NOTE: I suppose this topic is worthy of an entire book, but I shall attempt to address it here only briefly.
As I continue to observe the way things go here on Planet Earth, I keep noticing a troubling habit shared by millions and millions of people: They seem eager to put their trust in people and things that they have not vetted for themselves. Perhaps the best way to explain what I’m getting at here is simply to give some examples.
- “Yes, it’s true; I saw it on ______________ .” (CNN, Fox News, History Channel, Discovery, etc.)
- “I’m sure this food is good for you because it’s made by _______________ .” (Fill in any food brand here.)
- “I’m sure the police wouldn’t be conducting this checkpoint if they didn’t have a valid reason for it.”
- “This medicine must be safe because it was approved by the FDA.”
- “You can trust what he says because he has a PhD from the university.”
- “I’ll listen to her because she’s widely accepted as an expert.”
- “We can trust this product (or service) because millions of other people are using it.”
- “If there were something bad about this, surely they would have told us.”
- “The government probably isn’t telling us everything that goes on, just so that they can avoid a public panic.”
- “I’m sure he knows what’s best; he’s a doctor.”
- “Technically, it’s still called a ‘theory’, but that’s really just a formality since practically all scientists agree that it’s a fact.”
- “Well, I’ve always heard that ______________ (insert assertion here), so it must be true.”
- “If it’s important enough to understand, I’m sure the preacher will explain it.”
- “If it’s not in the ___________ (Bible, Koran, Torah, etc.), then we just don’t need to know it.”
- “Everything in the ___________ (Bible, Koran, Torah, etc.) is true and accurate.”
- “We can trust the judge to make a proper ruling.”
- “Surely, no government official would stoop so low as to _______________ (Pick an atrocity or crime.)
- “The preacher wouldn’t do that; he’s a man of God.”
- “That’s not unconstitutional; the Supreme Court said so.”
And on and on it goes. Most of us, it seems say or think things like these every day. And even when one of us is particularly keen and enlightened in one area, he still tends to be quite dupable in other areas, simply for his own lack of diligence. Imagine, for instance, the brain surgeon who is a leader in his field, but whose political or religious beliefs may be nothing short of silly and ridiculous. Instead of applying the same academic diligence he has applied to his professional field, he simply trusts what those around him are saying when it comes to those political or religious beliefs.
In short, this sort of tragic trust is an easy default for a careless society. That is, it’s simply easier to trust than to do one’s own homework. So, barring any really compelling evidence to the contrary, people tend to go with what they’ve always done, believed, or heard—and lacking that, they go with what others around them are saying.
The problem with this, however, is that there often is compelling evidence to the contrary. I could go on and on with stories about how “science” reverses its positions often, about how public leaders were found to be scoundrels, about how medicines or foods are harmful, about how history is “spun”, and so forth. And in almost every case, someone should have “seen it coming” because the evidence was available at the time.
Such evidence is rarely considered, however, by busy people who already have their minds made up. So, to give an example, if some certain over-the-counter drug is under severe criticism, the average citizen is not apt to know about it because he is not generally in the habit of reading about pharmaceuticals. He would likely know nothing of the issue until and unless the FDA pulls that drug from the shelves and he finds it no longer available the next time to attempts to buy some.
This may seem well and good at first glance. Just think about it: The FDA steps in to do what our busy and otherwise-engaged citizen cannot do for himself: they have removed the faulty drug, protecting the citizen from it, whether he understands the issues or not. The problem, however, (in our present example) is that Mr. Citizen has been taking this particular drug for years and is already suffering ill effects from it, though he does not know their cause. The damage is already done.
While it’s attractive to think about the government swooping in to save Mr. Citizen from the bad drug, it is not hard for us to imagine yet a better way. What if Mr. Citizen did his own research before starting any new regimen of medication? Surely, he would find the objections to the drug in question long before the mammoth FDA ever made a ruling on the matter.
And this goes for more than medicine.
Let’s play “what if” for a minute:
- Americans read legislation for themselves before entering into discussions, debates, or political activism? For example, what if every American insisted on actually reading the Constitution for himself before engaging in any discussion about it?
- What if people vetted their own candidates rather than depending on their favorite news show to do it for them?
- What if people researched everything in their favorite religious texts for themselves, rather than taking the religious institution’s word about their meaning, importance, and application?
- What if people did their own research on the food they eat, rather than trusting that the grocer wouldn’t sell if it if weren’t more-or-less OK to eat?
- What if people who enjoyed reading a pro-Abraham-Lincoln history made it a point also to read an anti-Abraham-Lincoln history so that they could get both sides?
- What if people quit supporting institutions such as churches, political parties, and social organizations based on their overall platforms, and began to diligently study, debate, and reform the individual “planks” in those platforms?
One need not imagine these paradigm shifts for long to begin to grasp how huge would be the positive effects on our society.
To put it briefly for now, I have a mind to do something about this. Even if the masses won’t be convinced to execute a paradigm shift, what if only a million Americans adopted this new way of thinking in the next few years? That’s roughly one in every 309 Americans. If those people became even modestly effective at influencing the thinking of others, a viable transformation in our society might just be plausible.
The goal is to persuade people such that they begin to be repulsed by the idea of believing, practicing, or promoting anything that they themselves have not already vetted.
I’ve been pondering this for a while, and I have some ideas….