Intellectual inquiry is effortful, and you need a durable internal push to engage in it.
An inflexible approach impedes critical-thinking. I’ve discussed previously (here, here, here, and here) that a sophisticated critical-thinker considers alternative world-views that may cause him/her to philosophize differently.
For example, if you cling rigidly to a “raise taxes on the wealthiest people” position, you are possibly unwilling to contemplate that, among other problems, higher taxes disincentivize productivity, promote economic behaviors to dodge taxes, and contribute to class warfare. Examining all sensible inferences and considering a variety of possible viewpoints or perspectives may help you to arrive at more moderate, practical positions that are conceivably within acceptable limits.
Charlie Munger’s Iron Prescription: Avoid Intense Ideology
One of the central wisdoms of Charlie Munger, Berkshire Hathaway’s Vice-Chairman and the distinguished beacon of multi-disciplinary thinking, is to keep an eye open for dangers that accompany in submitting to a particular ideology.
At his celebrated commencement address to the graduates of the University of Southern California Law School on May 13, 2007, Munger affirmed,
In my mind, I got a little example I use whenever I think about ideology and it’s these Scandinavian canoeists who succeeded in taming all the rapids of Scandinavia and they thought they would tackle the whirlpools in the Aaron Rapids here in the United States. The death rate was 100 percent. A big whirlpool is not something you want to go into and I think the same is true about a really deep ideology.
I have what I call an “iron prescription” that helps me keep sane when I naturally drift toward preferring one ideology over another. And that is I say, “I’m not entitled to have an opinion on this subject unless I can state the arguments against my position better than the people do who are supporting it.” I think only when I reach that stage am I qualified to speak.
This business of not drifting into extreme ideology is a very very important thing in life if you want to have more correct knowledge and be wiser than other people. A heavy ideology is very likely to do you in.
In the era of social media and group polarization, it’s easy to slip into confirmation bias by committing yourself to a self-imposed ideology.
As I’ve mentioned previously, studies have shown that associating with likeminded folks can make you even more disdainful of contradictory viewpoints. Nothing will ruin you faster than an ideology burrowing deeper in a closed mind.
Idea for Impact: Nothing deceives you as much as extreme passion
Stay away from intense ideologies until you’ve examined the opposing viewpoint. Don’t ignore the counterevidence. Consider the other side of any thought as carefully as your own.
Postscript: Munger’s other iron prescription concerns avoiding the victim mentality: “Whenever you think that some situation or some person is ruining your life, it is actually you who are ruining your life… Feeling like a victim is perfectly disastrous way to go through life. If you just take the attitude that however bad it is in any way, it’s always your fault and you just fix it as best you can—the so called iron prescription—I think that really works.” See my previous article on Charlie Munger and lessons on adversity.