That could be the title of a book or a PhD thesis – a topic too big for a 500 words or less Facebook post, but I’ll give it a go.
We may like to think we are rational beings but, ironically, the idea that we are creatures of reason is, in itself, a belief statement .
Why? Because there are many things we humans do that are not founded on analysis and proof. Things we do because ,well, that’s what our parents taught us or what ‘most people think’ around here and frankly if we sat around questioning everything we’d get very little done in a day.
When I get on a plane, for example , I believe I am going to arrive safely at my destination. I don’t think ‘ Should I interview the pilot to check that he or she is not suicidal?’ or ‘Should I take a course in physics or aeronautics to review the theory of flight before I take my seat ?’ I just put my trust in the pilot and that the people who build airplanes know what they are doing.
But of course my belief is flawed. Planes do crash – most often due to mechanical failure and pilot error and sometimes by an act of nature or terrorism. So my safe arrival is very likely but not assured and if I dwell on that fact too much I might develop a fear of flying.
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Beliefs can become rules when they serve the public good. “Thou shalt not kill” for example. But then most of us can think of instances when we might belive it is right to kill someone – say if a member of our family was being attacked.
Beliefs often pander to our self- interest. Take for example the neoliberal belief spread by the economic evangelists of the 1990 ( Thatcher ,Reagan and in our own country Roger Douglas ) that giving tax breaks to the rich would help the poor.
How on earth did they manage to convince the voting majority of the day to adopt such an obviously flawed idea? Answer – because they delivered it lines that were crafted to appeal to our self-interest such as:
“Government is not a solution to our problem government is the problem.” ( Ronald Reagan)
“There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families” (Margaret Thatcher)
At the moment the world is awash with beliefs about how the Covid -19 pandemic started and conspiracy evangelists are gathering followers by preaching that somehow machiavellian power mongers somewhere are somehow going to make themselves the rich rulers of the world by making us all sick.
(And they believe this despite the fact that the financial elites of the world were doing really very nicely thank you manipulating the pre-covid economy).
Of course , as I say. I’m no stranger myself to beliefs.
Right now I’m hoping that this Covid 19 pandemic we are living through will foster the belief that cooperating with each other is better than competing with each other in order to meet our core needs such as food, shelter,health and education . That All of us are important to society not just some of us.
But – hey. That’s just what I believe.
Bryan Bruce is one of NZs most respected documentary makers and public intellectuals who has tirelessly exposed NZs neoliberal economic settings as the main cause for social issues.