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I always get nervous when Muse needs the 'Ask The Audience' lifeline... - Diary of a Necromancer
Excuse me, I'm making perfect sense, you're just not keeping up
I always get nervous when Muse needs the 'Ask The Audience' lifeline...
Polling the Man-In-The-Street: what names of individuals or persons known as heads of groups, besides Osama bin Laden and Gavrilo Princip, would you think of off the top of your head as having:

* profoundly influenced or diverted the course of history;

* in a way that history has largely regarded as undesirable;

* by acting out of sincerely professed convictions?

Note that I'm trying to screen out names that only hit on two of those, such as Jack the Ripper, Hitler, or Lee Harvey Oswald (state of mind not well attested or demonstrably not right in the head overall), Buddha or Jesus (change not currently regarded as broadly negative), or Timothy McVeigh or any number of people in recent administrations (change not disruptive enough or too soon to assess). An example of a "maybe" might be John Wilkes Booth, but are there others I'm missing out here? It would be particularly interesting to see if anyone can come up with someone who isn't an assassin or a terrorist, but did something ridiculously unhelpful to humanity out of the belief that it was a good thing...

Tags: ,
feeling: curious curious

28 responses | moved to respond?
kreutzmarie From: kreutzmarie Date: August 23rd, 2013 08:32 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)
Ted Kaczynski, maybe?
robling_t From: robling_t Date: August 24th, 2013 06:50 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)
I think most people would just say that he's mad as a brush, though; I'm looking more for figures who could be said to be credible moral actors, the ones where you go "dude, what were you thinking?" as opposed to side-eyeing the mental-health system for not getting them help...
anotheramy From: anotheramy Date: August 24th, 2013 01:54 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)
Joseph-Ignace Guillotin maybe. He didn't actually invent the guillotine but he advocated for a humane form of execution that could be applied equally to all citizens and was on the committee that eventually settled on the machine that would bear his name. Given what it was used for during the Reign of Terror, I think you could say he definitely influenced the course of history in an undesirable fashion.
robling_t From: robling_t Date: August 24th, 2013 08:58 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)
That's a good example of a "my god, what have I done?", but there's not quite that dimension of '...and we're all fucked now", exactly. For the sciences it'd almost have to be somebody who thought a gray-goo scenario was a good idea, really.
randomdreams From: randomdreams Date: August 24th, 2013 02:38 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)
Stalin and Mao are the two that leap to my mind, although I could as well say the last Czar and the last Emperor. I think a case could be made for the architects of the Inquisition, as well.
randomdreams From: randomdreams Date: August 24th, 2013 02:40 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)
btw I have a sort of arbitrary threshold of 10,000,000 people dead while the named individual continues in power, as my criterion for profound influence.
robling_t From: robling_t Date: August 24th, 2013 06:33 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)
I'm thinking more along the lines of a singularity: the world can be divided into before and after what this person took it upon themselves to do. Which is true of massive death-tolls, of course, but I'm looking more for the impact it had on the people living in a completely redefined normal...
houseboatonstyx From: houseboatonstyx Date: August 24th, 2013 09:08 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)
Perhaps the inventor of the power loom? He thought it would make spinsters' work easier, but it had the effect of destroying their cottage industries and moving them into factories.

I don't suppose there's an individual we can cite for steam and gasoline engines that use massive amounts of fossil fuel?

Hm, iirc E. Nesbit credited H. G.Wells with proposing the Income Tax, which was supposed to bring a sort of utopia.
robling_t From: robling_t Date: August 24th, 2013 09:09 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)
Hm, but that's more of a short-term 'change is bad (for me)' thing with some improved overall outcomes (depending how one regards the effects of the industrial revolution on human well-being); I'd lean more towards atomic energy as an example of invention where even the upside is extremely problematic. (If Oppenheimer had been less ambivalent about the bomb, that's the sort of name I'd be all over here...)
bemused_leftist From: bemused_leftist Date: August 24th, 2013 09:23 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)
Fossil fuel use has had mixed effects this hundred years, but give global warming a while longer, and there's whole planet impact.
robling_t From: robling_t Date: August 24th, 2013 09:56 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)
Kind of too broad a frame to be a useful argument here, though; I'm looking more for actions that a reasonable person could have foreseen would turn out to have little benefit for much of anybody, but that the perpetrator went ahead with anyway in the belief that it was the Right Thing To Do. In the case of fossil-fuel extraction the long-term consequences were too externalized relative to the short-term benefits of the uses to which FFs could be put for the average reasonable person of the time when it would have been relevant to really be expected to foresee them -- it's a tragedy-of-the-commons -scale problem, not a "why did you do that you suck" -scale problem.
randomdreams From: randomdreams Date: August 24th, 2013 02:41 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)
also Lavrentiy Beria, though differentiating his influence from Stalin's is tricky.
robling_t From: robling_t Date: August 24th, 2013 06:27 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)
I'm not sure that any of the first four were inspired to act by principle in quite the way I'm looking for, though; there's something, Idunno, calculated about installing yourself in a position of real power and then working to stay there that's more of a self-aggrandizing "I'll Show Them, I'll Show Them All" sort of scenario than the complete misjudgment of how the thing they feel they're being led to do is going to come off in the eyes of anybody who didn't already agree with them. (That's sort of why I disqualified Hitler -- he didn't seem to be under any illusions about what people were going to think of him, he just didn't give a rat's ass.) Torquemada's a thought, though...
randomdreams From: randomdreams Date: August 24th, 2013 06:46 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)
I can see that with Beria and Stalin, but I think people like Mao and Pol Pot really did believe that what they were doing was going to make the world better for their people. I feel the same way about a lot of First World political shenanigans, but US, British, and French manipulation doesn't seem to me to have affected as many people as deeply. I might feel differently if I were Algerian or Northern Irish, though.
robling_t From: robling_t Date: August 24th, 2013 08:52 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)
Mao is actually a much closer miss than I first thought, as I consider it, but he falls down on the 'negativity of the impact', ironically enough; too many people ultimately went along with it in some capacity or other. (Which is also what knocks Torquemada out of the running: if you can make a credible case for being backed up by somebody besides the other five disaffected guys in your basement, then your argument starts becoming more political than moral.) I'm really looking more for somebody who thinks they're Mao and is wrong about how many of the lurkers really support them in email, but still manages through their actions to do incredibly lasting knock-on damage.
bemused_leftist From: bemused_leftist Date: August 24th, 2013 09:20 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)
Nader in 2000?
robling_t From: robling_t Date: August 24th, 2013 09:37 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)
Hard to assess the impact, at least in a way that reduces to the sort of finger-pointing I'm after; the 2000 election simply has too many idiots to facepalm at, it's not the Princip scenario where history can agree that this idiot made himself the spark in the tinderbox by doing something outside of reasonable norms...
owensheart From: owensheart Date: August 24th, 2013 04:02 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)
What about David Koresh and Jim Jones?
robling_t From: robling_t Date: August 24th, 2013 08:00 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)
Those would be very near misses insofar as whether they had a lasting impact on people who weren't directly involved; they're names everyone knows, but is everyone's life now different because of them in the same way that we're all living in bin Laden's and Princip's and JWBooth's world?
bemused_leftist From: bemused_leftist Date: August 25th, 2013 02:32 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)
If this wouldn't be derailing....

Any assassination of a respected leader causes much grief. But did Booth's action have as large and lasting an effect on the world as bin Laden's or Princip's?
robling_t From: robling_t Date: August 25th, 2013 05:00 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)
In the case of Booth, FWIW, there is that sense that he unlocked a door that would better have stayed closed, RE planting the idea of assassination so firmly into the public consciousness that it can't be gotten back out; it's sort of the first proto-media-age trauma that I've been able to think of so far, that everyone still knows about well enough to recognize as a break from what came before. There's also that thread of what-if insofar as what might have happened had Lincoln lived to oversee Reconstruction; if it hadn't had as much of a reason to turn punitive, would we still be playing out as many of those grudges today...? So, yeah, I'd say certainly more far-reaching in its negative effects than, say, the McKinley assassination, which was as traumatic at the time but didn't turn into nearly as much of an ongoing clusterfuck.
houseboatonstyx From: houseboatonstyx Date: August 26th, 2013 07:45 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)
As for planting ideas that other people take up, there's the first plane hijacker (never yet caught iirc), the Columbine shooters, and the Impeachers of 1998. Fail on good intentions, though.
bemused_leftist From: bemused_leftist Date: August 24th, 2013 10:38 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)
Oliver Cromwell? Napoleon? Marx?

Edited at 2013-08-24 10:40 pm (UTC)
robling_t From: robling_t Date: August 25th, 2013 05:12 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)
In the case of Cromwell I'd say that it's actually Charles who's closer to the profile, for the "divine right of kings so I'm dissolving Parliament because FUCK YOU" thing that he seems genuinely to have thought was going to be a good idea -- Cromwell's more just along for that ride, there. It's a pity that Charles wouldn't actually make sense in the context I need this for...

As to Napoleon and Marx, there's not so much that sense of "...And why exactly did you think that was going to work??", because enough people agreed with them at the time to make it look like they had something resembling a valid argument. I'm looking more for instances where most people are actually more or less okay with the empire that the scrappy little band of rebels thinks it's going to take down by an appeal to conscience. ;)
unhipster From: unhipster Date: August 26th, 2013 05:16 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)

anti-vaccine idiots

How about Andrew Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy, or is that too recent?
robling_t From: robling_t Date: August 26th, 2013 05:54 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)

Re: anti-vaccine idiots

Recent enough that they have lawyers. ;)
ashnistrike From: ashnistrike Date: September 7th, 2013 08:01 pm (UTC) (permalink this entry)
Hmm ... is Guy Fawkes anything like what you're after? I gather that he and his band of murderous idiots really thought that it would work? Also, maybe look at Rome. The people who assassinated Caesar the Dictator (and for that matter Ceaser himself, and possibly Augustus)?

robling_t From: robling_t Date: September 8th, 2013 01:55 am (UTC) (permalink this entry)
Brutus had in fact crossed my mind as a strong hit after I wrote the initial post, yeah. As you might have guessed, this was RE that most recent episode of T&J, and I did manage to thrash out the scene without having to Name Names in quite the way I was thinking it might have needed to... but yeah, Fawkes might also have worked in the context there, although I'm not quite sure Trevor's thoughts on the subject would be as, um... undivided as I really needed them to be! :) (Not so much that he'd really approve, as such, as simply that he has an equally low opinion of the target, which is kind of an obstacle to the sentiment I was after.)
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