Why do human beings want to abdicate their intelligence?

In direct response marketing, the importance of credibility is difficult to overstate. An authoritative quote or endorsement can make or break a piece of sales copy. Find a doctor to quote. Find a scientific study to cite. Find 15 people who agree with your point of view and it’s possible to make it sound like an army.

This important because it assures the reader that the claims being made are substantive.

The first argument to be made is simple and sound: There is more information in the world than any one person can comprehend, let alone use to make an informed decision. People who have spent years in rigorous professional training are more likely to wield a high command of that information, at least in their area of expertise.

The concern comes when you equate a piece of paper (a diploma or license) with an authoritative command of the information.

This isn’t a new dynamic. Examine the history of world religions and you find people desperate to abdicate their decision-making responsibility (i.e. intelligence) to a priest, imam or cult leader.

The second argument to be made is more nuanced: Human beings have a limited amount of decision-making energy. Piggy-backing on the decision “work” of others conserves that energy for other decisions.

We don’t really have metrics for the reserve or expenditure of decision energy. If you don’t pay attention to the types of decisions that deplete your reserves, or the volume of decisions you’re making in a given time frame – you’ll run out.

We use trust in relationships to mitigate the decision “load.” If someone I know makes a decision that turns out well – I see the evidence – my trust in them grows. We begin sharing the decision work.

Again, once I conflate relationship trust and authority conferred by a piece of paper – I’ve abdicated a piece of my own intelligence. Conferred authority begets subsequent layers of authority – in short, bureaucracy (“if you say so”, “it’s the law”, “you’re the boss”, etc.).

Relational trust is more reliable than bureaucracy, but it doesn’t scale as well.

If our cultural focus is on economic growth as the greatest good, than bureaucracy will always win.


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