To Believe In Nothing


David Brooks, from the New York times, wrote:

We live in a country in which many people live in information cocoons in which they only talk to members of their own party and read blogs of their own sect. They come away with perceptions fundamentally at odds with reality, fundamentally misunderstanding the man in the Oval Office.

From my own experience in the blog world, I believe Brooks’ assessment is accurate. Yet, this phenomena is not something that is exclusive to President Obama’s presidency; rather, it is a statement on the susceptibility of Human reason  to ideological hijacking.

My Personal Encounters

As many of you know, I am passionate in my desire to see a legalization-based immigration reform become reality in the United States. Last year, when I entered into the pro-immigration blog world(by writing and reading), one of my first destinations was the website of Americans for Legal Immigration(ALIPAC), which is an anti-immigrant organization.  I engaged in debate in one of ALIPAC’s forums. It spanned several days. Nothing successful came out of that debate. I decided to leave the debate with ALIPAC because, after more or less civil dialog,  it turned ugly; the condescension and mockery became too much to stomach. I will no longer engage in debate with anti-immigrant groups because they are not willing to do it.

The division of ideas into concrete, separated sets, as it relates to the blog world, is cyclical and dependent on several factors: the majority of readers that venture outside of their preferred ideological reading do not make that trip to engage in genuine debate; they do it solely to discredit their idea opponents at any cost. This manifests itself in strongly toned, condescending, and often straight-up insulting comments. This, in turn, angers the blog’s author and its regular followers. The seeds of conflict and division are planted at this point. For blog authors, it is an especially difficult task to spend significant time and emotion in writing an entry to see it mocked and scorned by a random passerby.

This anger has risen to such a level that many blogs, unable or unwilling to suffer commentator abuse, censor their content in an overreaching manner. In other words, the non-substantive, purely attack oriented commentators end up creating a chilling effect on readers genuinely interested in debate. There are two solutions to end this specific  aspect, one more likely to succeed than the other. 1) Try to persuade people to avoid attack-exclusive comments or 2 Blog authors not overreaching in censorship. In other words, only delete comments that are objectively lacking any worthy content. The latter is not always an easy task, yet it is worth the effort.

The Deeper Problem

As Vaclav Havel stated on Ideology:

To wandering humankind it offers an immediately available home: all one has to do is accept it, and suddenly everything becomes clear once more, life takes on new meaning, and all mysteries, unanswered questions, anxiety, and loneliness vanish.

We are all guilty, except perhaps for an elite minority, of leaning towards the attractive facade of a “belief”. Some more than others. The explanation behind this is not complex; it is easily understandable. When one believes strongly in something, be it “socialism” or the “market”, or anything else for that matter, and another person confronts one with another belief that undermines  one’s strongly held belief, a conflict arises within one’s intellectual soul. The easiest way to end this conflict is to dismiss the other belief as preposterous and without merit. Another route to end this conflict is exponentially more difficult. In fact, it can never end the conflict. It creates a  constant internal battle within one’s mind. Perhaps that is why so many opt for the easy fix and there is a steep divide within the blog world and the wider political landscape of the United States.

The last paragraph, I admit, is intolerably abstract. Here is the concrete version.

I am an unabashed partisan for immigration reform. I believe that a reform should include legalization of almost all current undocumented individuals in the United States with a concurrent increase in visas made available to citizens of Latin America. I believe this is the best strategy to address the broken immigration system. But I could be wrong. What if, for example, that no matter how much Latin Americans can immigrate legally to the United States, illegal immigration goes unabated and the United States must, once again, try to “fix” the immigration system? What if there is no solution? It’s a possibility. Uncomfortable realities are necessary to confront if progress is to be made. This self-doubt philosophy is not very visible within both the pro-immigrant and anti-immigrant movements. On the pro-immigrant side, there is a notable lack of  serious, if any, efforts to practically address the future flow of unauthorized migration from Latin America.(I don’t mean strengthening the border, I mean actual visa increase) To me, the future flow is one of the most important components of a successful immigration reform bill. The anti-immigrant side is even more guilty than the pro-immigrant one; they insist on goals that are physically impossible. Deporting all “illegals” and sealing off the U.S./Mexico border is not possible.  So we are left with a lot of talk and no action taken.

The next time you debate over what you believe in strongly, stop for one second! And doubt until a greater truth emerges. To believe in nothing is the only way.


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5 Responses to “To Believe In Nothing”

  1. Michael Shermer: Why people believe strange things | Abraço - abraços e beijos Says:

    […] To Believe In Nothing « Life Through the Lens of Bryan […]

  2. dyssonance Says:

    One of the problems is, in and of itself, *belief*. Belief is a part of faith — belief does not requires rational proof, functions without knowledge, and requires acceptance of things without those two parts.

    I don’t mean merely belief as in religion. I mean the human capability for it as a whole — the ability we have to decide something on the basis of nothing.

    Belief is irrational, in other words. Like Emotion, it’s a critical component to our ability to move throughout the world, but belief has the ability to cloud and erase Reason.

    And what we need to use is reason, with logic, and unblemished truth, however painful it is, and then, from there, find a belief that *is* grounded in reason.

    Which is very hard.

    Someone asked me how one defends injury done to a people by a culture. I told them I don’t know. But I believe it can be done through the power of belief, which does not care about history, or culture, or anything that gets in its way.

    No one is more certain that one who believes they are.

  3. Yolanda Guerra Says:

    Truth is subjective. There is no absolute truth. But there are certain things we believe to be absolute truths, and without those we would be lost. I think the trick is leaving yourself open to other viewpoints, knowing that what you believe could always end up being wrong. You made me think of my Dad, who aligns himself with the Democrats on most issues but watches FoxNews every day because he says “you always have to know what the enemy is saying.” While his motives are questionable, perhaps he has the right idea after all!

  4. bjohns15 Says:

    Yeah, he may be right. Even if one does genuinely look at a variety of different viewpoints, another problem arises. When does one start wasting their time as opposed to learning valuable information.

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