Don’t Always Believe What You Think

“The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes.”

Winston S. Churchill

A few years ago, I saw a bumper sticker that said something that stuck in my mind firmer than the sticker was attached to the bumper.  It said ‘Don’t Always Believe What You Think’.  Philosophers call this concept “Intellectual Humility”.   This type of humility acknowledges the limitations of our knowledge.  It calls on us to challenge our own beliefs and, in doing so, places the surviving beliefs on firmer ground.

One area that often divides conservatives and progressives is in the level of faith in science.  Why do liberals believe so strongly in data and theories that conservatives think of as a lot of hooey?  Are conservatives anti-science?  Deniers?  Warriors in the War on Science?  These are the insults commonly directed at those who question blind faith in science, yet it is those who adhere to a cultish and dogmatic faith in anything that comes to us from the scientific field who deserve criticism.  They are lacking in intellectual humility.

Another (and probably more important) area where a lack of intellectual humility divides us is in faith in government.  Elitist politicians and bureaucrats who know what’s best for all of us seek to perfect the world in their eyes.   They treat us like we are infants and they are our guardians.   We are too stupid to know what’s best for us, so they are going to protect us from ourselves.  What arrogance!

I believe that those who call for more and bigger government programs lack intellectual humility.  They don’t recognize the limitations of their ability to collect and process economic and social data.   They have a simplistic view of the interconnectedness of the complex system that we call society.  For over 100 years Progressives have sold the idea that government programs can perfect society quicker and more efficiently than a naturally ordered society.  For that same 100 years they have been proven wrong.

It would be wonderful if our Presidents and our Congressmen were intellectually humble.  They need to recognize the limits of their knowledge.  This creates an enormous challenge for us though.  We like to elect strong, firm, and dogmatic leaders.  Perhaps we can one day appreciate intellectual humility enough to vote for humble leaders.

What can you do in the meantime?  Challenge your own beliefs, not as means of destroying them, but as a means of making them stronger.  Know your limitations, but also appreciate the knowledge that you have.  Discussing differences in beliefs is often a fruitless endeavor, but it may also plant some seeds that will lead to areas of agreement in the future.  We are engaged in a battle of ideas that will never end. If we can plant ideas that promote liberty and that limit government to humble endeavors, we can win these battles.

​In Liberty,
Ken Mandile
Senior Fellow
Worcester Tea Party