Thursday, October 7, 2010

Facts, Preference, and Intellectuals

Original Posting

We all have our given talent in life; for some people it's charisma, for some people it's physical strength, and for some it's intelligence. These talents tend to color our approach to the world, and can become pretty powerful biases. When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Similarly, if all you have is charisma, every problem is about persuasion. If all you have is strength, every problem needs to be punched. And if all you have is intelligence, every problem is about facts and education.

What I'm driving at, is that we tend to see all the problems of the world through the lens of our dominate trait. That's why feminists blame men for war and potheads think weed will bring about world peace; those are the traits they define themselves by. People who identify as intellectuals tend to fall into the same bias, they think that all (or at least most) of the world's problems can be solved through education. They think that problems only occur because people don't have all the facts, if they really understood reality, then there would be no need for disagreement or conflict.

This is bullshit.

For the simple fact that we don't live life according to facts, we live life according to preference. People don't get degrees and then get jobs because it's a fact that they must, they do it because they prefer employment to non-employment. They are guided by the facts, but the facts are there to show the means to their ends, which are determined by their preferences.

Even if the intellectual understands this, there is a tendency to resist it. Because this undermines the value of knowledge. So some among them continue to believe that the answer to society's ills is more facts, more knowledge. That's why you'll hear people suggest that racism can be defeated by education; as though racists only exist because they don't have all the facts. Or why you'll hear that the tobacco industry can be defeated by educating people about the dangers of smoking, as though smokers are not already bombarded with information about the dangers of smoking.

What makes preference so dangerous is that the only way one man can obtain power over another man's preferences is through charisma or force, not logic. If a man prefers vanilla to chocolate, you can try to make chocolate seem more appealing with smooth talk, or you can beat his face in until he agrees to act as though chocolate is better, but you can't prove to him that chocolate is more desirable since desire is based upon his preferences to begin with*.

If our values aren't backed up by the facts, how can we say that people who disagree with us are wrong? And if we can't do that, what good is the intellectual? We can't have a Philosopher King without an objective, factual good for him to grasp.

*you can prove that more people prefer chocolate to vanilla (this is an example, I don't know if it is true), but not that chocolate is inherently better to vanilla.

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