If you could choose, which would be more valuable to you? Your capacity to learn or your capacity to believe?
Of course we want both. Believing in something gives us strength, which in a turbulent life is badly needed. So we are constantly exhorted to “believe in ourselves” the way that Steve Jobs did. But as Fransisco Dao writes, a craving for belief can blind us. Remember the great scene from the Wizard of Oz where the little dog pulls back the curtain and reveals the true identity of the “great and mighty Oz”?
I agree with Dao that the slide from open minded questioning and learning to closed minded adherence is a slippery one. Why? Pressures from the outside can overwhelm us.
After the horrendous events in Jonestown, Americans started calling this phenomenon “drinking the Kool-aid“. The phrase resonates because there comes a moment when it is too late to wake up. Which, btw, takes me to politics. Rachel Maddow ran a show the other night about the events leading up to the US invasion of Iraq. Can you believe it! President Bush et al got the whole country to drink the kool-aid and invade Iraq. Oops.
But that is in the past, right? Well, consider the Italian elections. Who would have thought it possible that bunga bunga politics could make a comeback? And yet, as Paul Krugman writes, frustration with austerity policies imposed from Germany run deep. So where is the Kool-aid here? Well, some still cling to the belief that austerity is needed right now. Can you believe it?
A slippery slope indeed. Perhaps Descartes meant to say “I believe. Therefore I am.”