"The unexamined life is not worth living." Socrates in Plato, Dialogues, Apology
This is the inspiration for Question Everything. Socrates chose death over a proscription against questioning. That impressed me as a younger student. It occurred to me that Socrates was on to something and that others were afraid of it. As I said in my prior post, people seem to value safety over understanding if it comes down to a choice. There is safety in religion, in ideology in general. There are others who share your beliefs and conviction and you belong to that group. Safety in numbers.
That may have worked well for Pleistocene man; to be part of the tribe. And apparently it seems to be hard coded into every human psyche. Raising questions about what the members of your group believes is a certain way to be expelled (or as in Socrates' case, killed). It is a certain way to lose safety.
And as long as the world around your group remains reasonably stable, unchanging except for variations in the seasons, and as long as the beliefs seem to work that is probably a pretty good strategy for survival. The problem arises when the world is changing in unanticipated ways, as it seems to be doing now, and on a global scale. If you keep on doing the same things in the same ways, based on these beliefs, and the world changes such that it makes your ways no longer successful, what do you do? The world doesn't care what you think; it only cares what you do. If you do the right things — in consonance with the way the world really works — you will survive, thrive, and procreate. If you do the wrong things for the circumstances you will likely go to an early grave, or at least live a stressful life.
Can there really be any doubt that our world is radically changed from the Pleistocene? Can there be any doubt that it is now changing even more than anyone anticipated, say at the start of the industrial age? And which is the greater threat to our safety today, changing our beliefs if needs be, or seeing cataclysm descend?
Perhaps you are one of those who still do not believe that things could get cataclysmic on our current path. You may be going through the grieving stages I discussed in my last post. Or you may simply be incapable of examining your beliefs in spite of evidence and you will rationalize till you die. If so, you really need not read any further. This blog is for people who realize that questioning one's beliefs and the general beliefs of one's group is necessary and worth doing.
In future blogs I want to examine many common beliefs in light of the changes occurring in our world. I want to examine the beliefs we have about beliefs themselves. There are a whole raft of words that need to be thought about concerning the issue of beliefs that motivate our decisions. What does it mean to believe in something, an idea, a concept, or an ideology? Where does our confidence in our ideas come from? How can we be sure our ideas conform to reality? For that matter what is truth, really?
As we look at what is happening in our world today we see the breakdown of social progress due to the strongly held beliefs of so many people. By social progress I do not mean material progress, or growth in the GDP (one of my favorite beliefs to question). I mean progress in the sense delineated by Abraham Maslow as growth of the individual toward self-actualization. I think the evidence that such growth can only occur in the context of a self-actualizing social matrix is building. And as we see so much evidence that the contrary is true — that individuals sink to lower needs-fulfillment motivations in a social environment of stress — I have to ask where did we go wrong as sentient beings? Even while some people claim that things are getting better, materially, are more and more people reaching actualization of their more positive capacities? Are we as individuals happier today than people were in the 1800's?