Long term memory in the brain is realized partly by weakening irrelevant connections and strengthening relevant connections among neural cells. Connections that become strong can still become weak if not exercised. Our long term memory is not like computer Read-Only Memory that can be burned once and then assumed to hold forever.
Why this foray into neurology? It took me some time to understand some ramifications of the dictum that “we are creatures of habit”.
We now know that, although difficult during adulthood, bad habits can be broken, and good habits can be formed. Good parents know that good habits are easier to form in kids than among adults, but even adults can regress. We also know that, as much as there are good and bad habits, there are also good and bad ideas. I was of the impression that good ideas, once discovered and elucidated, can speak for themselves. Surely, some kids already know what is bad from good, so why do they still do bad things? It was not clear to me that certain habits like angry reaction can make us forget what is good and what is bad. Good ideas need defending. Good ideas need reminding. You can program a computer once and expect it to behave exactly the way you programmed it. But humans need periodic memory “refresh”.
I also thought that history should have taught us what we know today. After all, we do have collective memory in the form of books (and now also films and the Internet). I expected the world to have learned the lessons of how dictators come into power, and not make the same mistakes again. But dictatorships have come and gone again and again, causing a lot of suffering and the subjugated people to lose decades in their march to progress. The fact is that good ideas and lessons learned are not points in history to be checked and simply assumed to be henceforth practiced. Good ideas like freedom need constant vigilance. Good ideas like liberty and the free market need to be defended from one generation to the next.
We can only wish that we can build an infrastructure for freedom and assume that it would continue to exist without nourishment. But the institutions for freedom that we build are not static structures, they are more like plants that need constant nourishment and care.
I feel very excited because these thoughts have led me to decide to participate in the battle of ideas, defending freedom, property rights, and the rule of law. A year ago, I looked at myself as simply a beneficiary of free market ideas, an entrepreneur in technology. My idol was Bill Gates, and I prided in being practical and so have pursued a career in software engineering. Now I realize that there are heroes out there more worthy of emulation than Bill Gates. Right now my idol has become Jose Rizal: he fought for freedom in his time, and even died for it. I am now into the eighth chapter of Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere” and have been jumping around chapters of two other books (Dr. Palmer’s “Realizing Freedom” and Mahbubani’s “The New Asian Hemisphere”). I feel that my life has just started, and I believe I can make a difference.
Have I turned into a Quixotic idealist? The Philippines has long been mired in intellectual purgatory. The ideas of “social justice” still prevail,and only Nonoy Oplas’s Minimal Government has recently challenged it. Ideas have consequences as evidenced by the pervasive intrusion of government into people’s lives, in spite of debilitating incompetence on the part of government tentacles like the police. We are only to blame for this because we continue to believe that the government is the answer to any problem. I aim no less than to change this intellectual climate. This is not a short-term objective, to be completed in a year or two. It may take decades, but I have proven myself to be persistent.