BeliefsMon, 22nd Aug '16, 1:35 am::
I fully expect everything that follows to be a long meandering brain dump of multiple subjects connected by nothing but my mental model of how the world works. Usually when I write about something other than my day-to-day routine, I treat it like a school essay and try to making a point with logical arguments. But what I've noticed is that behind my persuasive arguments is a set of core beliefs that rarely changes. And I'm not the only one. Behind almost everything I've read, heard, or seen are someone's core beliefs making a point. Listing and comparing our beliefs divides us. But discussing how our beliefs work, can help us communicate better.
Before we get to heart of our belief system, let's start with a simple opinion: The world is better/worse today than it was 20* years ago. You can rely on facts, anecdotes, or personal experiences to form an opinion on this statement. Maybe two decades ago you had a great job and cost of living was low. Or maybe you were in a bad relationship and felt stuck in life while today things are great. Your opinion is yours to have, share, defend, and sometimes change. But beneath the facts that bolster opinions or heartwarming experiences that sway them, are beliefs that seldom rely on numbers but predispose which facts and stories we listen to.
Do you believe the average person is good? If I randomly picked just ONE person out of the 7+ billion people on the planet, without seeing their face, would you trust them to return your lost wallet? Don't overthink this. Just ask yourself if you believe that to be true or false in the average case. Now ask yourself what you would do.
Do you believe the average person is lazy and unmotivated? In other words, if they could get just enough money to eat, live in a modest apartment, and afford the bare necessities of modern life, would they accept that life and quit their job or instead continue to work hard to get even further ahead in life? What would you do?
If you believe the average person is honest and hardworking, and feel the same way about yourself, realize that you are living in a world with other people who believe that while the average person (that includes you) is dishonest, lazy, and unmotivated, they themselves are good, industrious, and quite motivated. This isn't a comparison of who is right vs. who is wrong. This isn't about people having different beliefs. This is about people having contradictory beliefs about each other.
There is a famous exercise in Game Theory called the Prisoner's Dilemma (if you don't want to read about it, watch this video). In my mind, our beliefs about the goodness of an average human pits us against each other in a world-wide Prisoner's Dilemma where we all try to guess if everyone else is an honest, productive person and act accordingly. And that I think is what leads us to have differing opinions on whether the world is better or worse off today.
Our beliefs guide us to seek evidence, which helps us form our opinions. From a cold scientific, rational perspective, there is a very strict requirement for what constitutes evidence and so if you take that route, you will arrive at the currently accepted scientific consensus. But what if you believe that the scientists who came up with the conclusion that you find hard to stomach, were funded by organizations that benefit from the very conclusion? Certainly you wouldn't be wrong to believe this because there are countless examples of that. Well, then you find yourself questioning not just scientific research but news media, social media, education systems, governments, corporations, and pretty much every institution with power and means. And you would be in your right to be skeptical! Because if you believe there is corruption and greed at almost every level, you will find ample evidence to support it if you dig deep enough.
The difficulty in trying to comprehend the world today is that it is so big yet feels so small. With so many people, all things good and bad that could happen, happen daily. And with the world being so connected, we can find evidence of almost anything to match our beliefs - logical or not. The world as a whole did not know about the Nanking Massacre or Armenian Genocide for decades. Yet news of a single hero giving up his life to save others spread around the world within hours last year.
There are just too many nuanced and seemingly conflicting facts in every single aspect of our life for us to weed through. So regardless of what scientific, political, and economic theories we study, we tend to believe in some core things that cannot be easily quantified, justified, or articulated. Beliefs about race, gender, and religion are strengthened by events that we experience, which motivates us to seek additional examples to reinforce our beliefs. If you believe that women with same experience and skills are paid less than men for the same jobs, then you can find ample evidence to defend it. You may even support laws to curb the injustice. Or you might believe the wage gap is a myth with evidence to the contrary.
I have friends and family on both sides of almost every issue and what's interesting to me is how rarely does evidence change anyone's opinions. Evidence contrary to our beliefs is either an immaterial exception or further proof that the opposition is grasping at straws to maintain their lie. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the 2016 US Presidential elections. Whether you support Clinton, Trump, any of the 3rd party candidates, or none of them, your beliefs are what their campaigns are piggybacking on.
On the economic front, Trump is fueled by the opinions that illegal immigration and Obamacare are the primary cause of hardship for most Americans today. Many in the media mock these openly without trying to understand why people feel this way. Beneath these opinions are the beliefs that people who break the law do not deserve amnesty and that we are better off when we can make the financial and healthcare decisions for ourselves and our families without the Government's mandate. The former is about Government not presently doing its job to stop illegal immigration and the latter is about the Government overstepping its authority. In other words, Government is doing more bad than good. While we can come up with arguments for and against these beliefs, realize that these are not purely academic ideologies we are arguing about but rather what they believe is necessary for the good of their community, country, and world.
Similarly, on the economic front, Bernie was fueled by the opinion that decades of rigged economic policies by the richest of the rich are the primary cause of Americans' hardships. Beneath this opinion is the belief that sound Government policies can curb corporate greed, or in other words, a belief that Government can do good. Clinton is fueled by the opinion that political obstruction preventing Obama from enacting the necessary policies is the primary cause and she is the one who can fix it. This is a mix of both the beliefs - people who believe that Government that can do good being impeded by others who believe that Government cannot do good.
I'd imagine that your belief in Government being capable of doing good or not is partially derived from whether you believe that people are good or not. I say partially because even if you believe the average person is honest, you might believe they don't work in the public sector for long, thereby making Government corrupt by attrition. The reason I keep bringing these types of beliefs up repeatedly is because there is no way to prove them either way - they really are something you have to accept on faith alone. With millions of people working for the Government, you can easily find evidence to prove any stance. So what you rely on is your belief that there are or aren't enough good people in public sector to help steer the country in what you believe is the right direction.
I have avoided listing my own beliefs and opinions because my point wasn't to convince you to see things my way. My point was to show that the world is so noisy, there is no point in blaring more noise at people who disagree with us. But instead, listen to the muted melody lost in the cacophony. Even the person you most vehemently disagree with has core beliefs you can rightly respect if you only cut through the mountain of opinionated drivel.
* I picked 20 years because there is more variability of viewpoints in that. Would be boring to compare today to 2 years ago (not enough time) or 200 years (only for history buffs).