We are all wrong

We're all profoundly wrong about something fundamental. Probably the same thing. I'm not sure what it is, but I'm sure we're wrong about it. By "we" I don't just mean people commenting on this blog, or like-minded people (i.e., libertarians).

Think about any time long enough ago. With maybe the exception of a tiny minority, people were profoundly wrong about something. People were wrong about slavery. People were wrong about witches. People were wrong about the divine right of kings.

Why should today be any different? I doubt very much that it is different. There's something that we all take for granted, something that we think it would be loony tunes to doubt, but that is deeply mistaken.

Of course, libertarians stand on the outside of some of today's unquestioned assumptions - unquestioned by the vast majority, that is. The libertarian blade cuts deep. I propose, however, that there are still assumptions which we ourselves do not question, but which one day will be considered as wrong - as obviously wrong - as slavery is considered today.

On the other hand, things could reverse. Scientific and moral truths understood today could be forgotten, particularly in a totalitarian future. I do think that the modern state has managed to bamboozle the majority in ways which they would have escaped a thousand years ago.

Since libertarians stand outside of so many profoundly wrong assumptions, we can at least observe the signs. One possible sign is slapdash rationalization, rationalization that would never convince a skeptic but that allows the believer to think there are good reasons for the belief. Another possible sign is the presence of serious personal consequences for loudly contradicting the majority opinion, making it likely that the belief is held in order to conform rather than because it is true. These are imperfect signs (possible false positives and false negatives), but it's a start.

You've probably witnessed somebody from Country A go on at length about how people in Country B aren't right in the head, how they do this, that, and the other thing backwards and upside down, and how clearly the sensible thing is what people in Country A do. This is a two bit version of what I'm talking about.

But a universally or near-universally held falsehood will tend to be invisible because it is not likely to be much discussed. Discussion tends to center around points of controversy, not points of agreement.

Share this

My guess, being near

My guess, being near graduation, is the whole college mess. Even libertarian proponents of home unschooling, like David D. Friedman, still seem to consider higher education an effective method of "personal growth" (to employ a turn of phrase I detest for lack of an alternative). My own estimation is that college is probably a net-positive financial investment, but mostly due to social and networking benefits. The actual education side of things is a flat out sham, for reasons I am not going to get into at this time (it would take a while to get it all out there).

But rather than discussing how to improve our systems of education and assessment --- and note that I am implicitly proposing decoupling the two institutions, which is a conversation I have thus far had entirely with myself --- we focus on how better to fund the current endeavor. Probably because libertarians tend to be intellectuals --- and colleges, despite their short comings, are still essentially pro intellect --- you don't see much libertarian criticism of this.

Bryan Caplan and Arnold

Bryan Caplan and Arnold Kling had a multi-post debate on the education vs. assessment aspects of universities a few months ago on Econlog. Caplan shared your skepticism; Kling took the more mainstream view.

Micha, thanks for pointing

Micha, thanks for pointing that out to me. I'm juuuust geting back into the blogosphere, so I apologize for my ignorance.