Here are 9 examples of ideas that were on the Wrong Side of History, some moral, some technological, some philosophical. You can agree with me or not. Through today’s lens, some appear ridiculous or even repugnant. Yet at the time, in their day, they were deemed FACT and perfectly correct and acceptable.
1) Women’s Suffrage
“Women will only vote as their husbands tell them too. Giving the vote to radical women will risk the common good and offer absolutely no benefit! More women voting than men will place the Government under petticoat rule.” These arguments sound crazy when heard today, but Women’s Suffrage in the U.S. lasted 71 long years from the Seneca Convention in 1848 to the passage of the Constitution’s 19th Amendment in 1919. Just 100 years ago, by the way.
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled in 1858 that slaves were “so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.” The American slaves were emancipated by President Abraham Lincoln and freed by the U.S. Constitution’s 13th Amendment, given citizenship in the 14th, and the right to vote in the 15th. Nevertheless, Taney’s harsh sentiments continued for decades, and not just in the US South, but around the world.
‘Evolution is only a fanciful theory, that cannot be proven by science.’ On the Origin of Species was published by naturalist Charles Darwin in 1859. And despite the fact we have centuries of carbon-dated fossil remains as evidence, we still have some Creationists promoting a pro-Genesis / anti-Science stance to this day, demanding equal time in schools. Distrust of new science is not uncommon throughout history – whether in astronomy (Galileo), medicine (vaccines), or meteorology (climate change).
Following his famous manifesto, Karl Marx proclaimed in 1848, “Religion is the opium of the masses. Communism may be summed up in a single sentence: Abolition of private property.” Whether lead by Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin or Mikhail Gorbachev, the failure and collapse of the once mighty Soviet Union (USSR) proves otherwise. Enough said. Today’s modern communist nations, like China, are more capitalist than Marxist, and become more ‘democratic’ with each passing decade.
5) Internal combustion engine
“You’re crazy if you think that fool contraption will ever displace a good horse.” Horseless buggies were an expensive novelty until Henry Ford invented the automotive assembly line in 1913, and was able to mass produce cars that the average person could afford. Coal steam engines faded away. Drugstore began selling gasoline, then gas stations appeared, and the rest, as they say, is history. Electric vehicles anyone? ‘Why you’re crazy if you think a …’
6) Man-powered flight
‘If God had meant man to fly, he’d have given him wings.’ An unattributed quote often repeated. No, not from the time of the Wright Brothers and Kitty Hawk, but rather the challenge that inventor and artist Leonardo de Vinci received from his benefactors during the Italian Renaissance in 1485. Leonardo went on to design numerous gliders and flying machines that inspired the Wrights in 1903 and many others since. Try to imagine a world today without airline travel.
7) Flat Earth
The idea of a spherical planet goes back as far as the Greek philosopher Aristotle, long before the Vikings and Cristobal Columbus sailed the Earth’s oceans to prove it true. Yet despite images from the Apollo Moon Missions to the International Space Station, we still have the Flat Earth Society, started in 1956 by Samuel Shelton, a member of the British Royal Geographical Society. For some conspiracy theorists, even seeing is not believing.
8) Rock and Roll
Posters in the 1950’s proclaimed: “Rock and Roll is the Devil’s music! Don’t Buy Negro Records. That savage music is undermining the morals of our youth.’ Sound familiar? The very thought of integrated black & white audiences shocked social conservatives of the day. This of course lead to Elvis Presley’s swivel hips, John Lennon’s Jesus quote, Woodstock nudity, big-hair Acid Rock, Hip-Hop and on and on. Baby boomer parents who grew up listening to the Rolling Stones now say to their kids, “What the heck is that music you’re listening too?”
‘Those immigrants are dangerous criminals, barbaric pagans, send them back!’ Heard that before? Try the 1850’s directed at the Irish (not Muslims or Mexicans). We are a global planet with legal boundaries made by humans, not God. Boundaries that shift with each war and generation. Every country has benefited in one way or another from immigration, going as far back as Marco Polo in 1295. Yet the Us vs Them knee-jerk reaction continues, even from those whose grandparents were once struggling immigrants themselves. How quickly we forget.
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So how do we determine if an idea Today is on the Wrong Side of History tomorrow? Well get out your crystal ball and tarot cards, for we cannot. Only time will tell, as the old cliché goes. Does it mean that what survived history was ‘Right’ in the end? Not necessarily! Slavery and even genocide, as examples, were justified in one form or another by civilizations for Thousands of years.
After all, if you repeat a lie often enough, people will eventually believe it. Just like Wars, the winner isn’t always Right, just stronger … for the time being. We like to think that logic and morality win out in the end, don’t we? That in the long run, absurd or immoral ideas may have their days in the sun; but then like raisins, shrivel up and shrink away. However, they never quite Die, do they?
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