The other day I wrote about the delicate balance between a society’s need to create fearless children — young people who dare to break the mold and find the courage within themselves to do things nobody has done before — and that same society’s need to indoctrinate its young people to obey authority, to reflexively listen to those in charge.

I was discussing this dialectic with a colleague over dinner this evening, and my colleague pointed out that society only needs some young people to be originals, to break out of the mold and come up with new ideas. Even if only, say, five percent of children grow up to be interestingly creative, then society as a whole can still evolve to meet challenges as they arise.

And then it occurred to me that the barrier society builds within its citizens’ minds against freedom of thought, by inculcating a tendency to conform, to defer to authority, to listen to anyone wearing a uniform or a badge, is perfectly fine (from the point of view of the needs of society), as long as that barrier is porous.

If ninety five percent of the population never questions authority, while five percent realizes that there is a kind of scam going on, and that each individual is actually free to pursue their own thoughts and develop new ideas, then society will still derive benefit from its free thinkers.

Of course a country can become too fascist, to repressive, and thereby squash the potential of even its eccentric five percent. But such societies tend to be unstable over time, since they don’t have the mind share to evolve either socially or economically.

Most people won’t ever feel the need to question authority, to look critically at the world around them, to ask whether things can be different or better. But as long as a thoughtful few are doing so in an interesting and intellectually powerful way, as long as even five percent manage to evade those porous barriers against nonconformity, then everything will probably turn out fine.

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