There’s a lot of interesting talk in the comments of my Alan Gura report about how one defines good ideas, bad ideas, and who gets to decide this? I think it would be unfair to suggest the old Justice Potter Stewart, “I know it when I see it” approach, because every good idea is someone else’s bad idea. If there wasn’t a certain amount of relativity here, there would not be conflict. Suggesting one’s ideas are the right ideas, and someone else’s are the wrong ones, just because that’s clearly the case, is intellectually shallow. So how do we find truth, to the extent that it exists?
Conflict actually offers a way to separate good ideas from bad. That’s why Freedom of Speech is the first right in our society. Ideas are debated in the court of public opinion, which, at least ideally, allows good ideas to prevail over bad ones. But in order to separate good ideas from bad, you need to have some kind of framework. Otherwise you just have conflict for conflict’s sake, which advances nothing. That framework needs to be effectiveness, or “Do your ideas work?” In that framework, ideas that work and further a movement’s goals are good ideas, and ideas that don’t work, or don’t further a movement’s goals are bad ones. Having your ideas work is what lends them credibility, ultimately. Let’s just take a look at this example from the comments:
Sebastian, I understand your point, but how are we to judge what is a “good idea” vs. what is a “bad idea”? As I recall, Heller was roundly condemned (at one point) by the NRA as a bad idea, and it’s turned out to be a shining victory.
At one time I thought Parker was a bad idea, because I felt the chances of it winning were slim, and that it would create negative precedent to overcome. But Alan Gura was willing to go around on blogs and make the case for it, and the victories racked up built up his position, and weakened NRA’s position. I’d not agree with NRA today if they were still against a three branch strategy for the Second Amendment. Alan Gura’s ideas prevailed because he convinced people they were good ideas, and then created a track record of those ideas working to advance the movement.
I will take the example of Gary Gorski that I used in the previous post, who has his own ideas on how to conduct Second Amendment litigation. He’s responsible for the infamous Silveira case, which reenforced the collective rights view in the 9th Circuit. He’s also been a passionate advocate against Alan Gura’s strategy, and has even attacked Alan Gura personally. One can pretty easily conclude that Alan Gura’s ideas are good, and Gorski’s are bad, because Alan Gura’s ideas have a track record of winning and Gorski’s do not.
It is ultimately through argument and persuasion that we try to separate the wheat from the chaff, but any idea or strategy that is advanced eventually must be able to meet the hard cold test of succeeding in reality, and ideas which can’t answer basic challenges, deal with fundamental questions of practical implementation, or which fail when put into practice, have to be considered bad ideas and pushed aside as ineffective. I can’t think of any other way you keep a movement progressing forward.