Most people have a certain reverence for everything they perceive as coming from relatively deep past (even if sometimes — like French baguettes or the Italian pasta — it doesn’t). Supposedly profoundly wise proverbs (which are, in fact, usually either banal or false), the Roman concrete that works better than what we have (actually, only for a very narrow purpose) and even the miraculous paleo diets (that were actually very diverse and suitable only for small populations).
I, rather, espouse the opposite mental heuristic — often to the bafflement, if not horror, of many people. There is prima facie nothing inherently valuable about traditional ideas and solutions, and, moreover, they are more likely to be flawed than the modern ones.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of reasons I have for affirming this outrageous belief:
- Most of the traditional ideas about how people should live and solutions to problems were not chosen as a result of spontaneous ordsers consisting of individuals freely pursuing their ends but were instead imposed by various social authorities and crystalized to become conventional wisdom.
- The experience of each individual human is very narrow and probably inapplicable to the wide range of circumstances that other people can face. If you raised one, two or even several children, it doesn’t mean you can advise on how another child should be raised, beyond some very basic mistakes not to be made.
- Many traditional wisdoms are patently false but clearly self-serving or beneficial (in the short run) for the social groups that are favored by them. An example of the latter the idea that there are rigid gender roles with men conveniently assigned the most interesting stuff to do. Examples of self-serving traditional ideas include the belief that parents have a huge impact on the personalities of their children (completely devastated by twin studies).
- Traditional societies and channels of belief formation have always lacked and continue lacking mechanisms for rigorous weeding-out of bad ideas such as the esteem for logically coherent arguments, open contestation by qualified peers, controlled experimentation.
- Perhaps, most importantly, most traditional beliefs seem to have formed on the basis of three basic fundamentally mistaken approaches:
- Taking some phenomenon resulting from a highly context-specific situation and elevating it to the status of a universal proposition. For instance, if you confine women to the home, many women will become frustrated and irritable. But you may then conclude that women are by nature hysterical because, hey, they menstruate. Similarly, if, because of the upbringing, women face few situations where fast reaction to potentially dangerous events is needed, they will be more afraid when they finally face them. But not because women are inherently more cowardly. In a completely different context, just because one could temporarily gain a lot by winning a war when there was little innovation, doesn’t mean that war is useful.
- Misinterpreting external manifestations as signs of intrinsic features. Women tend to express their emotions more readily and vividly than do men but it doesn’t mean that women experience emotions more vividly. Sex involves sweating, other bodily fluids, etc. but its failure to conform to high aesthetics doesn’t mean that there is something negative about it. And so on.
- Perhaps, most fundamentally, basing theories on what I call mystical arguments (or arguments based on pure metaphoric similarity). Some metals inside the Earth look like growing plants, hence they must be alive. A plant’s root looks like a penis, hence it must be a good aphrodisiac. I don’t feel my thoughts as a physical process, hence, I have a spirit, soul, whatever, that has no physical grounding, and such entities can exist completely independently of matter. This list can go one forever.