Tiny Thoughts 011 — Belief and Reason

This post is 1,000 words long, or about 4 minutes of a slow reader’s time.

It’s a strange turn of events when conservatives and liberals fringes agree on the same solution to problems they share . . . and it’s not a good thing. 

You see, both object to the expression of ideas they don’t agree with, be they spoken or in writing; both claim to be offended by said ideas; both refuse to debate the merits or faults of said ideas, and both insist the only path in response to the self-proclaimed harm done to their fragile psyche is through legislation barring the expression of what they deem offensive.

As Tim Urban eloquently states, this is not how grown-ups act. He’s wrong, of course, because these days, that is exactly how grown-ups act. 

Do you know what’s different between immature petulant kids and many adults these days?

Kids can be excused from behaving like kids because they suffer from immaturity and ignorance. Wait . . . I guess there’s no functional difference. 

Many vociferous adults host strong convictions about many things, convictions that are not their own; they did no research on the topics in question, can’t speak to the details and particulars of any given issue, and — saddest of all — are proud of their ignorance. They don’t need reasons for their beliefs . . . they “just know!”

But people aren’t born with instilled knowledge (or original sin). Everything a person knows about the world they’ve either experienced or — predominantly — have learned through listening to someone else.

When someone says they “just know!” they often mean they’ve heard it somewhere, usually from a source they’ve decided to trust. 

Unfortunately, that trust is likely based on nothing more than having it heard from someone in their group, a group usually bound by political, social, or religious ideology. 

This is where — and why — things have gone off the rail. 

These insular groups usually reach a consensus by adopting an ideology that is not to be questioned. When research is involved, it’s only done to justify already-held beliefs. 

Let me rephrase it; for many people — and groups — “doing research” means exclusively looking for sources that agree with whatever idea they harbor. Questioning foregone conclusions is anathema, and individuals within the group are discouraged from independent thinking because that might raise the specter of doubt.  

Why do individuals willingly give up the autonomy of thought and the right to think? 

Truthfully, I don’t know. I’ve read it’s because humans are social (tribal) animals. There’s great comfort in being a part of a group and, even more so, being part of a shared cause. It doesn’t matter if the group’s beliefs are true or if the group’s actions are righteous as long as the group agrees they are. 

Acceptance by the group is all that matters, even if acceptance comes at a cost: one mustn’t question the actions and beliefs of the group. The opposite, even; one must support and defend them, even when confronted by strong counterfactuals.

This creates a conflict in the person’s mind. A conflict they’re often unaware of and which they subconsciously (or consciously) solve by willingly switching off the rational part of their brain: you don’t rock the boat you’ve chosen to sail on.

The result: lies are believed on someone’s say-so if in one’s group, but facts are insufficient to establish truth, especially if presented by someone outside the group.

I first encountered this with religion . . . many an hour spent questioning contradictory tenets of various myths (Christian, Hindu, Islamic, New Age, and whatnot), all to no avail. It took me a while to realize that — with extremely rare exceptions — no amount of evidence, logic, or reasoned argument sway believers because they have too much invested in the belief. Their self-image (identity) is anchored in the belief.

I now see the same behavior in discussions about social issues and politics. 

My approach to the problem is simple: if someone is unwilling to defend the tenets of their beliefs, I assume they are either idiots non-thinkers, wrong, or likely both. In which case, life’s too short to waste on them.

Research (brain scans) shows that we quickly alter our worldview when presented with facts . . . except when it comes to beliefs, and especially if those beliefs are essential to ‘belonging’. 

Some individuals will tell you nothing will sway their beliefs. Not evidence, not logic, not reason . . . you might as well be talking to a rock. 

The irony is that if an individual in the group harbors doubts, likely, there are many others within the group harboring similar doubts. But everyone keeps mum because they assume they’re alone in their thoughts. It’s not until someone has the courage to speak that others might be moved to raise their voices in agreement.

. . . of course, by then, it’s often too late, hokum having become firmly entrenched in small minds, often aided by opportunistic cynical bastards intent on profiting from the strong emotions of weak individuals, as opportunistic cynical bastards are wont to do. 

Many adherents of these beliefs are genuinely — and often, rightly — concerned about this or that cause. However, they’re still guilty of unexamined adherence to a group or idea, often detrimental to workable solutions and a path forward.

Lest I sound patronizing — who, me? — I, too, hold strong beliefs (or non-beliefs) about lots of stuff. Anyone who knows me knows I love to debate (some say argue) ideas. I’m always ready to be convinced by facts . . . or even a logically consistent argument; that’s the whole purpose of debate.

I hate being wrong. I hate wasting my time caring about something I misconstrued. And I hate being misled by false claims. There is nothing worse I can think of than living my short life in the wrong. The solution? Always question . . . and keep questioning because knowledge isn’t static.

Do you think I’m wrong about something?

Make your case, and you might convince me . . . but know that I’ve been at this for nearly 60 years. Bring your A-game, or don’t bother. If you’re parroting soundbites, offering no evidence for a facile solution to a difficult problem, and what you say doesn’t stand up to criticism . . . well, I’ve already said what I will think about you.

Facts, data, reasoned and honest arguments, and logical consistency are the tools for progress toward resolving difficult challenges. If all you got is “I just know!” . . . well, you’re basically worthless, ain’t you?

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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