The Trouble with Ideas

by Scott London

Today I read a remarkable passage from Nigerian novelist Ben Okri. It touches on the fate of great ideas and how the world tends to marginalize “true believers” and drive them down the path of disillusionment and defeat. The quote is from Okri’s book In Arcadia:

If you believe in something your very belief renders you unqualified to do it. Your earnestness will come across. Your passion will show. Your enthusiasm will make everyone nervous. And your naïveté will irritate. Which means that you will become suspect. Which means you will be prone to disillusionment. Which means that you will not be able to sustain your belief in the face of all the piranha fish which nibble away at your idea and your faith, till only the skeleton of your dream remains. Which means that you have to become a fanatic, a fool, a joke, an embarrassment. The world — which is to say the powers that be — would listen to your ardent ideas with a stiff smile on its face, then put up impossible obstacles, watch you finally give up your cherished idea, having mangled it beyond recognition, and after you slope away in profound discouragement it will take up your idea, dust it down, give it a new spin, and hand it over to someone who doesn’t believe in it at all.