lemniscate: (; the decemberists)
[personal profile] lemniscate posting in [community profile] whengreatsatansgone
and for my first trick, ladies and gentlemen and persons who would prefer not to be referred to as ladies or gentlemen, an essay about semantics: on the effects of saying "i believe in this", as expanded on from something i wrote all over my homework agenda (it really did not belong there).

believe in me, 'cause i don't believe in anything
and i want to be someone to believe--
you should not believe in me

(mr. jones, across a wire version; adam duritz)


if you love something non-religious, don't believe in it. if it's worthy of love, it can stand on its own. speak to and of it. spread light of it and spread the sound. but do not believe in it, because that just takes your love and turns it into a petty and not-meant-to-be god-thing, blind and deaf and dumb, young, and much easier to discount.

people who say "i believe in democracy", "i believe in evolution", "i believe in the justice system", reduce what they wish to show their support for to something that can be refuted with a simple "i don't". believing in a figure, not an action, turns it into -- reduces it to -- a pseudodeity and makes it unimprovable, or sound that way. "i support evolutionary theory" opens dialog; "i believe in evolution" makes you sound like it's your religion. "i support our justice system" gives me an opportunity to say "i think the framework is sound, personally, but here's how we could spruce it up", where "i believe in our justice system" makes it sound beyond reproach.

deification of concepts is dangerous and makes lazy, moralistic debating easy. and it is perpetuated by language use that's gotten pervaisive: "i believe".

you can believe in me, because that's acceptable shorthand for "i believe you can do this thing which you are trying to do", and most people can tell; but as soon as i institute a public system, devise a major scientific theory, or do something else that ought to stand on its own, without anyone's thoughts to hold it up -- only function and evidence and the evidence that comes from function -- you believing in it, you phrasing it like that, actively hurts it and actively hurts me. i may have come up with a revolutionary general unifying theory, and you can believe it is correct, or support my research. but whether it is correct or not has to be based on the evidence, not on personal support. whether other people agree with it can have no bearing on whether it is right. belief or disbelief doesn't matter here, just what happens to be true.

and if you reduce it to a quasi-religious thing, you make what you support very easily shut down: "i believe in al's general unifying theory." "I don't." you can't go anywhere from there that doesn't skirt ad hominem.

how about "i believe the general unifying theory is correct, because this evidence." "oh, i had not heard that evidence. i do not believe the GUT is correct, for me there is not enough data, but that is interesting"?

or, even better, if you're going to make it personal, "i believe al is on top of it enough to come up with a GUT." "well, you know al. i don't. i'm just waiting for the papers."

evolution is a scientific theory: whether it is true or not, and whether it affects you and everything you see in the case of truth, has nothing to do with you and everything to do with evidence. if the evidence supports a theory it was true before anyone proposed it (much like the diagnoses fallacy i see all over the place, this gets merrily ignored).

democracy is a political system. it is not a god. whoever instated it in your country is not a god. it is a system that, perhaps, works well, and you can say that in your opinion it works well. it is a system that exists, and you can say that it exists (it does not require your belief, your denigning to personally acknowledge its existence, to exist). you can believe, personally, that it is a good system, and work to support it.

but is that difference evident?

you believe subjective things. you believe in people and gods.

theories, systems, and laws worth supporting work whether you believe or believe in them or not, and apply whether you believe or believe in them or not.

(or: next time you're caught speeding, try "i don't believe in traffic laws" and see where that gets you. you can not believe that they are good laws, because good is a personal value judgement; you can do research and see whether they do what they're supposed to, and decide whether to support them based on that; but believe in their value and in their existence or not, you're going to get a ticket.)