On Believing

Beliefs have directionality.

That is to say, they point somewhere. They go places. Otherwise, why bother having them?

Another way to say is that beliefs have effects. I suppose it’s possible to conceive of a belief that has no effects, but I don’t think anyone would actually care to have those.

For the sake of argument, let’s take something incredibly stupid, like believing the earth is flat. At first glance, it doesn’t appear that this belief has much real-world impact. Flat-earthers do all the same stuff that everyone else does, except they happen to disagree with the scientific consensus that the earth is an oblate spheroid and they reinterpret the reams and reams of physical evidence for that fact to support their theory.

Even if the material effects of the belief are small, even if the people who hold this belief behave exactly like everyone else, there’s still at least one effect that springs to mind immediately.

If you think the earth is flat, you have to believe you are being lied to, intentionally and continually, by an absolutely massive number of people, from NASA to boat captains.

You may inhabit the world much like a normal folks. Your day-to-day may resemble the average person’s day-to-day. But the world that you inhabit is fundamentally a very different place. The noosphere is polluted. You can’t trust people, because you don’t know who’s in on the scam. And if they’re willing to keep something as fundamental as the shape of the earth from you, what else might they lying about?

This is the direction of this belief. I think of it as a vector.

The thing is, once you believe something like this, it’s really easy to accumulate additional beliefs that share a similar vector.

Why are so many flat-earthers also antivaxxers? Why do so many creationists fall for q-anon scams? Why are so many racists also patriarchists? Why are so many scientismists also atheists? And so forth and so forth.

Once you have accepted the vector of a certain belief, it’s incredibly difficult to explain why you should not also believe other things that share that direction.

If you’ve already accepted that there are natural hierarchies based on intrinsic characteristics that entail one group of people to subjugate another, it’s very hard to explain why you should have a patriarchy but not have apartheid.

If you’ve already accepted that the world is explained by scientific observation such that anything outside scientific observation is not knowledge, it’s incredibly difficult to explain why you shouldn’t be, at the very least, agnostic.

If you think that the entire scientific community is (at best) deceived by the devil or (at worst) purposefully lying about the origin of life on earth, why would you let those same scientists inject your darling baby with vaccines?

This is why it’s incredibly important to think about what you believe and why you believe it. There are actors in this world (politicians, marketers, scam artists, etc) who will actively exploit the directionality of your beliefs. There’s money and power to be had by appealing to you along these lines. Or even, in the most extreme examples, pure chaos.

There are actors in this world purposefully crafting “sticky” messaging that actively exploits the way you already think. Memes that inhabit the same vector.

And suddenly, you’re radicalized, and you don’t know how it happened.

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