Thursday, June 4, 2015

sowing disbelief

Over the years, one particular theme I've hit on periodically is the process of belief.  It's where I want to talk frankly about something, in a way that some might find offensive.  I want to state something up front, before getting into particulars.  Something which honestly goes without much need to question.

People make shit up.  I'm not talking about the petty lies of individual narratives, but entire belief systems, predicated on make believe.  Somewhere along the line, stories were told, and they were believed, and the more people who believed, the more momentum this fantasy gained.  An ever growing gigantic snowballing mountain of bullshit.

We're implored to respect each other's right to believe what we want to believe, but what happens if I start making shit up, and expecting people to respect it?  No, it has to have precedent, consensus, a history of gullibility, and somehow, this makes it more respectable.  Fuck that.  It's intellectually dishonest to claim we respect each other's beliefs regardless of how nonsensical they are.  You people have rules about the sort of beliefs you respect, and the sort you don't, and those rules are predicated on self-serving make-believe bullshit, too.

That brings this around to why it matters.  Our beliefs shape the way we treat people, the way we treat the world around us, how we approach problems, how likely we are to do some good, or some real damage.  I guess I'm just kind of partial to the idea that in order to most effectively solve a problem, you first and foremost need to know what the problem is.  If you make shit up, and act on that instead, the results aren't as likely to be positive.

So, when it comes to the process of belief, what are we really dealing with, here?  What is the true nature of the problem?  Why do people do it?  Where does it start?

I remember telling stories to my friends, when I was a kid.  Sometimes stretching the truth, maybe adding a fantastical detail here or there.  If I could get someone else to believe it, it felt like maybe I could believe it, too.  It seemed to start not with my own belief, but in that desire to tell a believable story.  I didn't think about whether it was true or not, I didn't think about it as lying.  An act of creativity, untethered by self-awareness or judgement, that I eventually outgrew.

It is not surprising that this sort of process has produced a lot that's been quite beautiful.  I can understand wanting to hold onto that, to embrace it.  Is rationality really so much better?  Why should  necessarily logic trump art, anyhow?

I think this depends on whether or not you're getting the ugly end of said beliefs.  Even a plutocratic monarchy that oppresses millions can be romanticized to look beautiful, especially from the distances of class, history, or geography.

Beautiful or not, beliefs have consequences.  Whether we're talking about The Heritage Foundation, al-Qaeda, or whoever came up with the source material, so many centuries ago.  The people who propagate these beliefs tend to be manipulative narcissists. A lot of their allure is smoke and mirrors, brilliantly crafted, hiding what benefit there was to telling such lies to begin with.  Hiding why they continue to be perpetuated so fiercely.

This is not a grand conspiracy, but of human nature, and those who discover that they have the means to take advantage of it.  Those with the luck and ability to pull it off.  It can be awe inspiring.  That's part of why it works so well, but that which intentionally obscures the truth is rarely a good thing.

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