Consider the example of the shipowner in William Kingdon Clifford’s 1876 essay, “The Ethics of Belief.” Troubled by the condition of his aging ship, which others have suggested is not well-built and is in need of repairs, he eventually pacifies himself with these comforting thoughts:“She had gone safely through so many voyages and weathered so many storms that it was idle to suppose she would not come home from this trip also.
The shipowner develops a sincere conviction that she will not sink, and acts on his belief.
“He watched [the ship’s] departure with a light heart, and benevolent wishes for the success of the exiles in their strange new home that was to be; and he got his insurance-money when she went down in mid-ocean and told no tales.
People who harbor false beliefs and ignore warning signs routinely end up grievously harmed: consider the investors in Elizabeth Holmes’ Theranos scam, or Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, or the parents of Larry Nassar’s little-girl gymnasts. These examples prove just how easily the trust and credulity of very intelligent people is easily exploited. It happens like magic, in broad daylight — millions are lost or gained, irreparable actions are taken — with the victim all the while believing he or she is choosing to participate in a beneficial relationship or situation. The passengers trusted the shipowner. The investors trusted the entrepreneurs. The parents trusted the doctor. Should WE be trusting the government?