head-in-the-sandFrom a completely rational perspective, it is often irrational to reinvent the wheel. I mean, when you’re thinking about something, you rely on earlier thinkers and authorities. You think your thoughts from a platform, not from the bottom. The platform is built by earlier thinkers. How do you really know that the earlier thinkers got it right?

People accept a lot as a given, without digging into whether what is given is true or not. Is it even rational to independently verify that the world is round? Could you do the calculations needed for that, and measure the angle of shadows in two different places on Earth’s surface? It is easier to rely on authority that say ‘the world is round’.

Verifying whether the world is round is a cheap example, but illustrate the point well enough, by appeal to the ludicrous. Logical fallacies aside, when it’s about fuzzy subjects like politics, the economy, points of law, and social mores this authoritarian mind-set is extra clear.

accepttruthWe tend to think like we’re raised to think, and in cases where we don’t think, we rely on others to think for us. Being special and unique is something that everyone say that they want, but only in a way where other people look up to you. If people look at us and think ‘Christ, that bloke is such a weirdo’, it’s not fun. We want the pedestal, and not the isolation. The isolated kook at the fringe or the thought-leaders on the pedestal may or may not be right.

So, it can be entirely rational to be wrong, even in the face of evidence. It is socially irrational to argue against your friends and peers and leaders. It is exhausting. It can have a great cost. Sometimes, it seems, it is easier to keep quiet about disagreements, and only come out for a position when someone sufficiently authoritative does.

I’ve been thinking like that about some of the responses to President Obama’s support of same sex marriage. Previously, as seen in North Carolina, it seemed like the African-Americans were mostly against it. After the President’s support, the support for it in the demographic skyrocketed.

My idea is that it is the previously undecided that have changed their minds. Earlier, the only voices they heard were the churches, and so they went along with the only voice that spoke. After Obama and Powell came out for same-sex marriage, the undecided decided to rely on them for their views.

This is not really my analysis, though. It just became clear after reading another blog, this one about science, where this line of reasoning came up. To me it sounds reasonable, which made me think about that.

Does it sound reasonable to you, or is it exactly the same kind of thing that I’m wondering about, that I decide to rely on authority for thinking what I want to think?