The Fifth Flaw of Truth: Authority


Human trust in authority begins early in life. For most of us, instruction comes from parents during childhood, then expands to teachers and other members of the community. Adolescence urges a rebellion against authority, but eventually, that urge fades, and the lessons of childhood return, the fundamental idea the someone else knows more, knows better and you should trust them.

This idea of someone else knowing more is fundamental to our understanding of the world. It is a social trust in the information and authority of those people. There is a multitude of things that I know about science that I haven’t experienced firsthand. I have never seen the round world from space. I have never even done the math that proves it. I know, because I trust in the authority of those that taught me. The world is just too big to know everything firsthand, and we are a social species. Authority is essential the communication of knowledge.

It is in that place of fact versus opinion that this flaw is most often exploited. The teachers that taught me the basic principles of mathematics, that world was indeed round, were hired by the government and worked for the government. It builds a baseline of trust between people and those that govern them. But consider the disaster when the Chernobyl nuclear power plant reactor melted down. The government leaned on this idea of authority and used it to lie to the people about what happened, even today, the official story is that only thirty-one people died. Similarly, in China, children are taught the basics of reading and writing by their government are also taught a very different version of the events at Tiananmen square then the rest of the world believes.