I just read a lengthy but fantastic treatise by Paul Graham entitled “What You Can’t Say”. It expounds on the strange question of what today’s “moral fashion” has made it unpopular, unconfortable, or even dangerous to say.

There were many wonderful points in the article, but one that was particularly interesting to me was the part where he talked about picking your battles. It’s not necessarily wise to argue something that’s unpopular (even if you believe it) because it distracts you from other– probably more important– things.

“Suppose in the future there is a movement to ban the color yellow. Proposals to paint anything yellow are denounced as ‘yellowist’, as is anyone suspected of liking the color. People who like orange are tolerated but viewed with suspicion. Suppose you realize there is nothing wrong with yellow. If you go around saying this, you’ll be denounced as a yellowist too, and you’ll find yourself having a lot of arguments with anti-yellowists. If your aim in life is to rehabilitate the color yellow, that may be what you want. But if you’re mostly interested in other questions, being labelled as a yellowist will just be a distraction. Argue with idiots, and you become an idiot.

“I admit it seems cowardly to keep quiet. When I read about the harassment to which the Scientologists subject their critics, or that pro-Israel groups are ‘compiling dossiers’ on those who speak out against Israeli human rights abuses, or about people being sued for violating the DMCA, part of me wants to say, ‘All right, you bastards, bring it on.’ The problem is, there are so many things you can’t say. If you said them all you’d have no time left for your real work.”

That’s good advice, methinks. I disagree with a lot of the current political and philosophic “fashions”, but arguing about them is typically just a waste of breath.

He finishes the topic with a great paragraph:

“The trouble with keeping your thoughts secret, though, is that you lose the advantages of discussion. Talking about an idea leads to more ideas. So the optimal plan, if you can manage it, is to have a few trusted friends you can speak openly to. This is not just a way to develop ideas; it’s also a good rule of thumb for choosing friends. The people you can say heretical things to without getting jumped on are also the most interesting to know.”

This is probably why my friends often get annoyed with my views. 🙂