Knowing How You Know/Friendly Persuasion
Throughout the many thousands of years that preliterate humans lived in tribal communities or nomadic tribes, we learned from our family and friends. When we wondered why the sun travelled across the sky every day, we asked family members, friends, or tribal leaders to explain what we saw. They may have told us alluring stories of Helios driving the chariot of the sun across the sky, or celestial spheres, or other fantasies. These explanations were given in good faith, and we believed what we were told.
The tribe was small enough that we were able to know the reputation of each individual. We quickly learned who we could most trust for advice on hunting, gathering food, cooking, shelter, survival skills, existential questions, and moral guidance.
As a result, we evolved to trust what friends told us.
The resulting folk wisdom is easy to digest and can be used to defend any decision. Folk wisdom tells us that opposites attract, yet birds of a feather flock together. We also learn that he who hesitates lost, and patience is a virtue, yet haste makes waste, and only fools rush in.
Today our social circles are very large. In addition to our family and close friends, we have many more acquaintances, brief encounters, and role models. This includes our classmates and work colleagues, people who friend us and follow us on social media, media celebrities, bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers, sports figures, news commentators, sales people, religious leaders, proselytizers, pranksters, and many others. Because many of these people are pleasant and treat us kindly, we are likely to treat them as friends and members of our modern tribe. But we know very little about the many people who make up our modern tribe.
Friendly persuasion is often weaponized to increase profit or prestige. Advertisers, sales people, lobbyists, quacks, conspiracy theorists, ideologues, proselytizers, pranksters, confused zealots, and other charlatans make false, exaggerated, nonsensical, or misleading claims for their own benefit. Beware of these wolves when they extend a kind hand.
It is easy to believe stories that make us comfortable. It is difficult to face inconvenient truths. Friends are essential for socializing, and many hands make light work, but friends are often unreliable information sources.
To know how we know we have an obligation to overcome our tribal instinct to believe what friends tell us. We have a duty to evaluate evidence and verify claims using reliable sources. Use reality as the objective arbiter of disputes.