How True Believers Hold Back Society

How True Believers Hold Back Society
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True believers inflame conflict and impede progress in society because they simply can’t be reasoned with. What is a true believer? Here’s a test. When confronted with credible data counter to your worldview, do you: (1) modify your position to incorporate the new data, or (2) dismiss, ignore, or otherwise explain away the new data and double down on your existing worldview? If you chose number two, you’re a true believer.

True believers are stuck in a positive feedback loop: the more evidence against their position, the more entrenched they become. No mental mechanism exists to break the loop. They only accept evidence that agrees with their preconceived notions, and, conveniently, insist they’re the sole arbiters of what constitutes “evidence." There’s a sieve around their brain that screens out troublesome data. Any topic where facts are inconsistent with their beliefs is taboo because it simply can’t be true. Open-minded heretics pursuing such topics will be slandered, ridiculed, and ostracized. It’s quite the racket.

Ironically, true believers often moralize about the importance of facts and insist they’re the only ones who are “reality based.” However, in practice, they confuse facts with assumptions, beliefs, conjecture, and opinion. If you take an incorrect assumption, assume it as fact, and extrapolate from that assumption, even if the logic of the extrapolation is sound, the whole idea is wrong because the foundational assumption is wrong. Garbage in, garbage out. Yet, since true believers mistake their incorrect assumption for fact, and tout their impeccable extrapolation, you’re the kook. This is what passes for logic in the true-believer community.

True believers haunt any subject: science, religion, health, history, economics, politics. The distinction is not the subject matter, but the treatment of evidence and dismissal of same. True believers are not restricted to any particular political affiliation, ideology, culture, gender, age, metaphysical belief system, or education level. They can occur anywhere, but seem especially concentrated in partisan politics, dogmatic religion, and scientific materialism.

Dogmatic religion has obviously been a hotbed of true believers for millennia, and the resultant destruction is well chronicled. But don’t commit the fashionable stupidity of thinking that the recognition of a larger reality, beyond the physical, is equal to religion, or that most spiritual people are true believers. This only happens when core spiritual principles transmogrify into religious dogma. There is only one truth, but many ways to express that truth.

Science has, for centuries, been vital to discovering evidence about the natural world and countering religious dogma. But calling yourself a “scientist” doesn’t inoculate you from true-believer status. Science is an empirical study that is both open minded and skeptical. Not all scientists practice this. Dogmatic adherents to scientific materialism, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, are a perfect example. (They will argue vehemently against this characterization, but present them with evidence countering materialism and see what happens.)

Formal education has nothing to do with it. Some of the biggest true believers out there hold advanced degrees from elite universities. Because it’s not about what you think you know, it’s about how you deal with facts on the ground. It’s ultimately about humility, honesty, and judgement. It’s about being open to anything, and skeptical of everything, especially things you just know are true. Open your sieve. If the facts don’t fit your model of reality, the problem is your model.

The loudest voices in society are true believers, obsessively pushing their faith-based “facts” upon you. Their cluelessness and complete lack of self-awareness compels their sanctimonious blathering, particularly on cable television, social media, and internet comment sections (anonymously, of course). You have to give them credit for passion, at least, and pure doggedness. I guess.

True believers are a much smaller proportion of the population than their volume would suggest, though they encompass a disproportionate share of the intelligentsia. Fortunately, the antidote to the true believer, the opened-minded skeptic, is quieter but much more numerous. They are the backbone of society.

True believers are not interested in solving problems, they’re interested in converting you to their dogma. As such, they are not only irritating, but dangerous. Treat the true believer as you would a toddler in full tantrum. Direct confrontation is not advised. Presenting them with facts will trigger their positive feedback loop. If you’ve found yourself in a debate with a true believer, simply change the subject or walk away. Or, if their tantrum doesn’t abate, maybe give them a hug; they sure seem to need one.

Look, this screed against true believers may sound harsh and judgmental, and perhaps it is. True believers are human beings deserving of empathy and respect like everyone else. Nobody’s perfect, and everyone is probably a true believer on occasion. It’s difficult to give up an entrenched belief. Refrain from the ubiquitous shrieking and creepy groupthink so prevalent today. Be kind. The last thing society needs is another self-righteous fool screaming some goofy dogma. When real facts are on your side, no screaming is necessary. Lead by example and live honestly and compassionately. Everyone’s in this together. Truth eventually prevails.


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