Quote of the Day By Raol Martinez and Adam Smith (1723-1790)

The particulars of our birth largely determine who we become and the representations of reality we construct in our minds. Our environment channels our vast potential into a particular identity. How we end up speaking, thinking, feeling and acting owes much to the examples, opportunities and ideas to which we are exposed. From childhood until the day we die we are subject to a steady stream of influences – familial, corporate, state, school, religious, cultural – working to shape our habits, beliefs, assumptions, ideals and aims: our picture of reality.

The goals that appear valuable to us, and the best route to achieving them, emerge from the confluence of these forces. Standing between reality and our understanding of the world is the arbitrary process by which our identity is formed. If we are not to be misled by the mental constructs we inherit, we have to question them. This is easier said than done.

Anyone setting out to understand themselves and society – why it is the way it is and how it could be different -- faces obstacles at every turn, many of which exist precisely to mislead and misdirect.

By the time we’ve developed the capacity to begin questioning our identity, much of who we are has already been established. The emotional loyalties we develop towards our family, friends and community are entangled with ideas they pass on to us. To question effectively we need to place a higher value on the elusive ideal of truth than on loyalties to nation, religion, race, culture or ideology – in short to our inherited identity. We need to be able to cultivate enough doubt and uncertainty to look at our beliefs – our definitions of success, failure, love, family, good, bad, right and wrong – with skepticism.

Faith in every authority, expert and tradition needs to be put on hold long enough to be interrogated. As our mental faculties mature and strengthen, to challenge is to focus them not just on ideas that clash with our inherited identity, but on the very process that generated it.

Adam Smith argued that we should put ourselves in the shoes of an ‘impartial spectator’ and examine our beliefs and behavior ‘as we imagine any other fair and impartial spectator would examine them’.
We can never survey our own sentiments and motives, we can never form any judgment concerning them; unless we remove ourselves, as it were, from our own natural station, and endeavor to view them as at a distance from us. But we can do this in no other way than by endeavoring to view them with the eyes of other people, or as other people are likely to view them. Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759; New York: Cosimo Classics), 2007, page III.
Raol Martinez, Creating Freedom: The Lottery of Birth, the Illusion of Consent, and the Fight for Our Future.