What this series adds up to is that human beings can and will believe anything. And much of what they believe – even “science” – is either mistaken or beyond proof. Belief, at bottom, is a matter of faith; it is a matter of what we choose to believe.
And why do we choose what to believe? We choose to believe those things that make us feel good about ourselves in one way or another. Here are four (not mutually exclusive) ways in which our beliefs serve that purpose:
- Logical or epestimic consistency, which can be intellectually satisfying even if the logic is fatally flawed or the knowledge is cherry-picked to fit a worldview.
- The (usually false) reassurance that a belief has been proclaimed “true” by an authority — “science”, religious leaders, political leaders, etc.
- No skin in the game: The holding of views (for reasons listed above) that are inconsequential to the holder of the views but which (when put into action) are harmful to others (e.g., a rich person who has private security forces and lives and works in secure settings who calls for defunding the police).
- Groupthink: Going along to get along, also known as “taking sides”.
On the last point, I defer to Michael Huemer:
There’s … a study that finds that political beliefs are heritable. (Alford et al, “Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?”) They get a heritability estimate of 0.53 for political orientation (p. 162), much larger than the influence of either shared environment or unshared environment. That’s kind of weird, isn’t it — who knew that you could genetically transmit political beliefs? But of course, you don’t directly transmit beliefs; you genetically transmit personality traits, and people pick their political beliefs based on their personality traits.
But, as Huemer notes,
the primary choice people make is not so much which propositions they want to be wedded to, but which group of people they want to affiliate with. Maybe there’s only a very tenuous link between some personality trait and some particular political position, but it’s enough to make that position slightly more prevalent, initially, among people with that trait. But once those people decide that they belong to “the same side” in society, there’s psychological pressure for individual members of the tribe to conform their beliefs to the majority of their tribe, and to oppose the beliefs of “the other side”.
So, e.g., you decide that fetuses don’t have rights because the fetus-rights position is associated with the other tribe, and you don’t want to be disloyal to your own side by embracing one of the other side’s positions. Of course, you never say this to yourself; you just automatically find all of your side’s arguments “more plausible”.
And, as we have seen, belonging to a “side” and signaling one’s allegiance to that “side” seems to have become the paramount desideratum among huge numbers of Americans. “Liberals”, who not long ago were ardent upholders of freedom of speech are now its leading opponents. And many “liberals” – executives and employees of Big Tech companies, for example – demonstrate their opposition daily by suppressing the expression of ideas that they don’t like and denying the means of expression to persons whose views they oppose. They can conjure sophisticated excuses for their hypocrisy, but they are obvious and shallow excuses for their evident unwillingness to countenance “heretical” views.
This hypocrisy extends beyond partisan politics. It extends into discussions of race (i.e., the suppression of “bad news” about blacks and research findings about the intelligence of blacks). It extends into discussions of scientific matters (e.g., labeling as a “science denier” any scientist who writes objectively about the evidence against CO2 as the primary cause of a recent warming trend that is probably overstated, in any case, because of the urban heat island effect). It extends elsewhere, of course, but there’s no point in belaboring the obvious.
The worst part of it is that the hypocrisy isn’t practiced just by lay persons who wish to signal their allegiance to “progressivism”. It’s practiced by scientists, academicians, and highly educated persons who hold important positions in the business world (witness Big Tech’s censorship practices and the “wokeness” of major corporations).
In other words, the herd instinct is powerful. It sweeps all before it. Even truth. Especially truth when it contravenes the herd’s dogmas — which are its “truths”.
And a herd that runs wild — driven hither and thither by ever-shifting “truths” — is dangerous, as we are seeing now in the suppression of actual truth, the suppression of political speech, firings for being associated with the wrong “side”, etc.
Today’s state of affairs is often likened to that which prevailed in the years leading up to the Civil War. There is a good reason for that comparison, for the two epochs are alike in a fundamental way: One side (Unionists then, the “woke” now) assumes the mantle of virtue and thus garbed presumes to dictate to the other side.
Yes, slavery was wrong. But that did not justify the (successful) attempt of the Unionists to prevent the Confederacy’s secession on the principle of self-determination — the very principle that inspired the American Revolution that led to the Union.
Yes, it is fitting and proper to treat the (relatively) poor, persons of color, and persons whose sexual proclivities are “unusual” with respect and equality under the law. But that does not justify the wholesale violation of immigration laws, the advancement of the “oppressed” at the expense of blameless others (who are mainly straight, white, males of European descent), the repudiation of America’s past (the good with the bad), or the destruction of the religious, social, and economic freedoms that have served all Americans well.
Ironically, the power of the central government, which was enabled by the victory of the Unionists, now enables “progressivism” to advance its dictatorial agenda with little effective opposition.
Donald J. Trump did oppose that agenda, and opposed it with some success for four years. That is why it was imperative for the “progressive” establishment — abetted by pusillanimous “conservatives” and never-Trumpers — to undermine Trump from the outset and, in the end, to remove Trump from power by stealing the election of 2020. There has never, in American politics, been a more heinous case of wholesale corruption than was evidenced in the machinations against Trump.
Having said all of that, what will happen to America? The slide toward fascism, which has been underway (with interruptions) for more than a century, now seems to have reached its destination: the dictation of myriad aspects of social and economic intercourse by our “betters” in Washington and their cronies in the academy, the media, and corporate America.
And most Americans — having been brainwashed by the “education system”, bought off by various forms of welfare, and cowed by officious officials and mobs — will simply acquiesce in their own enslavement.
Matt, “Varieties of Opinion“, Imlac’s Journal, March 14, 2021
Frank Furedi, “Big Brother Comes to America“, Spiked, February 8, 2021
Victor Davis Hanson, “Our Animal Farm“, American Greatness, February 7, 2021
Arnold Kling, “Rationalist Epistemology“, askblog, February 26, 2021
Arnold Kling, “Cultural Brain Hypothesis“, askblog, March 5, 2021
Mark J. Perry, “Quotation of the Day on Truths That We Are No Longer Allowe to Speak About … “, Carpe Diem, February 2, 2021
Malcolm Pollack, “The Enemy Within“, American Greatness, February 13, 2021
Quilette editorial, “With a Star Science Reporter’s Purging, Mob Culture at The New York Times Enters a Strange New Phase“, Quilette, February 9, 2021