Sunday, March 22, 2020

Beliefs and Reality

This coronavirus is a destroyer of American ideological worlds.
  • Single-payer promoter? Europe is doing as bad, if not worse than, China.
  • Civil libertarian? Here's a existential threat that is (1) not a war but (2) can't be confronted without restraining individual freedom.
  • Globalist? Saying Trump was dumb for closing the borders sure seems dumb now.
  • Trumpist? The cost of his power of positive thinking shtick will surely be counted in the lives of his political base.
  • Technocrat? The best and brightest at the CDC and FDA utterly failed due to over-regulation and bureaucratic backside blanketing.
  • Capitalist? It turns out there some things people won't trade for GDP/stock market growth.
  • Conspiracy theorist? Nobody cares about your speculations if you can't help them get through this alive. And colloidal silver isn't going to cut it.
I could go on, but I think I've made my point. We are finding out that our beliefs aren't tethered to reality as tightly as we thought.
One day a college student in Canada asked me to define reality for her, for a paper she was writing for her philosophy class. She wanted a one-sentence answer. I thought about it and finally said, "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." That's all I could come up with. That was back in 1972. Since then I haven't been able to define reality any more lucidly (Phillip K. Dick, "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart in Two Days, 1978, 1985).
When you encounter a reality that doesn't conform to your beliefs and doesn't go away, that's usually a sign that something bad is about to happen to you and yours. And the longer it takes you to adjust your beliefs about it, the worse that bad thing is probably going to be. The rub is that when you are reforming your beliefs about reality, you need an anchor for your identities so that you don't lose your integrity as a person.

A weak integrating anchor—one that does not give you the consistency necessary to sustain your self conception as you change your deeply-held beliefs—is why so many people cling to false beliefs in the face of contrary evidence. What I am describing is not a political crisis among competing ideologies or an epistemic crisis, like the one Philip K. Dick grappled with his whole life, but a spiritual crisis.
"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." ... "Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you really will be free."
-Jesus of Nazareth, John 8:32, 36

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