Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why isn't everybody right?

It's the year 2009. The Internet has made the exchange of ideas and information very easy and inexpensive. For example, any person in the World with Internet can read this blog post. It costs me nothing to run a blog like this. I could post to this blog from a free (to me) Internet connection at work, at school, at a friend's house, at a library, etc.

So, in light of this. Why are so many people wrong about so much? Or, why isn't everybody right about everything important? I think there are a lot of reasons for this. Here are some of them:
  • There is a lack of knowledge about what it takes to be right about something. Few people can reasonably state what it takes to claim to "know" something. Since people only have an implicit idea of what it takes (at best), they either wrongly or haphazardly accumulate and maintain knowledge.
  • People were wrong about a lot before modern times and this "wrongness" continues to be handed down across generations.
  • People have a tendency to "become who they are" too early in life. The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. Lots of people have ideas very similar to their parents and/or the culture they grew up in. These ideas were acquired before they could be properly analyzed by the person acquiring them. Now, they hang around unexamined, unchanging, and wrong.
  • People are "invested" in wrong ideas. Sometimes changing what you believe has a personal cost. Disagreeing with your past self or with society or your friends or family can have negative consequences.
  • There are all sorts of disingenuous people spouting all sorts of ideas because they think they'll gain something from doing this. Your average politician is a great example of this phenomenon.
  • Many people don't think ideas are important. Look at what is taught in schools. Look at the kinds of books people read. Look at how much time people spend entertaining themselves compared to how much time they spend educating themselves.
  • People have "reversed" how knowledge works. They see knowledge as the product of perception or their place in the world or choices they make about reality. Some say people "create" their own reality or there is no external universal reality. Some people say society creates the truth. However, reality is what it is independent of what we wish it to be.
  • People are just "willfully" wrong. Many people pick the conclusions they want. Usually people don't want to blatantly do this. Everybody knows on some level this isn't how it really works. So, people rationalize their beliefs. They deceive both themselves and others with flimsy arguments and reasons for their beliefs. Typically people don't discuss ideas with other people for very long. When they do, all that is needed to stubbornly hold onto a belief you've arbitrarily chosen is a five or ten minute memorized argument that has the sheen of plausibility. Nobody comes to the table of ideas and blatantly says "I believe X just because I want to" but people do pick what they want to be true all the time.
The above is only a partial list. Things are actually worse than what is described above.


Robin Norwood said...

Sometimes there isn't a 'right' or 'wrong'. Just different options with different outcomes. Whether one is better than the other depends on what you value. For instance, say you could stop all crime, but the cost is installing surveillance in every room of every privacy.

Nothing is ever that simple, but you get the idea. Some people value safety over privacy, others the reverse.

mike barton said...

Nietzsche would disagree.