Ancient and Recent Proof You Can Kill Ideas

Folks say you can’t kill an idea.

But ideas die all the time, both from natural causes and murder.

An example of ideaicide:

Do you remember back in 2014 or so, what the hot-button political issue was? Sure, groups of all kinds were talking about all the usual stuff. Healthcare, defence, social security, racism, corruption…

But you couldn’t go a day without someone talking about income inequality.

Everyone compared graphs of this to charts of that. The Occupy movement had stirred up attention and it all settled on this.

Then Trump decided to run for president. Obviously, that’s a tricky issue for any billionaire – but especially that billionaire – to navigate. So, instead, he talked about building ‘a big, beautiful wall’.

Boom. Suddenly the topic du jour was immigration.

Chalk it up to luck or skill, mass manipulation or an idea whose time had come. Either way, the old idea was dead – or at least bleeding out.

Want a more thorough example?

Well, I can’t give one. How could I? If an idea is dead, then I don’t know about it.

But I can point to a delightfully intriguing anti-example, which just so happens to be one of the latest points of political fixation:


If you look at Chinese history, it looks like an endless stream of innovation. The relevant Wikipedia article contains hundreds of inventions – at the top, it mentions the “Four Great Inventions”: paper, compasses, gunpowder and the printing press.

These alone are amazing feats of science – and China invented them in ancient history. What other country can boast a history like that?

Better question: how did they manage that?

Genetic superiority? Unlikely.

A culture that favours innovation? Hardly. Chinese society, then and now, hardly embraces radical and deviant thinking.

I have a theory.

And my theory explains why China invented these things but didn’t, you know, use them.

Not to bring up a sore point for them, but the Century of Humiliation involved an alliance of Western powers carving up China. They did this, in part, thanks to their superior technology. But it was ‘superior’ because European navies had compasses for navigating and plenty of cannons – using, wait for it, gunpowder.

Industrial-age Europe used the same tech invented in ancient China… so how could it possibly be superior?

My theory is simple:

China has, for most of its history, been politically stable. Sure, sure, dynasties ended bloody, they got invaded a few times, then there was that mess with the Cultural Revolution.

But look at any corner of the world over thousands of years. Most other cultures broke down and built up again dozens of times.

Today, the buzzword is ‘disruption!’ Back then, it was ‘stability!’ Industries stayed the same for centuries, in contrast to today’s tech churn, so stability have you an edge.

Because, back then, maybe new inventions came along every few decades, through dumb luck or inspiration.

But without a stable system of trade, that idea wouldn’t leave the village.

And without strong rule of law, that village would soon become fodder for bandits sooner or later.

So a politically sound society could accumulate and share its inventions, whereas other societies would lose them to entropy.

But if it’s too stable, then it’ll struggle to use those inventions.

In Europe, the printing press was a gamechanger. In ancient China, it probably just reinforced the existing game.

Maybe I’m right, maybe not. At best, it’s a partial explanation… though it fits the facts nicely.

(Even if it has horrific implications – most of our good ideas have been lost to time.)

But let’s assume it’s true.

You can be darn sure I’m gonna use this as a metaphor.

It’s a call for you to embrace chaos and routine, because too much of either stifles you.

And a reminder that nothing is permanent.

But the big one?

You have so many great ideas – so many solutions to the challenges you face. But they won’t do you a lick of good by themselves.

Gunpowder as a novelty today is less useful than gunpowder as a weapon a thousand years from now.

Learn how to act on your ideas and instincts. Anything else is like letting foreign imperialists carve their initials on your back.