Blessed ignorance

Every website that is selling a product or a service has testimonials from customers. Books often come with quotes of what people think about it. Products on all e-commerce platform come with ratings.

We often think that our decisions are grounded on solid reason. But only too often, we are simply doing what everybody else around us are doing.

Sure, this is a useful heuristic, for there is wisdom in crowds. However, crowds of humans are also often prone to foolishness. When a crowd of people rush to buy a stock is probably the worst time to buy it, for the stock’s price shoots up and it ends up overvalued. When a crowd of people rush to sell a stock is probably the worst time to sell it, for the stock’s price plummets and the stock is undervalued. Bubbles and scams are caused by masses of people rushing to buy and sell.

Propaganda is an instrument used to feed off the behaviour of masses of humans. If one friend of your tells you something absurd, you are likely to dismiss it. When the second friend repeats the same absurdity, you wonder. When the third friend states it, your defences break down. You can get people to believe anything as long as there are enough other people who believe it too. Flying chariots, virgin birth, people rising from the dead – human history is filled with such examples.

Mob frenzy is a fundamental human failing – when we see enough people doing something, we cannot help but do it too. A robust way to protect your own decisions is to stop looking at what everybody else is doing – on the news, on social media or on television.

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