The moral imperative of being unreasonable

by reestheskin on 07/03/2016

Comments are disabled

Anybody who works in large organisations that want to be corporations (such as universities) knows that they are increasingly plagued by people who persist in being reasonable. This is a very dangerous habit, inimical to the true purpose of so much scholarly enquiry. As Shaw said:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

Universities’ key task is changing the world : this is what the culture of learning and discovery is all about, and  what unpins any chance of survival for a neotenous creature. I am delighted  that there is now more robust empirical enquiry to support what many of us have known for a long time (PNAS here).

Sheen Levine, in a neat letter to the Economist spells out what might seem unexpected. Commenting on an earlier piece showing that ethnic diversity might undermine trust, Levine points out this is one of the advantages of diversity (an hence trust is not always a virtue).

But this may be its [diversity] greatest gift. When ethnically different others are present, people tend to remain cautious, scrutinise information and reach better decisions…..In homogenous markets, we reason, trust in other people’s reasonableness can cause erroneous beliefs to spread more readily. Diversity makes you better precisely because it makes you less trusting.

The more slightly odd people you can find poking around in your dusty library collections, the more likely you are to be in a place that presages an improved world.