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They’ll Believe Anything


What is it about humans that makes them so susceptible to things that not only defy logic, but also at odds with the reality of their own experience and observations?  It’s as if there is a built in need to believe in things that are strange rather than filtering them out through reasoning and hard logic.  Perhaps it’s a built in survival mechanism so that humans can offload shortcomings in their own lives onto the vicissitudes of the unknown.  We can observe this by the continuing popularity of Tarot card readers, Ouija boards and astrologers.

Humans have the innate need to constantly get information about everything.  This is different from other animals that process information for basic existential purposes. The desire for information among humans extends to not just receiving information, but also to pass it on to others.  One could argue that this passing along of information perpetuates the species and thus is a survival mechanism.

This passing on of information is institutionalized by systems of education present in all societies.  Until recently, the font of knowledge and enlightenment was controlled by anointed groups, such as church elders, scholars and academics. These people were the authority on the validity of every topic and issue.  This arguably worked well, as long as these experts knew what they were talking about, or at least were assumed to know.

Which brings us to modern times in which the font of knowledge is no longer controlled by any wise group of sage savants.  Instead, with the opening of the doors to information to anyone who wants it, people can now make up their own minds as to what constitutes knowledge….at least in theory.

In fact, the pursuit of knowledge and information is still controlled by a select group of people, because people (on the whole) are naturally lazy. They prefer to have someone tell them what reality is rather than figure it out for themselves.  Ironically, this is a by-product of many education systems in which students are required to agree to a body of knowledge presented to them or risk not attaining the coveted diploma as proof that they did.

Once free from their formal education, people are then subject to the ‘news’ that emanates from the general media and thus the media becomes their new font of wisdom. Having been conditioned to agree with what others around them accepted during formal schooling, people thus continue to defer to that which is popular in the larger community.

In previous generations, if it was in the papers, it must be true.  Television took over from newspapers as the arbiter of truth since TV’s reach was far greater than newspapers.  Also, it was more believable if an earnest and sincere looking person was delivering the information. Now of course, with the decline in reputation of both print and TV news sources, the internet has spawned countless sources of alternate news all vying for legitimacy among browsers.

The difference is that many popular personalities are as credible for news and information sources as Michael Moore would be as a Chanel runway model.  Many are existing or erstwhile entertainers and thus the line between entertainment and information is blurred.  The concept is not new.  P.T. Barnum of The Ringling Brothers Circus fame was a genius in manipulating people’s naivete and yearning for entertainment into great commercial success.  Recall that he was famous for this quip ascribed to him: “there’s a sucker born every minute”.

Oddly, credibility is not necessarily a needed asset in the information game.  It is only necessary to repeat the same message over and over again to confer credibility to a position. The most recent events surrounding the global shutdown is the best example of a message that becomes the truth once it has been promulgated by enough sources.  For most people, it’s easier to go with the crowd. Despite all that we know of the scientific method and what is just basic logic, populations have deferred to the ‘experts’ in determining the path of their lives.  In an earlier piece, I gave the analogy of a white shirt being washed with red socks.  Once tainted, the shirt can never be white again.  It seems to be the same for people’s beliefs.

Going with the crowd has resulted in numerous hoaxes and scandals over time, since there will always be those adept enough at manipulating the naivete of people.  We can point to numerous examples of hoaxes, deceit and other assorted urban legends that once held people’s attention as being real.  The website, alternet.org lists a number of high profile hoaxes of the recent century.  Perhaps there’s such a thing as a dumbbell  gene in humans which is recessive but is triggered by certain events and then serves to over-ride normal brain functions.

It’s puzzling that with all the knowledge accumulated by centuries of civilization that enlightened people can still be as naïve as when they wandered around in loincloths.  Who would have thought that today, it’s not the loins that need covering, it’s the face.

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