Original Post (with comments)
One of my close friends, a cycling buddy, is what I would call a born contrarian. He has a knack for putting his finger in the wind, determining which way it’s blowing, and then concluding that we should ride into it, not with it. If there’s a mainstream trend brewing, he’s aware of it early, and he hates it long before it ever makes it to prime-time TV. That’s his personality, and it makes him a cutting edge, cool guy to be around. I’m more of a self-made contrarian.
Given the choice to follow the crowd or make my own way, I’ll always prefer to make my own way unless…I don’t perceive an agenda or a lemming-like mass movement mentality. (Sometimes, the masses are right. Not too often, but sometimes.) In any case, these are, in my view, the two primary reasons why erroneous and/or worthless ideas get traction in our society. Erroneous ideas, like what is fashionably and musically in, are great examples. In so many cases, those who have authority in our culture, celebrities, set the agenda. They do something out of the ordinary and whamo, a new fad emerges. But hey, it’s cool to be different, so the lemmings get on board, only to ultimately end up being carbon copies of one another. Fortunately, the harm done here is purely aesthetic, for the most part. Agenda-driven ideas, on the other hand, do considerable harm.
Take, for example, the global warming debate. In case you missed it (click here), the recent evolution versus creationism debate veered off into this territory. My argument is that there is a vast conspiracy among academics to support the notion of human induced global warming. This is because the issue is so far from definitive that the political aspect of the debate has clouded the judgement of many reputable scientists. As we all know, academia is replete with left-wingers. In short, there is an agenda behind this fraud. I, therefore, despite the arguments of my critics that those in authority cannot all be wrong, dissent.
The point of this is to suggest that we are ill-advised to take the word of so-called authority figures simply because they are “reputable.” This is nothing more than the “question authority” concept. To say that something such as human induced global warming is true because a preponderance of credible academics say it is is to stand at the precipice of a slope that is dripping with 30-weight motor oil. Once you use this rationale to buy into something, you’re far more likely to do it again and again. But, given the obsession of this blog, I would argue that there is a genetic component to this.
We are driven to pursue status in our interpersonal endeavors. This makes us particularly vulnerable to being duped by those who have it. Given the choice between believing an idea put forth by someone we believe to have high status and believing an idea put forth by someone with questionable status, our genes will push us to the former. This is true when it comes to everything from religion to politics to economics, but it need not be this way.
I am a constant advocate of critical rationalism because I think it gets us out from under this problem. We have to consciously choose to put our status-oriented biases aside and consider matters in critically in terms of evidence. And we also have to be aware that our best efforts at objectivity can still be confounded by our caveman emotions. That’s why it is so key that we understand them – what they were designed to get us to do and how we can go about compensating for them. From this emerges the self-made contrarian, the one who thinks about the mass mind as flawed and not to be trusted, the one who rides against the wind, not with it.