February 23, 2008

Identification With Beliefs

First published on my old blog on April 21 2006

We dont change our minds very much....

One of the most damaging things to human discourse is the fossilisation of ideas. Ideas often become so entrenched within individuals or cultures that an open debate of their merits is impossible. At the root of this problem, it seems to me is the fact that ideas and beliefs serve two purposes often fundamantally at odds with each other. The first purpose is that of a model of reality and a guide for actions.

Correct ideas generally produce results superior to incorrect ones.
The individual or group which holds correct views in a given field is far more able to make useful predictions concerning it than one who doesnt. The weather service in London is more effective at making predictions concerning the future weather than an African witch doctor because its ideas concerning this subject are orders of magnitude more true and useful.

Cultures also hold beliefs and ideas. The truth and usefulness of those ideas which are dominant within them are an excellent predictor of cultural success

This fact remains incredibly problematic for multiculturalists who want to reframe the terms of debate in traditionally marxist terms of oppressor/opressed. Multiculturalism is a classically academic idea. In academia beliefs are abstract things with no real consequences. In the outside world they have consequences.

It is the second purpose of ideas which is the most problematic. It results in the otherwise inexplicably long shelflife of ideas which are false useless or harmful to the individual or group concerned. w
Ideas serve to distinguish the individual or group from others and serve as a marker for personal or group identity.
If my selfhood is inextricably bound up with what I believe to be true then a criticism of my beliefs becomes a criticism of me. The only solution is to thro up the trade barriers and limit the exchange of ideas this is exactly wha happens. The consequences of intellectual trade barriers is exactly the same as that of trade barriers in the exchange of goods and services... Stunted growth...

There are areas where the use of ideas for the purpose of identity is generally harmless and even beneficial to human happiness. Fashion, allegiance to sports teams, many traditional cultural festivals and celebrations all give a sense of identity and belonging. It doesnt really matter if a belief in Chicago Cubs baseball, for example is an irrationally entrenched one. Indeed it may even give the believer pleasure. Believing in the Chicago Cubs is utterly different to believing in the Democratic party. A belief in the Chicago Cubs is irreleavnt to being able to form useful ideas about Economics, Law, family life and a whole host of other issues. An entrenched belief in a political party seriously inhibits my ability in this regard.
It is vital that we as a society recognise the difference between the two categories of belief.

While entrenched cultural attitudes such as preference for soccer over baseball or brown bread over white are harmless and enjoyable ways for individuals and groups to distinguish themselves attitudes such as a belief in a rigidly gender stratified society or in socialism are not.

A faith based adherence to ideas with practical consequences is dangerous. The more consequential an idea the more vital is a free flow of ideas in the debate surrounding it. The academic ideas market is not very efficient. The ideas market for correct supply chain management in industry is FAR more efficient becasue the holder of incorrect ideas will be more directly exposed to the consequences of them. Financial markets, the ultimate ideas markets are INCREDIBLY competitive. So are the odds Vegas sets for the outcome of sporting events.

The bible's Leviticus, Platos Republic, Karl Marx's Communist manifesto and the Q'uran ALL advance theories about the optimal organisation of society. The theories advanced in these works are largely incorrect at least in regard to the 21st century. By any measure, societies that follow the blueprints advanced in these works will be less successful than those which are based on free markets...

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