“Belief can be manipulated. Only knowledge is dangerous.” Frank Herbert
In his bestselling book series “Dune”, the great science fiction writer Frank Herbert hit upon this thought about beliefs that essentially speaks more to the nature of facts, which is the essence of knowledge, and why that can be dangerous. Those that base their beliefs on what they are told to believe can be manipulated. While it is true that those who would manipulate people’s beliefs would attempt to do the same with facts, eventually the facts will become known, and while some may forgive them or overlook the lie, some will no longer believe them, or at least doubt them.
Recently, I received a notice from a social media platform, which will remain nameless, that I had violated their policy by publishing something that someone found to be “harassment”; I couldn’t think what that could possibly be so I asked for more information. The censorial gurus advised they could not provide that as it would expose the person who made the complaint. I recalled from my previous post John Clease’s description of wokeism as “…people waiting for the thrill of being offended.” That gave me the insight to two things; one, which post may have offended whom, and two, why; more important is to focus on the why.
My offending post was a rebuttal to beliefs presented as historical reality; I did so with facts that exposed those beliefs as false. Apparently this poor fearful soul lacked the understanding and fortitude to deal with the facts, and therefore dealt with it the only way they knew how. Now we’re all aware of this phenomenon where people find offense with anything contrary to their beliefs, in this case to the extent of complaining about “harassment”. But what causes this fearful reaction?
Actually, the answer to that question leads to an entire area of psychological study known as cognitive behavior. If you wish to read more about that look up Dr. Albert Ellis, an American psychologist considered the leader in that field, but in the interest of brevity we can deal with it in summary; he has identified the source of irrational beliefs as confirmation bias, where people dismiss facts that contradict their beliefs and only accept those that support them; in essence, beliefs become their identity, and anything that challenges their beliefs, challenges their identity.
Facts are not opinions or beliefs. They are realities verifiable by objective evidence, empirically acquired by experience, observation or experimentation. It is important to understand that we are not talking about theories either; we are talking about that which proves or disproves the hypothetical. As Leonardo da Vinci put it “All sciences are vain and full of errors that are not born of experience, the mother of all knowledge.” Facts provide knowledge, and that makes them dangerous, something that could undermine beliefs if those beliefs are not based on facts. So what I did to my poor fearful soul on social media constituted “harassment” because I challenged their identity.
That is what makes knowledge dangerous, especially in the current environment of identity politics where everything has become political; the definition of a woman, a fetus, gender, racism, domestic terrorism, insurrection, peaceful demonstration, fascism, crime, voter fraud, inflation, recession…the list goes on, as if the way to win an argument is to change the dictionary. If you know what the facts are, you can’t ignore them, so you react to what someone tells you that you find contrary to the facts with the facts; if the reaction to that is an accusation of “harassment”, then discussion has ended as you are now dealing with someone’s fear that their identity is under attack.
When this is not an isolated problem of an individual but a societal ill it goes beyond that as explained by Ellis as the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance becomes sociological; it becomes an issue for society when people are not taught how to think, but what to think. This is the establishment of orthodoxy, an authorized or generally accepted theory, doctrine, or practice; it is a reliance on belief, not facts. Deviations from accepted or orthodox standards or beliefs are called heterodoxy. As George Orwell explained in 1984, “Orthodoxy means not thinking, not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”
This is an issue of education, or in this case a failure of education as it devolves into indoctrination, wherein the most critical part of the population, which represents our future, i.e. our children, are not taught the essential skill of how to think for themselves. The progress of human beings was only possible through knowledge, and the only way to acquire knowledge is to learn the difference between beliefs and facts. This most precious human trait is being stunted as children are made to fear being different than others by thinking for themselves; when that happens, those that think for themselves are deemed heretics, and history has taught us what such a society does with heretics.
History is full of examples of the immense damage that a society can do to itself if it embraces orthodoxy; it spawns the most evil beliefs, absurdities that often lead to atrocities. Those with common sense look on our current cultural environment confused as to how our society has devolved to an orthodoxy of ignorance, and even worse condemnation of those who speak out against it as oppressors, as if knowledge, and the facts it is based on, are heresies to be erased. We should not be confused; we should become enlightened because by observing that this is actually happening we learn the simple fact that belief is not thinking, and therefore that beliefs are not facts.