By Steve Gillman
There is no authority above my own mind, and you should have
none above your own mind. To continue with the case made on the
page, "Against All
Authority," I want to point out that not only is blind
obedience a bad idea, but that we have way too much respect for
"experts" and those in power. For an example of the
insidious nature of our fear (or respect, if you wish) of authority,
I start with a weather report.
"It will be partly cloudy today, with a high temperature
of sixty-five degrees. Currently it is seventy-one degrees and
Unfortunately, this is a typical radio weather forecast. I
have probably heard something similar a hundred times in my life,
especially the part where the current temperature exceeds the
predicted high for the day. Now, you could guess that the announcer
simply didn't look at the gauges for the current conditions until
after reading the forecast, but that wouldn't explain why they
usually repeat the same forecast later.
Almost certainly the announcer can see that the current temperature
is seventy-one degrees. Why, then, wouldn't he just change the
forecast to "a high of seventy-one today," and for
that matter call for rain, since it is raining? Why? Because
he just doesn't feel that he has the authority! He isn't the
meteorologist, after all!
Now I consider that a sickness. This isn't a judgment on the
announcer, because this is a common sickness from which most
of us suffer at times. But really now, what a thought, that we
have to ignore the evidence of our own eyes and our own reasoning
in favor of the words of "authority."
Just Say No Authority
I remember when I was twenty and my gas filter clogged. I
went to the "experts" at a repair facility, and was
told that the gas lines and tank were rusty. They recommended
a new tank and new lines. I followed their advice and spent $460
for the work. That was a lot of money to me, since I was working
for $3.40 per hour at the time. In fact, I had only paid $200
for the car.
Of course they were the auto "authorities," and
the mechanic did a good job. Perhaps they were even right that
this was necessary to "properly" repair the car. My
mistake was in thinking that because they knew how to repair
cars, they knew what I should do with my car. I didn't
make that mistake again.
Another mechanic at the same garage later told me that I could
have had them put an "in line" filter on for $20. Then
all I would have had to do was spend one minute to replace it
every few weeks. These filters could be installed with no tools,
and if I burnt through 20 of the $2 filters over the remaining
year of life of the car, I would have spent $60 total instead
Then the mechanic who told me this added, "But you have
to fix these things right, you know."
"No, actually I don't have to," I told him. I would
have been happy to save $400 for the cost of a few minutes work
now and then. For that matter, if I had known the cost beforehand
(I didn't), I might have just bought another $200 car instead
of repairing that one for $460.
Experts Don't Know What Is Best for You
I know people who have refused surgery and other medical "necessities"
- and are healthier for it. In reality they knew more about what
they needed than the doctor. Most doctors do know what they are
doing, but that doesn't mean they know if it should be done to
For example, you have a heart condition and you go the top
expert on heart conditions. This is the best surgeon in the United
States, and he tells you that you should have angioplasty as
soon as possible. Would you say no to such an authority?
What he doesn't tell you is that they don't typically do angioplasties
in England, and those who would have had them if they lived here
live just as long. They use chelation therapy for a few hundred
dollars, or have other simpler, less-invasive treatments. These
often have fewer complications, and the patient can save $40,000
or more. In fact, there is no good evidence that there is any
statistical benefit to having an angioplasty operation.
Your "expert" probably won't tell you this. He may
not even know. He is a trained surgeon, after all, and agioplasties
are what feed his habits and his family. Is it really a surprise
that he recommends them? Now, I will be the first to admit that
some of these surgeons have incredible skill and knowledge. If
this guy does do your angioplasty, he might do it better than
any other surgeon on this planet. But don't assume he knows whether
it should be done on you.
Look, if hammers and screwdrivers could talk, a hammer would
insist that you should use nails to build your deck, and the
screw driver would insist that screws were best. They do their
jobs fine, but they are just tools. Their view would be limited,
and the final decision is yours.
Experts are tools as well. This isn't meant to de-humanize
them, but to point out that their relationship to you is not
as a friend, but as a resource. It is up to each person to decide
how to use these resources or "tools." Hopefully they're
full of useful knowledge and advice, but they are limited in
their ability to say very much about your life, because they
will never know as much about you as you know about yourself.
No authority or expert has the right to make any decision
for your life. We have to learn to have less reflexive respect
for authorities and experts, even those of the legal and political
system. And by that I do mean breaking the law when necessary.
For more about that, see the page "Obedience