quite understand all the mumbo-jumbo presented us. ‘Tis not an easy process to take legalese or government-speak or any complex subject matter and present it in a format that we understand, let alone you.

Get involved. Again, go back to history – nothing got started in earnest because two old men were sitting around the local diner bitching about high taxes. Nope, it has always taken involvement, movement forward, rallying the supporters, and bringing forth a change.

So maybe I’m not swimming upstream, maybe this stream is really more like a whirlpool throwing all of us in some wild direction, and a strong hand is needed on the tiller to navigate this. But it can’t be “them” — it must be “us.”

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