Chapter Three

THE FALLIBILITY OF AUTHORITY

The authority of those who teach is often an obstacle to those who want to learn. - Cicero

I was still in elementary school when I realized that adults in general, and my teachers in particular, were not very smart.

While studying the multiplication tables, I discovered a “new” mathematical rule. Whenever the number 9 is multiplied by a digit from 2 through 9, the product is a two digit number: the first digit equal to the multiplier less 1, the second digit equal to the multiplier subtracted from 10. For example, 7 - 1 = 6; 10 – 7 = 3; and 7 x 9 = 63.

I excitedly called to my teacher, eager to make my first contribution to the world of mathematics. She expressed disbelief in my new theorem, so I proved its truth on each digit:

2 - 1 = 1; and 10 – 2 = 8; therefor 2 x 9 = 18

3 - 1 = 2; and 10 – 3 = 7; therefor 3 x 9 = 27

4 - 1 = 3; and 10 – 4 = 6; therefor 4 x 9 = 36

5 - 1 = 4; and 10 – 5 = 5; therefor 5 x 9 = 45

6 - 1 = 5; and 10 – 6 = 4; therefor 6 x 9 = 54

7 - 1 = 6; and 10 – 7 = 3; therefor 7 x 9 = 63

8 - 1 = 7; and 10 – 8 = 2; therefor 8 x 9 = 72

9 - 1 = 8; and 10 – 9 = 1; therefor 9 x 9 = 81

After I had fully demonstrated my principle, she said she still couldn’t be sure my rule was valid, as she had never seen it in any textbook.

“How can it not be valid? I proved it for every digit, can you show me an error in my calculations?”

“That’s not the point,” my so-called teacher explained. “You are not a recognized expert, so you don’t have the authority to make up new rules. Until it is validated by an authority, we cannot be sure it is true.”

This simple incident forever changed my life. My teachers were fools, adults are morons. They have no right or ability to teach me anything, as they have no understanding themselves. They are merely force-feeding me ideas others have told them are correct, with no real basis for knowing whether these things are true or false. Could the same be true of my Sunday-school teachers? My history lessons? How can they possibly grade me? I began assigning grades to my teachers, and nearly all of them failed miserably.

My next great epiphany occurred as a teenager, when I announced a new girlfriend to some elder family members. To their dismay, I had no idea whether or not this new love interest subscribed to a family approved religion, nor did I care. I listened patiently while they explained that the purpose of dating is to find a mate, and that as a Catholic, I had a duty to marry a Catholic and raise Catholic children.

But what if she was a good person of a different religion? Why are YOU a Catholic, as opposed to a Buddhist or a Muslim? Because that was what your parents taught you? Isn’t the Jewish girl who stays faithful to what she was taught as a child, without ever questioning or examining her beliefs, living her life in the same manner that you have lived yours: one of unquestioning faith and devotion? Should a Hindu abandon all that she was taught as a child, and convert to Catholicism? If so, WHY?

I learned that day the wrath of which people are capable when their cherished, yet unexamined beliefs are questioned in earnest. If your beliefs are reasoned and evolved, it is not a threat when they are questioned. Indeed, you may welcome scrutiny of your beliefs, so that past errors in thought may be discovered and corrected. The quest for truth and understanding is a lifelong process, with new errors uncovered as new information is learned, and old assumptions destroyed.

We can, and should, learn from those more experienced than ourselves, so long as we refuse to allow them to do our thinking for us. The temptation to have life’s mysteries effortlessly solved for us is strong, and those who reject one belief system often go shopping for another. The belief in one messiah may die, yet the belief that some pre-packaged system, somewhere, will deliver the answer to all life’s mysteries is difficult to kill.

Those who seek truth will not find it by picking and choosing among pre-packaged systems and authorities. Anyone who seriously desires increased understanding must reject all authoritarian attempts to force beliefs into her mind. If all that you know was received from authority figures, then you truly know nothing. Are you willing to abandon the security of beliefs accepted through your faith in authority? Are you curious as to what lies beyond the false safety of comforting dogma?

Do not mourn the loss of your chains. The bastards have no power to control you, other than the power you grant them yourself. How much power have you given them? Are you still controlled by dogma you were indoctrinated with as a child? If so, why?

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