Friday, May 6, 2011


The media seem to delight in polls, whose results seem to me increasingly absurd. They have become a way of assessing irrational beliefs which bear no relevance to the serious discussion of the issues facing us as a nation. Who cares if thirty-one percent of the American people believe that moon is made of Cheddar cheese? It signifies only that thirty-one (or however many) of the American people are perfectly content to be deluded.

Polls are based on the proposition that "I believe what I believe and therefore it must be true." What the Buddha teaches, usefully, is that beliefs are not much use to anyone until they have been put to the test and proven demonstrably true by the results. The theory that the moon is made of Cheddar cheese is simply beside the point--who cares?--until you actually go there, chop off a piece, and subject it to the taste test. In which case, it either is, or isn't.

True believers, though, it seems, are not so easily dissuaded from their beliefs. I was gratified to note that the percentage of Republicans who believe that President Obama was not born in this country dropped, after the release of his "long form" birth certificate, from 45% to 14%. But there's still that 14%--millions of people. And how about the 45% who clung to their belief for years, despite ample other evidence to the contrary? The "short form" birth certificate, apparently, was not enough.

Now we're supposed to worry about how many people "believe" that Osama bin Laden is dead? Should we "prove" it by producing photographs? And, in these days of easy photo-shopping, how many people would "believe" this evidence? How many people "believe" that the burial at sea was right, or wrong? Etc.

I'm not so much bothered that people nurture delusional beliefs. I probably nurture a few myself, hidden away somewhere. What bothers me is that these delusional beliefs are treated as though they had some serious significance, sufficient to have an effect on truly significant things--like the policies that determine the direction of the country. Their ability to foster the belief that Obama is a "socialist"--whatever that means!--has enabled right-wing ideologues and corporate interests, for example, to stall all progress toward financial reform at a time when it is sorely needed.

Delusion reigns where belief is king. Unreason is let loose upon the land. Plain truths--even demonstrable facts--are endlessly questioned, while arrant nonsense is allowed to stand unexamined. I realize that it's too late, at this point, to hope for a return to reason. But will we destroy ourselves with our "beliefs"?

1 comment:

Craig said...

The thing I find so sad about the proliferation of confused beliefs in the media and society in general is that it could be changed, the education system could be uplifted, and mainstream consciousness could be educated. Advertising is a big part of the problem, and the corporate agenda in education is another big piece. Yeah it looks like we can't hope for a 'return to reason' but all we can do is to keep trying anyway.