Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Things we Believe

God is not the only thing created within us that we need to believe in as something real, outside us. Truth, morality, good and evil, beauty, the English language, the universal supremacy of Accrington Stanley FC even though they haven't won anything for 100 years...

All of these things spring from the interplay of various aspects of the things that make us human, and there is no particular reason to believe that they respond to anything external at all. But we need them to exist. Even if we have to invent them for ourselves.

We believe in the existence of simple solutions to the problems that blight our lives. We invent courses of action and decide that they must achieve a given effect. We replace ignorance with knowledge, doubt with certainty, by making stuff up. It’s a very human thing to do.

I mentioned the strike called by the far left over here. The leaders have their own- pretty transparent- reasons for doing so, but the activists and members who follow them will be doing so because they are unhappy with the economic and labour situation in Spain and want to do something. That it will not solve anything doesn’t matter. Something must be done, and this is something. It is symbolic, but symbolic solutions are psychologically very important.

Fat people believe that if they follow the instructions their friend, a book, a website or some out of work actor has endorsed they will become thin. The actual mechanism doesn’t seem to matter, whether there is one and how it works. The important thing is to perform the symbolic, ritual act of eating the lettuce leaf or whatever it is.

Ritual magic should not surprise us at all. We still do it, and we always will, while we have imperfect reason and self-consciousness. Much of our life is based on it. We need to believe in the reality of the things we create. Some of them probably are real. Others are not. In a way it doesn’t matter. Only our belief in them matters.

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