The Other I

August 12, 2016

I don’t believe that

Filed under: The Economy: a Neophyte's View — theotheri @ 3:26 pm

The more we understand about human intelligence the more we realize how much room for doubt there is in our conclusions.  But it seems to me that whether it be in relation to religion or science or politics, I’ve been hearing “I don’t believe that” more often these days than I used to.  Why?

There is always room for legitimate doubt in whatever field we look.  Science is based on observable evidence, and as our observations expand, so do our interpretations.  Which means that what we think of as “facts” change, and science is constantly re-assessing the validity of earlier conclusions.  Today, quantum physics and the Standard Theory, both theories about the very nature of matter and the universe are not even in agreement with each other, and both are being questioned by recent findings.

But the areas of scientific dispute are almost without end.  Is drinking alcohol in moderation good for health?  What about fats?  or more than 3 eggs a week?  or various grains?  or super-aerobic exercise like jogging every day?

Religion, of course, is a completely different matter.  Religious beliefs, by definition, cannot be verified.  They are accepted on “faith” without proof.  Believers think that their beliefs are divinely revealed and  are the true ones, but since so many religions believe so many contradictory things, somebody must be wrong.

So how do we decide what it is that we believe, or not believe?  And what determines how certain we are that the beliefs we hold are right?

I don’t know the answer to this.  When I was young, I thought it was a question of intelligence and education, but that obviously isn’t so.  It’s partly culture, both secular and religious.  I was reared as a Roman Catholic, which argues even today that it is the one and only true Church.  As a young person, I thought, therefore, that I had all the right answers to all the fundamentally important questions.  Today, I see the Church’s position as limiting.  (I would even use the words arrogant, destructive, and ignorant, if I might not be misunderstood to be saying that all Roman Catholics are arrogant and stupid, which obviously they are not.)

Of course on a daily level we cannot go around questioning every aspect of reality.  If we did we’d never get anything done.  But we are engaged in mass killings of our fellow human brothers and sisters simply because they disagree with our religious or political beliefs.   Why are we so varied in our ability to tolerate uncertainty on such a profound level?

In part, I wonder if it’s economic.  In societies where men, particularly, cannot get employment, religious and political fanaticism seems to proliferate.

If that’s so, then understanding economics and creating systems where swathes of the population are not disenfranchised is critically important to human survival.  It’s what America thought capitalism was about, but research shows that it is not as automatic as we thought for so long.  Without government intervention, the wealth of that 2% may be entrenched.  Creating equality is what Communism set out to do as well, but it also has not succeeded.  The temptation of various forms of contemporary socialism is to take from the rich, variously defined as anything from the top 2% to anybody who has more than anybody else.  And I’m dead wrong if Trump has the answers to “make America great again.”

In the long-term, we have not yet found a system that sustains development and opportunity across the board.  But in my old age, I find myself tending to study the problem from the point of view of economics rather than from theological or psychological perspectives.






  1. Hello, hello! It has been years since I have checked in with your blog. I got lost somewhere in my 20s and now am finding you again in my 30s.

    I have read your blog since Brexit, because that is when I thought of you, and I was looking for insight and reason in the matter. Only now finally I am chiming in to say hello. We emailed a few times years ago. I don’t expect you remember me. I just want you to know how much I appreciate you, that you are here.

    Regarding the subject at hand, well, we can’t be certain of any truth. I know that science is the best truth we have.

    I was just in a facebook squabble in a political group with another woman who told me that libertarianism is an objective ideology. I insited it wasn’t. I said all ideologies are subjective.

    Everyone wants to believe in truth but what I have learned to accept is that truth has no words. We all just try to describe what is.

    We choose to believe what we choose to believe. It helps to have empirical evidence but that isn’t necessary for belief.

    What I have always loved about your blog is how it inspires my own musings.

    Anyway, so these days, I choose only to believe in love. If we get to choose what we believe, then that is what I believe. Everything else I will believe only with empirical evidence.


    Comment by JoolieDee — August 13, 2016 @ 2:49 am | Reply

    • Joolie, yes, I do remember our exchanges. It is such a delight to get your last comment. We seem to share a lot in common, don’t we?

      I agree, all ideologies are subjective. Actually, as Immanual Kant pointed out, everything we experience has a subjective aspect. For starters, we can only experience what our human senses are capable of. But that is by no means all of reality. We know now that bees see colors we can’t; dogs’ sense of smell and hearing is different from ours; dolphins communicate using ultrasound – all of which by-pass our human senses. And even what we experience through our senses never stops there. We always give it a meaning, and human interpretive abilities of what our sense tells us is almost without limit. The “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s superman!” principle applies to every single experience of which we are capable.

      Hope to hear from you again. As you can see, as ever, I find your comments stimulating.


      Comment by theotheri — August 13, 2016 @ 2:39 pm | Reply

      • We do seem to share a lot in common and it seems I can relate well with your blog because of it. Of course your writting is superb and so there is that.

        You know I am married now and have a daughter. She will be 3 in October.

        So when my daughter Olivia is crying over something, my husband almost always asks, “What’s wrong???”

        It drives me crazy. I agree with Kant. Everything we experience has a subjective aspect. I explain to my dear husband that I don’t want her to experience a thing as if that thing is wrong right away. Why paint something as wrong right away? Why make it negative from the start? Let’s at least try to be more objective.

        I tell him how I have learned that it is better to ask, “What happened?” That way my daughter can try to describe what happened without associating any kind of “wrongness”.

        Well, my husband tries to break the habit but has asked “what’s wrong” enough times where I have a stock reply now.

        Half-humorously I just reply, “Nothing is wrong here.” It is a sort of joke now.


        Comment by JoolieDee — August 14, 2016 @ 9:02 pm | Reply

        • This sounds like a brilliant approach to parenting. Along with helping your daughter develop verbal abilities, you are helping her realize there is a difference between something that is “wrong” and something that is a problem to deal with. I don’t think she’s going to grow up feeling like a helpless victim with somebody else always to blame for her plight in life.

          Thank you for sharing. I hope you might have more stories to share in the months and years ahead. I’d love to hear them.


          Comment by Terry Sissons — August 18, 2016 @ 11:38 am

  2. After reading your Post and then the comment by JoolieDee I had to smile…seems you have quite a few followers who return to your blog for your input on life. It’s nice at this old age to still be looking for answers instead of thinking with know everything…;) Also I too choose to believe in love…


    Comment by DJC — August 14, 2016 @ 3:11 pm | Reply

    • correction: thinking we know everything


      Comment by DJC — August 14, 2016 @ 9:25 pm | Reply

    • Donna – We certainly agree. I think believing in love is the only act of “faith” I have left. And the surprise is that what sounds so simple – love – isn’t nearly as simple as it sounds. It’s not just a question of being unselfish. It’s so often a question of asking “how?” What is the best way, for instance in any given situation, to show support versus enabling? Or when is charity called for compared to providing opportunities for meaningful work? Etc. The list goes on the older I get! Do you have a similar experience?


      Comment by Terry Sissons — August 18, 2016 @ 11:42 am | Reply

  3. I too believe if solutions are found in managing economics, a lot of today’s issues would lose steam.. Countries like US have the advantage of availability of data to tell them if their actions are yielding results on the ground. Ex: unemployment numbers.

    Moving to another point u have made: Am just back after spending months with grand children, a noticeable phenomenon: the kids either know or don’t. I know and don’t too:-) I don’t want to think I’m a charlatan.


    Comment by tskraghu — August 20, 2016 @ 2:07 am | Reply

  4. I agree. Well put. And, as always, stimulating, as other readers have already pointed out.

    More and more I’m coming to see religious belief as just part of the way our minds work fundamentally. It takes a lot of discipline to think scientifically. Most doctors, for instance, don’t seem to do so much of the time, though their status and their training have convinced them they do. Magical Realism seems to be the default thinking for the species — probably for all mammalians, I suspect. Maybe we even evolved that way for good survival reasons and then got hoisted on our own petard with conflicts like the Thirty Years War et al. Other species are lucky in that sense for not having evolved more technology than they need.

    Of course, having said that, I confess to being a believer in the Isaiah/Jesus program. You can call it socialism, but it’s a matter of how one’s temperament is oriented, I think. Stevenson says somewhere that when an idea comes along that we like we don’t just accept it we run out to embrace it. The opposite is also the case. I have to acknowledge that other people rush out to embrace entirely different agendas.

    All else, everything beyond the basic pitch of all-for-all is gloss, as I see it. Unfortunately, but inevitably, gloss is what takes up the lion’s share of what most “faith” is about.


    Comment by Thomas J. Hubschman — August 25, 2016 @ 4:21 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for your stimulating comment. I’m pretty sure I understand what you are saying. Personally, the word “socialism” is too concrete for me to elevate to a principle. But I do have the conviction that love is the only goal worth living for, and there was a time when I thought socialism was the fullest Christian manifestation of that principle. I’m not convinced it’s that simple anymore– look at the massive failures of various attempts at implementing the concept in the last century and a half.

      I imagine that both of us could make coherent well-developed arguments in favor of what you call the “Isaiah/Jesus program.” But I suspect that coherent argument isn’t really the essence of my conviction. Or why there are others who do not support radically different agendas – like the conviction that their mission is to impose their beliefs on the world, even using the sword. Even Christianity tried that for centuries, didn’t it? And if it’s stopped, it’s only because they lost the physical power to do so.


      Comment by Terry Sissons — September 1, 2016 @ 8:43 pm | Reply

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