The Corner

Neophobia

A reader: “If people can be shown that their traditional ways of doing things are harmful to them, won’t reason prompt them to change?”

[Me] If only! Any psychiatrist will tell you that most human beings, most of the time, prefer to persist in a harmful habit of thought or action that they have got comfortable with from long, well, habit. This remains true even when you have convinced them the habit is harmful.

Human societies are similarly “sticky,” in fact probably more so than idividuals, on the lowest-common-denominator principle. There are ways around this, as there are for individuals, but they are difficult enough to need some gloomy Gus like me pointing out how difficult they are.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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