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Notes politics

Chapter 15: Ignorance (21 Lessons for the 21st Century)

From an evolutionary perspective , it has been advantageous to trust in the knowledge of others. But like other traits that may have worked well in the past but may not be useful today, the illusion of knowledge can be dangerous. We live in a more complicated world and few people understand the limitations of their knowledge.

Consequently, some who know next to nothing about meteorology or biology nevertheless propose policies regarding climate change and genetically modified crops, while others hold extremely strong views about what should be done in Iraq or Ukraine without being able to locate these countries on a map.

People do not seek out new knowledge that challenges their existing paradigms but trap themselves in an echo chamber of like-minded friends and subscribe to news feeds that are agreeable to them. Their beliefs are rarely challenged. The problem is that facts don’t matter since people rarely change their minds when they are presented with sheets of statistical date, it simply isn’t how human beings operate.

And it may be that the belief in individual rationality is a product of liberal groupthink. it may be the case that individual rationality is overvalued. Harari recalls a scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian where a crowd of starry-eyed followers mistake Brian for the Messiah.

Brian tells his disciples that ‘You don’t need to follow me, you don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re all individuals! You’re all different!’ The enthusiastic crowd then chants in unison ‘Yes! We’re all individuals! Yes, we are all different!’ Monty Python were parodying the counterculture orthodoxy of the 1960s, but the point may be true of the belief in rational individualism in general. Modern democracies are full of crowds shouting in unison, ‘Yes, the voter knows best! Yes, the customer is always right!’

It isn’t merely that groupthink affects ordinary voters but presidents and CEOs. The powerful do not prioritize the discovery of truth or seeing reality for what it is. They are driven to changing reality whenever they can. There is a pragmatic consideration: how to allocate time effectively?

Leaders are thus trapped in a double bind. If they stay in the centre of power, they will have an extremely distorted vision of the world. If they venture to the margins, they will waste too much of their precious time.

Read 21 Lessons For The 21st Century

"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian

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