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Useful And Fantastic: People They Laughed At - 1

Today we begin the serialisation of a book by Val Yule which sets out to discourage the ridiculing of ideas which may turn out to be benificial.

"It would be good for everyone to learn at school to hold back from ridicule, persecution and perverse obstruction of ‘ratbags’ enough to give them a chance.'' says Val.

Writing with wit and style Val defends all those who brought benefits to mankind by dari8ng to come up with new ideas.

Further episodes of the book will run in Open Writing on forthcoming Fridays.

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They all laughed at Christopher Columbus
When he said the world was round,
They all laughed when Edison recorded sound.
They all laughed at Wilbur and his brother
When they said that man could fly,
They told Marconi
Wireless was a phoney,
It's the same old cry.

They all Laughed, by Ira Gershwin

Rationale: Suitable for libraries and school libraries, to discourage the current generations from automatically ridiculing anyone with an idea that might turn out to be a good one, to exercise constructive as well as critical appraisal, and to encourage more curiosity and enterprise

In an Australian book of the People who made Australia Great, 58 of the 200 ‘great names’, nearly thirty per cent were noted as having to battle severe resistance to their ideas and work. Many of the others also faced resistance, as more detailed biographies reveal. Thousands of others not in the book also helped to make Australia great, but how many of them have had to battle unnecessarily against people’s automatic rejection of good ideas and project? Look up, for example, King O’Malley or Hugh McColl (both also capable of misguided ideas, as most people who do great things are liable to be as well. One good idea to 99 non-starters, as Edison reckoned.) One of the things to learn in school is how to fail, and fail - and finally win. But it would also be good for everyone to learn at school to hold back from ridicule, persecution and perverse obstruction of ‘ratbags’ enough to give them a chance.


Most of what you see and use everyday has been invented by somebody, or a series of somebodies. List ten things around you. Who invented them? Who invented roads, refrigerators, sewerage, computers, safety pints?
Most of the ways we live have been invented by somebody or a series of somebodies. Who invented insurance, democratic government, schools, old age pensions, hospitals, holidays, football finals?

Everyone knows the sports stars and celebrities of our time. The people who entertain us are famous. Some of them are famous long after they are dead.

It is possibly just as well that people who invented things and who worked make the world a better place do not get the same glory as a film star. Imagine spending as much on possible geniuses as on the Institute of Sport! Indeed, deliberately set-up nurseries of innovators and innovations do not have as good a record as trainers of top sports stars and ballerinas.

There is a poem about a man with a little tree who prayed for everything he thought the tree needed, and got it. In turn the little tree was rained on, shone on, breezed on, had fertiliser and stakes and everything just as he thought it needed. The little tree just gave up and died.

There is a better chance of spotting sports and film and musical talent than there is for who is going to be able to invent something to stop locusts.

There is a saying that genius needs a hard wall to kick against and make its sparks fly. On the other hand, when the poet Thomas Grey was sitting in a country-church yard, he turned to thinking about all the people who lay in it who never had a chance ‘the mute inglorious Miltons and the village Hampdens'.
The walls have been just too hard and high.

On the other hand - (three hands by now?) there have been places and times where groups of people have stimulated each other in places where their types of greatness have had a chance - Athens 5th century BC, Florence in the Renaissance period, Edinburgh in the 18th century, London over several hundreds of years. Manured with gold , it has been said, but Edinburgh was not that wealthy, indeed, there was a lot of ruin around with the catastrophic failure of the Scots settlement in America, Darien.

The small population of Australia has had a remarkable number of people who have been inventors and innovators and who have set up new types of public institutions for human welfare. (Examples) Possibly in a pioneer country there is more chance of pioneering minds and hands.

But whatever may help or hinder ideas for progress rather than regress, human benefit rather than destruction, there does seem throughout history to have been far too much squashing and frostbite.

In a garden, snails, slugs and other pests have the job of getting rid of the weaker plants so the stronger have more room and chance. Until recently in human history, diseases would kill off the weaker of the species, with ‘survival of the fittest to survive’. But this weeding-out business can be overdone. The garden can be in rack and ruin when the pests thrive too much. There can be good brains that are lost when the bodies are too weak to survive the physical screening tests.

The stories of ‘People they laughed at’ include thousands of people whose ideas were doomed anyway - and we include an account of some of these. They could not possibly all be taken seriously. It would be gullible to try.

But there do seem always to have been some people always ready to mock at anything they cannot get their tiny minds around. Brilliant thinkers and inventors have also jeered at each other.

Could we try to be a bit more discriminating in what immediately arouses our scorn as impossible?

Would ‘give it a go’ and ‘fair go’ be better ways to go than on the one hand wiping every innovation that does not fit in the ‘current climate’, or being swept away by grandiose schemes that have no pilot trials?


This is a book about ‘People they laughed at’, and it is only about some of them. If you have ever thought there was a better way to wash up in your house and been laughed at and nobody would try your way, then join the club. If you have ever thought the kid in the corner must be Asperger Syndrome because he is not like everyone else, give him a chance.

I am innovative.
You are eccentric.
Old Jack here is a ratbag.
Them over there are cranks.

Some people who have been laughed at turn out to be great inventors, discoverers, thinkers and heroes that we honour today.

Some people are still laughed at.

Some people laughed at today may turn out to be great. Some will be silly. How can you tell? Not by current acclaim or what may be only ISAIATT - It Seemed A Good Idea At The Time.

An innovation, almost by definition, is 'not in line with current thinking'. The Royal Society, that most august society on earth almost, today, was lampooned in its early days as a bunch of Loonies. Even Jonathan Swift, for all his own satiric imagination, ridiculed them in his description of the flying island of Laputa, and scientists' crazy ideas such as how to get sunshine out of cucumbers.

It would be good if everyone knew through book or documentary how much the world has been improved by people whose ideas at first were laughed at. Human flight, heavier than air, ha! ha! ha! Cryogenics? That seems to me mad, but let them go on ice, and see how they make out after the next hundred years - I wont be around to know if those frozen heads or bodies can be rezoned in time.

Every citizen by the time they leave school should have some idea much time and work has been wasted, and lives have been wasted, because other people just had a reflex response to mock and say it ‘No, it can’t be done’.

Web-page : http://home.vicnet.net.au/~ozideas/socinvent.htm

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