Introducing Back of the Napkin: Are crazy ideas really that crazy?

By: Patrick W. Zimmerman

Welcome to Back of the Napkin, a new project where we’re going to take the “crazy ideas that would never work” and test to see if they really are that crazy.

Most of the time, dismissing an idea as crazy is a substitution for discounting it because 1) it’s either never been tried before or 2) because some form of received knowledge (religious, cultural, political, or whatever other kind of doctrine) removes it from consideration.  What do these two rationales have in common?  They aren’t based on any, you know, actual evidence.

Since we here at Principally Uncertain are in the job of having evidence, this strikes us as pretty much an outright challenge to all that is right, good, and logical in the world.  A methodological, nay, an ethical failing. 

So, we’re going to take a series of looney ideas and then stick them into the Puncertain Histor-O-Matic™ (totally a real machine and not at all metaphorical stand-in for “a big whiteboard with illegible scribbles and arrows on it”).  That is, we’re going to game them out as thought experiments or pilot studies, depending on what kind and how much evidence is available.

What would the ramifications be of, say, a world with no possessions?

Most of these wild ideas are just that: wild.  Most will turn out to be unfeasible or impractical.  But untestable? No. We call bullshit.

Let’s go digging!



What kind of crazy ideas are we going to consider?

To some extent, that’s to be determined.  Feel free to submit your own ideas! These are likely to be mostly, but not exclusively, drawn from the world of politics, both foreign and domestic.  But, if (to pull one example), the tech world or the sports world end up proving more fruitful, then that’s the direction we’ll take.

Some possibilities on the table (in no particular order):

  • What would an independent California or Texas look like?
  • What resources would it take to establish off-Earth colonies (probably we’ll use the Moon as a cheapest option), and what would need to be given up in order to do that?
  • What if there were Congressional term limits (like there are for other offices, such as POTUS)?
  • How much money would be freed up by matching the US defense budget (proportionally) to, say, the average of the rest of the G8 (as a proxy for America’s peer countries)?
  • What would a single-term presidency look like (say, 1 term of 6 years)?
  • Let’s apply a promotion and relegation system to American sports leagues (using either the minor leagues or the NCAA as part of the league structure, whichever is more appropriate for the sport in question).

First up: What if American states were more like provinces?

About The Author

Architeuthis Rex, a man of (little) wealth and (questionable) taste. Historian and anthropologist interested in identity, regionalism / nationalism, mass culture, and the social and political contexts in which they exist. Earned Ph.D. in social and cultural History with a concentration in anthropology from Carnegie Mellon University and then (mostly) fled academia to write things that more than 10 other people will actually read. Driven to pursue a doctorate to try and answer the question, "Why do they all hate each other?" — still working on it. Plays beer-league hockey, softball, and soccer. Professional toddler wrangler. Likes dogs, good booze, food, and horribly awesome kung-fu movies.

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