Write what you know, they say, and so some of my computer side is about to leak out in analogy form.
I have to admit from the very beginning that I am going to ask you to consider abandoning the term “belief,” or at least become very, very selective, or “choosy” about exactly what you apply the term to. I am going to ask you to re-examine the way you relate to “beliefs” and think deeply about what you mean when you use the word. There is a LOT of stuff going on “behind the curtain” which I suggest we not ignore.
Let me liken this impending dissection of belief to how most of us browse the internet. For example, if you open a browser, type in a web address, or “URL,” and press <Enter>. Voila, something like “Facebook.com” is delivered to your computer screen. But network engineers know (even if YOU don’t think about it or are unaware of it) that beneath the quick and easy access to your favorite website lies a system of “packet” switching and computer addressing: a protocol for network communication. It is mind-numbingly repetitive and fairly simple, but the miracle of it is that it happens, repeatedly, millions of times per second. No-one has to think about it because communication protocols establish and govern every nuance of acceptable data transfer.
“Poke” your friend on Facebook, and if I were monitoring it I could show you how a single click of your mouse produces page-upon-page of text, detailing every transaction required to electronically annoy your acquaintance. Many of you would consider it a boring and painful exercise. However, I assure you the internet does NOT function without packet switching, routing, and consistent use of a data transfer protocol. The “good” and “miraculous” of the internet that we take for granted can only arrive at our desktop because every computer in the world agrees to use these protocols.
But you don’t care about that! Just load up my Google, already! (Pay no attention to the man, or large governmental agency, behind the curtain!) But the man behind the curtain is important! You may not care or want to know what goes on behind a “Poke”… but you desperately need to understand what goes on behind this second-nature, casual assertion “I believe…” Because those who expect you to retain the existing definition have evolved amazing skill at using the definition to their ends, and really… don’t you want YOUR beliefs to serve YOUR ends?
I want to break down belief to the “packet” level, to help you see the “protocol” of belief you act on every day. I want to expose you to your belief acquisition, and to explain how others plant and cultivate “buttons” of belief in you (in a way not so unlike “The Manchurian Candidate.”) I hope to display how too casually acquiring “beliefs” can make you hostage to “belief clutter,” in almost identical ways that a hoarder is held hostage to the things they accumulate. I hope to reveal to you how unscrupulous “exhorters” take advantage of belief clutter, to direct your action to their benefit. Ultimately, I hope to demonstrate how and when you can manage your belief acquisition, and that if you become disciplined in it, you can avoid the worst troubles caused by a congested mess of “belief clutter.”
A sloppy, equivocal and superficial belief acquisition “protocol” means that we end up — as individuals and as a species – holding on to some beliefs with an iron grip, in some very undesirable places, frustrated and in conflict, taking actions that are against our own best interests. We aren’t trained to avoid making the mess in the first place, and we’re scared to death to fix it when it matters most. Like a tangle of cords plugged into a power strip, people are afraid of pulling the plug on any given “belief” for fear of powering down their whole system. Refining the acquisition “protocol” can help you avoid the later, dangerous and frightening “cleanup.”
In our current thinking… that is, the sloppy inattentive belief acquisition model… it is far too easy to accumulate beliefs, and far too difficult to remove them later. Why we have this shameless imbalance between “ease of belief acquisition” and “difficulty of belief change” is in part explained by the way we throw an array of concepts under the single umbrella of “belief.” Beliefs untested are not discarded. Quite the contrary, they are retained and interwoven with our useful beliefs and even our identity.
So, let’s dig into that, first.