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Take It on My Authority that You Shouldn’t Trust Authorities

Posted in Life, and Society

I love to hate the “Everything you learned in school is wrong,” or, “Common knowledge says x, but actually y,” meme.

A healthy skepticism of authorities’ claims is good. (Also, that last sentence is a tautology.) And you feel good for a moment, because you now know that people (teachers, parents, your elders in general) who used to “lord it over you” were wrong.

Now you know something they didn’t know about what alcohol “actually” does(n’t do) to the brain, or about whether hydrogen peroxide “actually” kills germs (or not), or about how many times per minute men or women “actually” (do/don’t) think about sex.

Now you’re better than the authorities, because you know better. Now you’re out from under their epistemic thumb.

But these memes are often just one authority contradicting another. We aren’t any more intellectually virtuous after reading through their numbered lists. We’ve usually just replaced one authority we had some reason to trust (e.g., a teacher at a school) with a new authority we have no reason to trust (some anonymous person on the internet who can insert text into an image file).

Cite your sources, mememakers, and make sure your sources are trustworthy.

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