August 20, 2019 | 81° F

People will literally support anything

 Sure, there are plenty of examples throughout history of people getting behind pretty ridiculous causes. But would it be possible to persuade the masses to support something as ludicrous as a federal ban on water? Believe it or not, not only is it possible — it is rather easy. Earlier this October, two fellow members of Young Americans for Liberty and I went on the steps of Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus with a phony petition to ban the chemical "dihydrogen monoxide." For all you non-chemists out there, that is two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, better known as H2O or water. We came equipped with flyers that gave facts about this chemical; for example, it is "found in some of the world's most polluted lakes and rivers," and that "powerful special interests want it around for their own benefit." Most people, however, did not even read the flyer before signing our petition. All it took for them was a friendly greeting of "Hey, could you please help us out? We're trying to get a chemical banned that's found in our lakes and rivers," and just like that, they were supporters of the ban. Given the constant rhetoric in the media that makes it sound like a crime to be politically inactive, it is hard to blame these people, who were for the most part very polite and even apologetic after we told them it was all a trick. At the end of the experiment, we were left with 52 signatures on our petition to ban water. The fact that today's youth will get behind any cause without looking into it is very dangerous. Granted, a federal ban on dihydrogen monoxide could never realistically be passed, because once it came out that the chemical was actually water the support would vanish. But what about when the issue is not so simple? Ill-advised actions are taken by governments all around the world simply because the key supporters of these actions are good persuaders. And yet, the media constantly encourage people to just go vote and be politically active, rather than to question things before supporting them. In fact, if you are not questioning a certain part of this article right now, then you still need to work on your critical skepticism. Earlier I wrote, "we were left with 52 signatures on our petition to ban water." Anytime you read an incomplete figure like this, it should raise a red flag. You should be wondering, how long did it take us to get that many signatures? How many people were legitimately skeptical of our proposal? How many people refused to sign? A more complete set of statistics regarding our little experiment is as follows: we were out there for just under 90 minutes going up to people asking them to sign our petition. Of the 60 people who stopped and listened, 52 signed the petition, five correctly identified dihydrogen monoxide as water, two questioned our misleading facts incessantly and refused to sign, and one said she would look up more information and then make a decision. I will let you draw your own conclusions from these numbers. I would like to end with a plea from myself, followed by a plea from one of the most intelligent people to ever have lived. First, I ask that people throw away this mob mentality that seems to run rampant and form their own opinions on issues based upon unbiased research. If you are going to sign a petition, know why. If you do not know, do not sign. If you are going to vote, know why. If you do not know, do not vote. Finally a quote from a man whose intelligence and critical thinking ability has amazed scientists for decades, "the most important thing is to never stop questioning," said Albert Einstein.   Matthew Simcha is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in economics and statistics.  

Matthew Simcha

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