The inverse relationship between knowledge and arrogance.

failed New Guinea discussion

The young, in the stages of development prior to maturity, in complex and specialized i.e. civilized societies like ours, seem to suffer no lack of arrogance. The same cannot be said for their knowledge, especially that of a historical perspective. The more mature they get, if they acquire more knowledge, the less arrogant they tend to be. There is clearly an inverse relationship between knowledge and arrogance. You may dispute this point by examples of “mature” adults who appear to have both knowledge and arrogance in abundance, such as dominant media pundits and college faculty. I would counter by saying, what appears to be knowledge is actually opinion, while agreeing with the arrogance part. While opinions can be the product of knowledge, most dominant media and college campuses are halls of mirrors, or echo chambers, where opinions are popularity rather than knowledge driven.

I have been reading Guns, Germs and Steel: The fates of human societies, by Jared Diamond. He lived with New Guinea tribes for many years and the book is fascinating in its surveying of history, geography, biology, food production and the effects of those factors on human societies. But what stimulated me to start this post is the following passage: “One reason why the organization of human government tends to change from that of a tribe to that of a chiefdom in societies with more than a few hundred members is that the difficult issue of conflict resolution between strangers becomes increasingly acute in larger groups. A fact further diffusing potential problems of conflict resolution in tribes is that almost everyone is related to everyone else, by blood or marriage or both. Those ties of relationships binding all tribal members make police, laws, and other conflict-resolving institutions of larger societies unnecessary, since any two villagers getting into an argument will share many kin, who apply pressure on them to keep it from becoming violent. In traditional New Guinea society, if a New Guinean happened to encounter an unfamiliar New Guinean while both were away from their respective villages, the two engaged in a long discussion of their relatives, in an attempt to establish some relationship and hence some reason why the two should not attempt to kill each other.

The book is very long, but this tiny passage, especially the part I bolded, indicates a basic truth about human nature which we, with all our written rules and laws, effective policing and the advantages that living in the most powerful nation in history, blithely ignore or deride. In the absence of family and tribal ties or law enforcement, people are generally either vulnerable to others, or aggressive to others. Once there is a functioning government with a monopoly of force, it can be used to promote happiness, by maintaining public order and curbing violence. This is potentially a big and underappreciated advantage of centralized societies over noncentralized ones. “Anthropologists formerly idealized band and tribal societies as gentle and nonviolent, because visiting anthropologists observed no murder in a band of 25 people in the course of a three-year study. Of course they didn’t: it’s easy to calculate that a band of a dozen adults and a dozen children, subject to the inevitable deaths occurring anyway for the usual reasons other than murder, could not perpetuate itself if in addition one of its dozen adults murdered another adult every three years. Much more extensive long-term information about band and tribal societies reveals that murder is a leading cause of death.”

People who were born into, or came to live in at a very young age, a civilized western society have little emotional appreciation of living under a constant threat of violence or a tyrant. (An exception might be those who live in violent, thinly policed neighborhoods). That sense of security, compounded by the lack of knowledge and perspective, breeds arrogance. Arrogance breeds a proliferation of claims to rights, which get ever more extreme and demanding. The ultimate expression of arrogance being inversely related to knowledge is the cry, “I have a right to feel safe!” Safe from what? Dissenting opinions? Microaggressions? People of a different skin pigmentation? Responsibilities? No, you don’t have a right to feel safe. No one ever has. That right cannot be claimed, because it cannot be enforced, except by suppressing anything that anyone feels unsafe about. Is that what you want?

Author: iamcurmudgeon

When I began this blog, I was a 70 year old man, with a young mind and a body trying to recover from a stroke, and my purpose for this whole blog thing is to provoke thinking, to ridicule reflex reaction, and provide a legacy to my children.

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