Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Head: Meet Desk. Desk: Meet Head

Would banging your head really hard against your desk change your basic beliefs?

Because logical arguments, careful data and sophisticated writing don't seem to do that in cases where the beliefs come from that murky back brain, perhaps created by a frightening incident in early childhood.

This is about political arguments, naturally, given that I'm writing a political blog, and it is that blog and my general journeys debating all over the Internet that have taught me how sticky basic beliefs are, how often the argument starts from the conclusions and then works backwards.

I'm not exempt from that. But I swear to you that I visit my basic beliefs (carefully opening the cage door and tossing some bloody meat in first) to interrogate their honesty, truthfulness and overall sobriety.

The feminist example of this has to do with the basic beliefs of some innatists: that women are naturally suited to coyness, inability to understand numbers and a desire to marry monogamously for money, whereas men are naturally suited to spraying their sperm around indiscriminately, while carelessly tossing off fundamental theories about the nature of the universe, and then going home to multiple nubile Barbie wives.

If one set of arguments doesn't support the conclusions, another set of data will be created but the conclusions will not change. We are now several such spirals down the road when it comes to gender roles. It's a fun exercise to see all this worked out from the early 1970s to the present day. The conclusions do not change; only the arguments about how to reach them do, and always in the sense that new arguments will be created to reach the unchanging conclusion.

I can create similar examples from other topics in politics. The belief in the essential evil of governments is one I see clearly because I do not share it. Or at least I do not share the parallel belief which usually goes with it: that markets are sunny grandmothers who treat us all with great justice.

Given the essentially non-logical nature of so many basic beliefs, how do we debate them? Are we limited in this to only those whose basic beliefs are yet unformed on a particular topic?