Over at Morgan’s we’re having another endless thread about “science.” This time it’s about the proper use of “authority,” and the fallacy of Appeal to same.
An Appeal to Authority is a logical fallacy of the form “X is true because person Y says so.” It’s a fallacy both formally and informally. It’s formally wrong because the truth of a proposition doesn’t depend on the speaker — two plus two is four even if Hitler says so; it’s not five even if Gandhi insists it is.
It’s infomally wrong because it’s nebulous, and here’s where it gets interesting. Most people trust authorities up to a point. It’s part of the social contract. If I’ve got a cold, I go to the doctor instead of cracking a textbook on cell biology and firing up the bunsen burner. The doctor in turn trusts his mechanic when it comes to engine repair, the mechanic trusts his accountant on taxes, etc. Society as a whole benefits from such specialization, and so we’ve agreed to outsource a part of our thinking to field specialists.
Part, but not all. If you go to the doctor with a headache and the first thing he wants to do is order up a colonoscopy, a reasonable person asks for an explanation. This is true no matter how many degrees the doctor has or from where, his publication record, or anything else. It’s just common sense.
Liberals, as a general rule, don’t seem to believe this. Which is funny, because they write endless polemics showing that liberals are more comfortable with nuance, or that conservatives are more authoritarian. Yet when it comes to a lists of Things Which Shall Not Be Questioned, the liberal list dwarfs the conservative. Things like:
- the proper capacity of a rifle’s magazine
- the point at which life begins
- the future temperature of the atmosphere
- how much money is “too much”
- that IQ exists
- that men and women have inherent differences
- that powers not delegated to the federal government, or to the states, are reserved for the people
- that our common citizenship is trumped by ethnic ancestry
- that the life of a fetus is only the mother’s concern, but the life of a tree affects us all
It’s one of the main reasons I’m not a liberal — it’s too confusing. Anne Hathaway makes a million dollars for two months’ work, which means she’s Made Enough Money (TM), but she’s also a feminist, so she gets a pass.
The only way out of this dilemma is to outsource all your thinking. Anne Hathaway is a kulak, but Lena Dunham says she’s ok, so we’ll go after that Ann Coulter bitch instead.
This is the mentality that makes the liberal world go. It’s frankly Stalinist, but since Alinsky-lite liberals and neo-Gramscians have taken over the organs of our culture, it’s the attitude that makes modern society go. It’s ok to hate, provided an authority figure tells you how… and whom.
It’s the only way to overcome the Molotov-Ribbentrop dissonance that would cause more honest heads to explode. Eventually the Party leadership will decree something that is so perpendicular to common sense that your whole worldview will be thrown into disarray. At that point, the intellectually honest will leave the Party… while all the various toadies, lickspittles, and other asskissers who cherish their group identity above their balls will elevate Appeal to Authority from a logical fallacy to the infallible lodestone of life.
This is one of the nastiest implications of 1984. Winston Smith spends his days doctoring history in the Ministry of Information, but it’s unnecessary. The Party members– the only ones who have the power to challenge Big Brother — are so invested in their Party membership they’d believe no matter what their lying eyes said. We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.
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