John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.'”
People don’t like new, unique ideas.
Whew, that is a bold statement. Sure, some people are the exception and would argue, but I think that overall, most people don’t like abrupt change. I’ve discussed change before. Even when it comes to things like new “innovative technology”, adoption can be slow and not for everybody right away.
So technology adoption and prophets. What does technology have to do with prophets? Where am I going with this?
Before we go there, let’s discuss “The Chasm” first, see the above graph. The Chasm is a term that relates to the amount of failures that never reach the majority. Something is created, it’s innovative and techies adopt it. A couple early adopters get it. Then it dies out. It’s too expensive. It isn’t useful enough. Something better comes along. Timing isn’t right. Bad marketing. There’s a host of excuses for failure. I have come up with plenty in my own lifetime.
With Ideas, I believe they follow a similar curve but I think the chasm is even further to the left. Between the Innovators (thinkers, academics, philosophers, …) and the Early Adopters. The Early Adopters are people who maybe have more open minds, or have the case of “I believed that, but I never realized it or thought about it”, or may be more ideologically malleable (not always a good thing). I believe I was an early adopter for the current movement of Libertarianism and Austrian based Capitalism. Once exposed to it, I adopted the philosophy with great speed because, when I heard the ideas it was a case of “That’s me! Now that I think about it, it’s obvious”. My ideological life hasn’t been the same since.
In order to cross that long Chasm to early adoption of an idea, Prophets are needed. Technology has the boon that if it is a benefit to ones life, it can be apparent to anyone watching pretty easily. Your production increases, your efficiency goes up, your ability to have fun changes. Ideas affect one’s inner life and through that one’s actions. They are also rarely something seen and immediately understood, for example, a SmartPhone. A Smartphone is an incredible piece of technology that you can start to see the benefit of right away. That is probably one of the reasons why the technology adoption curve has such a short timeline for the Smartphone.
So what is a Prophet? I think Isaiah says it well.
A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
– Isaiah 40:3
A Prophet is someone who makes smooth the path for an idea. For the current run of the liberty movement, the primary “prophet” was and is Ron Paul. He made the path smooth for the ideas of Liberty. The prophet’s aren’t the source of the ideas, but the “desert highway makers”. They allow people to follow the prophet back to the source, the academics the thinkers, … The movements are never about the prophet, but about the ideas. Cults are centered on people and thus cults aren’t led by Prophets but by politicians. Politicians promote ideas but it is always about “them”, not the “idea”. Prophets v Politicians. So next time someone uses the term “Cult of Ron Paul” you can respond “no, no, no, he’s just Prophet Paul!” Though they might think then that their point is then proved.
John the Baptist: Prophet
John the Baptist was a Prophet in the sense that he was making smooth the path for Christ’s revolutionary ideas. I often wondered as to why John the Baptist was even needed. He preached for only a short time, and then he was killed. What was the point?
Christ only had a short time in his ministry, 3 years. He needed the early adopters, he needed to be able to go straight to people without having to worry about crossing the Chasm of Ideas for majority of people. There simply wasn’t time. John the Baptist was His prophet, by teaching about salvation he was preparing the Jewish people, the early adopters at least, for when Christ came. He was getting some of Christ’s basic ideas out into their minds. Seeds planted, ready for the Farmer to tend to them. My guess is that without John the Baptist, Christ’s 3 year ministry would have been smaller, less impactful, than it was. How can I say such a thing? Simply because God’s plan called for John’s existence. I then make the assumption that God’s plan called for maximum impact; thus John was necessary for increased impact.
Is there a lesson to be learned in all of this? I suppose, if you are a prophet for some idea, the lesson is keep struggling for your ideas. Prophets are always early; it’s part of the definition of helping ideas to cross the chasm. You will always be early. Don’t struggle to become a cult, don’t make it about you. It always needs to be about the ideas, and Christ (if you are a Christian of course). John the Baptist wasn’t about attention on him, but about focusing on the Messiah – whomever/wherever He was – and people’s relationship to God. Ron Paul focused primarily on the ideas of liberty without a lot of focus on Christ as his message was geared towards Christians and non-Christians alike; but any Christian could see Christ on his face and in his words. His ideas wouldn’t have stuck otherwise.
“There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” – Victor Hugo
Take heart in the struggle however, even if you are early, even if you aren’t crossing the chasm, for the remnant will find you. Take a look at Albert Jay Nock’s essay “Isaiah’s Job” for additional information.