One Theory: Theories Rarely Work

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Theoretical ideas are fine, but the real world doesn't always correspond to those theories. And too often, we delude ourselves into thinking experts have the answers.


With all the talk of resuscitating the economy or stopping global warming or any big problem, really, we hear a lot of theoretical solutions. Commentator Andrei Codrescu has been thinking about the difference between theory and realty.

ANDREI CODRESCU: I've discovered the root of all evil: practical applications. Theoretical physics is really cool until someone makes an atom bomb. The same thing is true about the economy. It works as long as it sticks to numbers, but it fails when it starts playing poker with your money.

Marxist theory was pretty engaging until Lenin turned it into a dictatorship. The same goes for literary theory. It's great until we apply it writing books. Then you get stuff nobody wants to read.

Given this discovery, which I'm only the 10th billion person to make, let us start working out our problems without deriving practical applications from theory. I know that starting with the world as it is and observing it is, or used to be, called science. But let's pretend we are observing things as they are for the first time.

And things are like this: We are experiencing mostly applications of theory and very little physical reality in the first decade of the 21st century. Depending on where you're situated, you have between 10 minutes and five years to make your peace with the disappearance of the material world. If you're an environmental scientist, your observation put the temperature rising by one degree within the more or less 10-minute range. If that happens, inflate a raft now and flow upstream toward the mid continent. Whatever you do, don't theorize. You won't have time.

If you're a banker and happen to think that it's all a crisis of faith, you can engineer a hypnotic mass focusing on the In God We Trust section of the dollar bill and wait until your faith and trust start flowing again. That might take five years. And if you don't drown on the coast, it's because your faith's been restored and the water's only up to your neck.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not forecasting the end of the world, just the multiplication of delusions. People like to think that solutions are just around the corner because a theory told them so. I'm from a part of Europe where theory never works. So I'm only saying look that pretty gift idea in the mouth before you go off and buy another condo. The ocean is impatient, and the smart creatures are heading upland.

BLOCK: Commentator Andrei Codrescu lives inland, in the Ozarks.

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