THE JOURNAL OF CONTROVERSIAL IDEAS – my thoughts on the planned launch two years ago

I wrote this as a Facebook piece two years ago when I learnt the planned launch of The Journal of Controversial Ideas. Since then, I believe one edition was brought out early 2021. I did not have the time to search or find the journal’s first publication. My piece was around controversial issues and free thinking and free expression.

Good luck with the much-needed platform

By M Ahmedullah, 14 November 2018

It has been reported that a new journal of controversial ideas is being launched, which will allow properly peer-reviewed papers to be published under pseudonyms. I support the idea of establishing such a journal.

I know there are dangers in allowing people to speak freely and without restraints and constraints, as ideas can often cause community tension/division and an increase in racism, prejudice, xenophobia and discrimination. When there is an unequal distribution of money, power and educational privileges, then it is evident that not all individuals, groups, peoples and communities can generate equality of outcomes in the development, distribution and dissemination of ideas.

Wealthy and powerful individuals, groups, races and nations have generated most of the ideas, explanations and theories we use to see, understand and explain the world of nature, society and history. ‘He who defines is the master’.

Just like within any group, people in academia and media can often be bought with money to write things that may contain only partial truths, to be used for sinister purposes. In the past, when Europeans dominated the world, they explained peoples, races, cultures, etc., everywhere in the world and used their theories to justify murder, theft, exploitation, denigration and so on against peoples around the world.

In the past, explanations and theories of women generated by men, who were more powerful with money, education and intellectual development, caused thousands of years of devastating impacts on women.

However, silencing thoughts is not the answer. Some people want to silence individuals and institutions because they fear their ideas and explanations. Others try to silence individuals and institutions because they see the pernicious and ideological intents behind their ideas.

On intellectual grounds, genuine philosophers see the dangers and backwardness of creating a climate of fear, or allowing it to exist and grow, where thinkers and researchers cannot, out of fear, express freely and disseminate the findings of their work publicly.

For many ordinary people and disadvantaged communities, it is equally clear how devastating the impacts of unrestricted free thinking can be and the ability to disseminate that widely. The intellectual and wealth-wise powerful individuals and institutions can use their stronger voices to promote ideas and theories to maintain and strengthen their positions and privileges.

Even though there are dangers with unrestricted and unconstrained free-thinking and platforms for their easy dissemination, genuine philosophers understand the logical and psychological processes of how a climate of fear can undermine creativity, fearlessness and objectivity in pursuing knowledge.

Also, those who have been silenced or undermined in their search for the truth/knowledge by political climates, social conservatism, traditional cultures and ideological strategies know how unacceptable and damaging the silencing is for both the individuals in question and society in general.

I feel most humiliated when I cannot speak my mind freely, especially when others enjoy openly communicating their ideas in public without any fear whatsoever and sometimes even with great approval. I had personal experiences of situations when people tried to silence me or advised me that I should be careful about what I say in public or on Facebook when I knew in my own heart, deduced from intellectual analysis/critical thinking and developed clear convictions that those who were trying to silence me were wrong and I was right.

When something like this happens to you personally, only then you know and feel the full value of free thinking. However, equally when you are the victims of unrestricted and unconstraint ideas/free thinking, and you are in a disadvantaged and unequal position to fight back, due to your underprivileged educational background and relatively lower economic base, only then you realise their dangers more fully.

The policy or instincts should not be to silence people, police thoughts and restrict what individuals can do and say. Instead, it should be about trying to create an equal playing field so that free-flowing ideas can be challenged and counter-challenged, and bad and pernicious ideas can be identified quickly and vanished – not through a climate of fear or threat of violence but by the use of powerful logic, empirical evidence and higher quality research.

The dangers of pernicious ideas and theories to society can be tackled more beneficially by creating and more deeply rooting a culture of equality and resistance – not by creating a climate of fear in the spheres of research, academia, etc. – but by engaging at the cutting-edge levels of research, intellectual activity and challenging pernicious ideas with rigour and sophistication. Ideas should be fought by ideas, not by creating a climate of fear. In some countries today, having an alternative idea different from the dominant one, enforced through state power, can even cause death.