True Believers Are Not Interested in Reality
A few of you might wonder why I don’t seem to care about the beliefs of those who criticize my ideas, views and analysis. The reasons behind my lack of empathy for the beliefs and sensibilities of those who strongly believe in any ideology comes an observation I made years ago.
True believers in any ideology have no interest in any representation of reality which does not confirm their pre-existing beliefs, biases and behaviors.
People with almost complete faith in any ideology, however rational it might seem, have ‘outsourced’ their ability to reason are therefore incapable of thinking anything that might even subtly contradict their pre-existing mental world. While many factors and circumstances can drive people into becoming ‘true believers’ in any given ideology, the general process is driven by a fragile ego.
It about feeling and believing that you are right, irrespective of any evidence to the contrary.
But why do people like to deceive themselves? What is the benefit of doing something that is not in your best interest? What are they trying to achieve? I believe that the answer to these questions lie in two conflicting parts of the human psyche. People like to believe that they are doing the best they can, but they also know (at some level) that they don’t know enough to believe that. While a minority of people can live with that uncertainty, most seemingly cannot.
Ideologies provide illusory all-encompassing and ‘correct’ models of reality. Belief in an ideology makes dumb and clever people feel much smarter and in control of something that is utterly beyond their control. Performing actions that follow from ideologies make them feel better and competent, even if has a negative effect on them.
An educated person seeking a technology based cure for a terminal case of cancer is no different from an illiterate villager who uses the services of a witch doctor to treat a life-threatening illness. Furthermore the oncologist who uses his degree to convince a dying patient to spend more money on treatment is far more disingenuous than the witch doctor. The same could be said of doctors prescribing medications and performing procedures that have no evidence based effect on the patient. But as I have said before, none of the involved parties have any interest in acknowledging reality. While we have effective drugs and treatments for some diseases, it is well-known among some circles that much of the expensive treatments for conditions from Type-2 diabetes, most forms of depression and schizophrenia, Alzheimers and most types of cancer are either barely effective, useless or frequently worse than useless.
We could focus on developing better treatments for such diseases, but pretending that we have understood and conquered them is much more comforting and lucrative.
Religions, both traditional and secular, are probably the best examples of self-delusion. How many people have become better human beings (by any criteria) through practicing the teachings of any prophet? Are religious Jews better people than secular Jews? are observant Christians better human beings than non-observant ones? We already know the answer to that question as far as Islam is concerned. What about Hindus? are the religiously inclined any better than the non-religiously inclined? Has belief in god or any scripture made the lives of true believers better by any objectively measurable criteria?
Did belief in any traditional religion result in agriculture becoming more productive, make cattle produce more milk, fatten pigs quicker, make hens lay more eggs, help you build better houses, result in better treatment or preventative measures for diseases or improve your sex life? So why were people from previous ages so universally obsessed with beliefs that did squat to make their lives better? I believe that acknowledging ignorance and relative impotence is hard for most people. Furthermore, spinning theological and sophistic arguments is much easier than doing anything remotely useful.
The same can said about those who believe in any secular -ism. Has extreme nationalistic pride made your life any better? Has unregulated capitalism made your life any more secure or pleasant? Do communist revolutions usually create a more humane society than the one they overthrew? Has libertarianism ever worked out? All of these -isms offer you grand theories of the world but fail to deliver what they promise. But you will find tons of suckers, including new converts, who will defend all of the above-mentioned (and similar) bankrupt ideologies. You will tons of people who will peddle explanations about the world based on race, IQ, CONservative values and other assorted bullshit- but what do they have to show for their beliefs? Does anybody?
The problem is that most people expect the universe to conform to their flavor of beliefs.
Even seemingly intelligent people want the universe to obey the equations they believe in. Yes, even those who are supposedly interested in studying reality objectively are more attached to their beliefs than doing what they claim to do. Might write more about this issue in a future post.
What do you think? Comments?