Tag Archives: communication

The Problem with Belief

          This essay defines “belief,” as commonly used, to be a public assertion of something as a fact that is unsupported by evidence. A fact is defined as an assertion that is supported by evidence. Evidence is experiential and is of two types. The first type is what might be called objective, external and public. Evidence of this type is often experimental but is not limited to experimental evidence. The second type is what might be called subjective, internal and private. Evidence of this type is always experiential. Both types of evidence can establish something as factual. However, in some cases the fact is public and in others the fact is private. Public facts and their evidence can be communicated and accepted as valid by members of the public. Private facts and their evidence cannot be evidentially communicated to members of the public. Communication, however, between persons who share a similar experiential base might be possible. Public facts can be contested but private facts cannot be disproven. Only the individual possessor of a private fact can overturn it. The phenomenon of quantum entanglement is a public fact. The oneness of All-That-Is could be a private fact. God is a supreme being who resides in heaven is a belief. In short, a belief is an unsupported idea asserted as a fact and taken on faith to be truth.

Lying somewhere between beliefs and facts are assumptions. In this essay, assumptions are defined as ideas tentatively taken to be valid for the purpose of logical argumentation. Usually, assumptions are things that have, at least, the potential of being established as public facts. Assumptions are, at best, only a working hypothesis. One can build a rational explanation for something beginning with an assumption. The logical explanation might lead to investigations establishing public facts that indirectly support the assumption. Making assumptions is at times unavoidable, however, assumptions, as defined herein, are not beliefs because the truth attribution made for each is different.

Beliefs as defined herein are not factual in either manner discussed, nor are they assumptions as defined. They are merely ideas which can under some circumstances become elaborated into ideology. To be clear, I am not belittling these unsupported ideas, for they can have powerful influences. In general, I consider beliefs to be problematic. The problem with beliefs is that they lead to expectations about how things in the world should be and how people should think and act. These are expectations that are frequently not met. Unfulfilled expectations lead to disappointment, rationalization, scapegoating, delusional thinking, anger and even violence. In the worse case, there is an effort to coerce or force the realization of the unfounded expectations. I read, in a book by Leonard Jacobson, an expression that described people invested in their beliefs as “lost in their minds,” which is a polite way of saying that they are out of touch with the actuality in which they exist.

Comment on a Klan Rally

 

          The picture above is from a Klan rally held in a small town not far from where I live in north Georgia. I was at first reminded of the Klan rallies that took place during my youth. Regular rallies were held on the top of Stone Mountain in Georgia, east of Atlanta. I recall sitting in my car at a highway intersection waiting to exit onto the highway while a seemingly endless stream of Klan “kars” passed by in route to the mountain and the inevitable cross burning.

 As I considered the current event, which was much smaller than those earlier events, an observation made by a psychologist, Charles Carver, came to mind. Carver’s observation was that if you want to understand a behavior, you must first understand the goal to which it is directed. This thought led to questions about the goal of the Klan and of the protesters present at the rally.

I don’t seriously believe that the Klan thought they were going to persuade anyone to adopt their position on any issue, so what did this small band of men belonging to a marginalized and socially impotent group hope to accomplish? Further, what was the goal of the protesters at the Klan rally? I very much doubt that the protesters thought they were going to persuade the Klansmen to throw off their robes and become advocates for freedom and liberty for all.

If this little “dance” on the Ellijay town square wasn’t about one group trying to change the mind of another group, what then was it about? I think that for the Klan, a true home grown terrorist organization that is now marginalized and socially unacceptable, the rally was primarily about validation. They sought and obtained public attention, which affirmed that they weren’t forgotten relics and could still command an audience by their public presence. The Klan reminds me of youths I’ve observed who know just the right buttons to push to aggravate some adult in their lives (teachers and parents seem to be favorite targets) and take considerable pleasure and satisfaction from having so manipulated an antagonist.

In addition to the self-affirmation obtained from public attention, the rally seemed to me to possibly serve a second purpose — communication. How does a small, isolated group recruit new members and give support to other scattered and isolated groups and individuals of a similar mind? One answer I think is through publicity. The news coverage generated by the event turned protestors and the media into the unwitting accomplice of the Klan in disseminating its message to its kin, “we’re here and we still matter.” In support of this analysis consider this from Scott Atran an anthropologist and expert on terrorism, “Media and publicity are the oxygen of terrorism. Without them it would die.”

Even in this day of digital communication, the context of a public event has significant messaging potential, as all of the “terrorist” groups in the world know so well. A public event, whether a rally or a car bomb, is both a cheap and effective way to obtain an outcome not otherwise possible for such a group. Thus, contributing to a publicity event conducted by the Klan, whether by showing up to protest or showing up to cover the “event” for the media, is to assist the Klan in meeting its goals. Empowering the Klan in stressful and contentious times is especially hazardous because it remains a spark with the potential to become a fire.

What led the protesters to become dance partners with the Klan? Clearly, there was a bit of self-affirmation going on here as well. What better way than a public dance of defiance with a defanged cobra to demonstrate one’s righteousness and moral superiority. The Klansmen in their white robes provided a stimulus to elicit the moral outrage of the most sensitive members of the community — the Klan’s dependable foils. The protestors came out because of the Klan but they demonstrated to affirm their own beliefs and to signify publicly to one another and the community that we are truly good and caring people. The rally also provided the protesters an occasion to identify kindred spirits in the community, form new associations and weave a new thread into one’s personal narrative.

In the end, the Klan cared only that the protesters showed up and the more the better for their purposes. The dance goes on.