The Empty Marketplace

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My best friend said something that's been nagging me for a while now. We were discussing various positions and opinions on a couple of our pet topics, and I said something about how people didn't really think about their positions. That's when he said:

All through college, everyone kept talking about this "marketplace of ideas" as if people actually had thoughts and could defend them. I haven't seen that, have you? People have opinions, but there isn't the general sense of true thought and give and take of concepts.

Shocked, I realized that was my experience as well. The "marketplace of ideas" is oddly empty.

The Empty Marketplace

Oh, sure, it is possible to bump into a fellow traveler now and again, but there's no Forum or Areopagus where you'll always find a group of thinkers discussing the latest ideas in the general public. You can find such places online, like the Sonlight Forums, where small groups of people will get together and discuss all sorts of things. But I have yet to find a true "marketplace of ideas."

So, I found it interesting that someone would criticize homeschoolers for not participating in the market of ideas, "especially when it comes to biological science."

Thankfully, Dana Hanley gave an excellent response. She pointed out, and I think rightly, that public schools do not have a market of ideas. Rather, children are taught to a test and little else.

What fascinates and bothers me is that we don't seem to have grown out of this. To this day, I see very little discussion and mostly just name calling the likes of which you'd find on a typical playground. May we, as adults engaged in the world of lifelong learning, set up our booths so those looking for good ideas will find us when they wander down the empty aisles marketplace of ideas.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Expectant Father

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  1. Melonie

    So very true - I especially agree about the name calling! I actually left several groups recently that were founded with the point of people sharing information about emergency preparedness, homesteading, etc - but whose members insisted in on disintegrating constantly into petty insults and "knocks" on other people's methods and standards of living. Not only did I not *learn* in that environment, but I felt like it was a "downer" and at times actually felt sickened just reading a person's name, knowing that they were probably going to head into their standard practices.

    It's unfortunate, because even if we disagree with the bulk of a person's ideas, if we stop and listen, we may still glean a kernel of wisdom from them - if nothing else, we will learn what does *not* work for us; at best we can learn new things to try and possibly have a solution to problems - or be inspired by their ideas and adapt them further to what we need ourselves.

  2. Ann

    I remember a handful of us in college would engage in this exchange of ideas, and it was amazingly stimulating and growing. I had one friend in particular who had quite the knack for instigating a discussion - I learned to anticipate that look that meant he was about to ask a thought-provoking question or make a discussion-starting statement. I have to say, that's one thing I've greatly missed in the decade plus since college.

    One thing my husband and I try to do is provoke members of our church to deeper thought about why they believe the way they do. We don't necessarily try to force them into a certain belief system (well, most of the time!) as much as to encourage them to truly know WHY they believe the way they do and to be able to defend it in an educated manner. Most people these days are deeply convinced they believe something but when pressed they cannot defend their beliefs or even really explain why they have adopted those beliefs!

  3. Rosslyn Elliott

    The university is supposed to be the ultimate marketplace of ideas, and yet, as those of us who have spent time in academia can tell you, the shelves and tables are pretty uniform. This marketplace only sells tofu and vegetables; for fish, you'll have to take your business elsewhere.

    Mark Bauerlein has written some excellent articles on the need for the American university to hire a broader range of scholars who will truly reflect the public debates of the country.

  4. Anonymous

    There is a sense in which America has a marketplace of ideas. Social science researchers have found over and over that people routinely pick up new ideas and dispose of previous ideas as easily as they would change brands of cereal at a grocery store. Because they put little thoughts into their ideas, they have little 'brand loyalty' to their ideas. That is a significant reason, for example, why political elections revolve back and forth between parties.

  5. Luke

    Melonie, may we all be so humble and gracious that we take the nuggets from a discussion and learn and grow, and not belittle others. And may people always feel welcome in our circles! I know I still need to work on that one.

    Ann, unfortunately I know I hold strongly to some ideas that I've never thought-trough very well. Hopefully I'm growing in that area <smile>. And, yes, those people who seem to always spark a new idea and discussion are very valuable!

    Rosslyn: Tofu <smile>. That's funny. I know I've been very well served when I've been in groups of people coming from various perspectives. It certainly helps us hone our own.

    Anonymous, that's a very interesting point. While I haven't read those studies--or even heard about them until now--that sounds even more dangerous: If the marketplace is flooded with "consumers" looking for the "best deal" rather than the truly best ideas, it would make sense why the political system is so wonky: People aren't really engaging in ideas but mere emotions. And that brings a whole new host of issues. Thanks for bringing that up!


  6. Dana

    That is what infuriates me the most about discussions on the Internet. We have such an incredible potential to really discuss and defend ideas, but mostly it devolves quickly into insulting and name-calling.

    Respectful discourse is rare.

  7. Luke

    Dana, I with you. May people find respect discourse with us!


  8. Heather the Mama Duk

    Dana said it exactly. My parents always encouraged us to form opinions... and be able to appropriately back them up.

  9. Luke

    Heather, that's really good <smile>. I try to be able to do the same.