Monday 18 July 2011

A hypothetical belief — and its effects

Imagine holding a belief such that everyone who doesn't share your belief is a liar.

Suppose you hold a belief that the universe is a particular way. That's not asking much; I suspect most people hold such a belief, to a more or less certain degree. Suppose, however, that your belief is very certain, to the degree that it's inconceivable (to you) that you could be mistaken. That's asking a little more, but it still doesn't place you at the extremity of the belief bell-curve.

But suppose the belief you hold — about the particular way the universe is — includes the idea that everyone else actually shares your belief, even if they deny it. If yours is a minority belief it places you in the invidious position of believing (to a degree that it's inconceivable to you that you could be mistaken) that almost everyone else is a pathological liar.

This is not a pleasant place to be, and will adversely affect your relationships with almost everyone. It's likely you will have serious issues with trust. If you firmly believe that most people are willfully lying about their own most fundamental beliefs, you will automatically (perhaps even unconsciously) label them as dishonest and untrustworthy. You will have difficulty taking their words at face value and will constantly question their motives. In short, you will mistrust everything about them.

Consequently, when events don't unfold as hoped or planned, your first instinct will be to assume the liars have cheated you, rather than to ascribe adverse events to simple error, happenstance or the vagaries of inanimate technology. You will be awash in a sea of knaves and scoundrels, against whom you must erect impregnable security.

Meanwhile those "knaves and scoundrels" who observe your actions will see only hubris and paranoia.

But as I indicated in the title of this post, this is a hypothetical scenario. No-one would actually believe something like that, would they?