Milan Vodicka: The worlds of believing
This writing is a mini-inquiry into beliefs. For me, it started with this question: why are there so many people believing the utter nonsense of some “theories” or proclamations with zero evidence (such as the “stolen election”)? What — if anything — motivates such beliefs and behaviors?
A belief can be viewed as a mental structure of perceiving the world and the values we accept or reject. “Belief is a state of the mind when we consider something true even though we are not 100% sure or able to prove it. Everybody has beliefs about life and the world they experience. Mutually supportive beliefs may form belief systems, which may be religious, philosophical or ideological.” (The Council of Europe, http://www.coe.int/en/web/compass/religion-and-belief).
As stated above, “everybody has beliefs” — yet, not everybody has the same beliefs. Any belief lands somewhere in the spectrum between “utter nonsense” and “100% truth.” Here comes the rub. Is that placement objective or arbitrarily subjective?
In terms of an individual’s “truth seal,” there does not have to be any objective (dare I say “scientific”) proof of the truth. In fact, hardened beliefs become the subjective unassailable truth. They are impervious to any reasoning.
Rationally, the problem with “reasoning” is that it is possible to “reason” anything. This is due to the impossibility to fit the entire whole world of reality (including belief systems) into any verbal expression. Therefore, any “reasoning” is a simplification. Beliefs are immune to reasoning.
Now, how do they arise in their particular form or shape in any person? Some theories invoke “etiology,” meaning every belief has a particular causal origin (for example, “I believe in conservatism because my family always voted Republican”). Others list myriads of factors, such as “a wide spectrum of motivations, beliefs, personalities, interests and objectives, intensity of conviction and degree of lunacy…” (http://www.salon.com/2022/07/31/americas-heart-of-darkness-making-sense-of-the-nonsensical-allure-of-maga)
Based on my personal experience, I wish to zero on the three major factors. They are indoctrination, sense of belonging, and feelings. Let us take them one at a time.
Indoctrination, also known as radicalization, relates to what a person is exposed to. It works. If it would not, we would not be exposed to advertising. There would be no propaganda, with its bias and misleading nature. Interestingly, propaganda frequently appeals to feelings, rather than to rationality and reason (eg. “you will have no country anymore”).
The sense of belonging is these days most vividly demonstrated by the cult based behavior we can witness from the halls of government — yes, voting “along the party lines” — all the way to driving around with flags on trucks, waving in the wind. The sense of belonging manifests itself in the self-labeling, “I am ____ (fill in the blank: Democrat, Republican, Independent, or whatever).
And feelings! Especially fear. The follow-up anger translates into the need for “enemies.” As history should teach us, for Nazis they were Jews, Slavs, Gipsies, Bolsheviks… any non-Aryan. For communists, it was bourgeoisie, imperialists, revisionists, counter-revolutionaries, and so on. Labels, labels, labels!
Now, examine the current vocabulary, emanating from the so called “extremes.” Meaning, actually and mostly, from just one of the two U.S. governing parties. (If your feelings kicked in, you “know” which party it is and what phrases or word labels I am talking about. Spoiler — it could be any one of the two.) Let me point out that yours, as well as mine, “knowing” is just a belief. This does not negate the reality of words and beliefs to be harmless or harmful.
Examples of our current vocabulary and labels:” Fake News, deep state, MAGAts, GQP, American Taliban, RINOs… What do you make out of this?
Well, we can use another spectrum. From “I love” through “I like,” “I am indifferent,” “I do not like” to “I hate.” Where on this spectrum do we place our real or imagined “enemies?” What are the criteria for such placement? Our beliefs? What will our actions and behavior be due to those beliefs?
This from one online comment I saw: “…you know that your rigid, so very rigid beliefs, are a sign of internal hate, hurt, and longing and the need to belong to something you find meaningful. So I understand your devotion to a wanna-be dictator.”
I say it is important to be aware of one’s own and other’s beliefs. Yet, not to become one with them.
Milan Vodicka has lived in Nevada County since 1978
Novelist Quentin Reynolds was a combat correspondent in North Africa during World War II. My grandfather, Barry Faris, was editor-in-chief of William Randall Hearst’s International News Service.
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