When people don’t have ideas,

A virus is an infectious agent that replicates in the living cell of the host organism. In a sense, the virus depends on the organism it infects to survive, multiply and spread. Ideas can replicate that model.

An idea can be understood as a small cell of meaning and content that lives and spreads in the shared intellectual and cultural space of society. The idea itself would be nothing without the people who originate, share and spread it.

Regardless of the form the idea takes, its idiosyncratic representation or the channels for sharing it, it is a unit of thought that carries meaning. To survive, that idea must also be kept active in the mind and, if possible, spread and permeate other minds. Indeed, ideas inhabit that shared universe made up of people’s minds and the collective conscience.

However, Jung believed that if we are not fully aware of what motivates our behaviors, beliefs and decisions, we can easily become possessed by alien ideas, which end up taking root in a psychic reality that we have not probed. Basically, when we don’t question our thinking, trendy ideas are likely to end up settling in our minds, taking up space and ultimately affecting our lives.

The epidemiology of ideas in the human mind

We all consider ourselves rational beings. Not only do we come up with ideas, but we can use our logical faculties to evaluate their plausibility or usefulness in order to pick the best ideas and discard the bad ones. But this doesn’t always happen.

In practice, bad ideas often survive and wield great power over the masses. These ideas appeal to our shadows, inducing mass delusions, generating hatred or even leading to genocide. Indeed, behind every war there is always an idea to be defended that cannot be questioned, an idea with which the masses have identified and made their own. Without thinking. Without questioning it. Without judging her.

In his “Red Book” Jung wrote: “in my case, the thought was too much and he began to exaggerate the crazy ideas. They’re dangerous because I’m a man, and you know how used men are to take thoughts as their own, so eventually they mistake them for themselves.”

Jung explained that many times we accept ideas that resonate with our belief system and then begin to see them as our own. We hire them. We identify with them. And we include them in our identity, so we end up considering an attack on those ideas as an attack on ourselves.

But if we don’t subject these ideas to critical judgment, if we don’t pass them through logical thinking, we don’t own these ideas, rather these ideas own us. In fact, Jung said “those ideas possess you and envelop you”, so that sometimes they don’t even leave room for our authentic “I” and we become automatons who have been deprived of the ability to reason.

Jung also believed that ideas “go beyond you, existing in themselves.” When ideas are socialized, they can take on a life of their own, developing different meanings that each person knows only superficially. Ideas have multiple levels of meaning, and we don’t always understand them all.

Indeed, ideas often sneak into our minds on the sly, appealing to base emotions and silencing reason. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, for example, investigated how sensitivity to disgust affects our moral judgment and concluded that Nazi ideology actively appealed to some of the oldest parts of our brains related to disgust and cleanliness to achieve a terrifying power over the masses.

When Nazi propaganda likened Jews to parasites contaminating the purity of the Volkslörper (the body of the German people), it leveraged the idea of ​​the purity of the Aryan race by activating those brain areas evolutionarily designed to protect us from germs.

For this reason, it is not surprising that Hitler often used cleansing metaphors in his correspondence to refer to Jews. The most dangerous ideologies, the ones that manage to take over people’s minds and infect the masses, are just that powerful because they tend to activate the vulnerabilities of our most primitive and irrational brain.

Of course, there are also many other ideas that have changed the course of history and the way we see the world – for better or for worse – such as those that came from great thinkers like Plato and Aristotle, Copernicus and Newton, Darwin or Marx and Engels. Over time, some contagious ideas have led to good results. Others have been terrible.

How to protect ourselves from contagious ideas?

There are many ideas floating around us, especially in the information age, when any ideology, even the craziest one, is just a click away. Therefore, it is essential to avoid contagion. We have to reflect on ideas before making them our own and incorporating them into our identity.

And it’s not simply a question of distinguishing between good and bad ideas, but of starting to see all the chiaroscuro that they contain. It’s about starting to see the power they can wield in our lives and how they influence our decisions. Ideas are not harmless, even if they sometimes seem so. They can change how we perceive the world, how we relate to each other, and even how we see ourselves.

To protect yourself from the most contagious ideas, it’s worth examining their epidemiology, trying to understand why they have the power to spread so easily. In general, the simplest and most reductionist ideas are the most contagious. They are even more dangerous because by contemplating only a part of reality, they lead to partisan positions.

Tracking an idea to see how it has changed to convince us is also a strategy to protect us from its influence. As well as trying to understand what values, beliefs or ingrained emotions are being used to seduce us. Many ideas are actually empty slogans that are repeated ad nauseam to be implanted in the collective consciousness.

With these tools we will be able to build a shell of rationality to prevent the ideas of others from taking over us and dictating our lives. But perhaps the most effective shield against the ideas of others is simply thinking. After all, when we are unable to generate our ideas, argue and perfect them, we become the ideal container into which others will pour their ideas.


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