Belief is something humans do.
Beliefism is belief metastasized — belief unmoored, unhinged, runaway, with no object but its own self-referenced purification.
Every belief carries the seed of beliefism- the potential to grow into something toxic, with no purpose but to propagate more of itself.
Which is why…
Belief is a clear and present danger.
Belief should come with a warning — “Handle With Care.” But it doesn’t, and so we don’t — we just go around believing things like it’s no big deal. What we believe is a big deal. We should be more careful.
We’re probably careless because belief makes life feel better. It provides purpose and meaning and mission, lays out incentives and rewards, hypes us into feeling inspired and enthusiastic, fired up to do great things.
Belief is how we get to act like God.
Belief is how we create worlds, build civilizations, found nations. Belief anchors us in collective and individual identity, defines who’s us and who’s them, carves out space for us in the world. Our brains are wired to value those things.
Our brains are wired to believe.
Belief is indiscriminate. It doesn’t care what’s believed, what’s fact or fake. As far as belief is concerned, all reality is alternate reality. Our brains have a bad case of “whatever.” If we want to believe it, they’re good with it.
Belief isn’t choosy.
Belief doesn’t distinguish fact from fiction, truth from madness, clarity from delusion. It’s amoral, indiscriminate, undiscerning. Belief only makes self-referential judgments — what conforms to the thing believed and what doesn’t, what to encourage and promote vs. what to punish and ban.
Our brains don’t discriminate.
Our brains readily swap belief in this for belief in that — religion, science, humanism, capitalism, fascism, extraterrestrials, self-help, past lives… they’re all the same.
Belief is fun.
Beliefism is about getting inspired, believing impossible dreams, going for it, realizing your unique calling, becoming your authentic self — all those things that make Hollywood and self-helpers and entrepreneurial heroes rich and famous.
Belief has been king in the New World for 400 years. The New World brought it from the Old World, where it was king for millennia. Belief is America’s root religion. It gave us the Puritans. Now it gives us the self-helpers, alternative healers, life coaches, and evangelizing Christians and atheists. We do belief in the USA. We’re belief experts. We got it down.
But there’s more: belief morphs into beliefism.
Beliefism is when belief goes public. It’s the Unicorn IPO, the blockbuster premiered. In psychological terms, beliefism is when belief emerges — moves beyond internal subjectivity and takes on form and substance in external human reality, becomes ideology, builds institutions, develops its own mythology and metaphors, becomes law and economics, dictates cultural norms.
Beliefism turns what’s believed into knowledge.
Beliefism is evident in a street evangelist’s pitch for Creationism. “The universe is way too complicated for me to understand,” he said, “so there must be a God who does.” He could have understood but he didn’t. He took a shortcut — he believed instead of knowing. Then he reversed the order: his belief became knowledge — he knew what he believed.
Beliefism is unethical.
Belief creates worldview, worldview creates reality, and reality is whatever belief makes it. Beliefism has no ethics — it runs in a circle; there’s no outside reference, no checks and balances, nothing to keep it honest, nothing to validate it. Belief is unaccountable, therefore unethical.
Beliefism separates who belongs and who doesn’t, who’s friend and who’s foe. It manages entrances and exits, reinforces conformity, and punishes dissent.
Once it’s got a cause, beliefism takes it to an extreme. Belief becomes fundamentalism. If you’re not with us you’re against us. No neutrality. You go to the edge or you suffer and die.
Beliefism trends to fundamentalism
Fundamentalism decrees doctrine, prescribes ritual; banishes and punishes discourse, doubt, and dissent. It builds silos and hunkers down; lobs bombs at them. Fundamentalism can be religious or secular — same dynamics either way.
Beliefism practices mind control.
Beliefism runs on brain conformity — for the sake of personal identity and survival, for group cohesiveness. Cults are built on mind control. Every belief-fueled cause is a cult in the making. Nations, corporations, religions, academic disciplines, societal institutions… they’re all built on mind control. None of them exist if we don’t believe them into existence. The process of entering and sustaining membership is the same no matter what.
Beliefism lives in our blind spots.
Beliefism runs in stealth mode. Like a friend of mine used to say, “The trouble with blind spots is you can’t see them.” We don’t notice or examine what beliefism is doing to our perspective, worldview, reality — we just know the reality that emerges from it.
Beliefism promotes delusional thinking.
Beliefism removes belief from examination and critical thinking. Unmoored belief trends to delusion. You become a danger to yourself and others. Your risk/return matrix warps. You drink the Kool-Aid. You storm the Capitol. You flock to super spreader events.
There’s good neuroscience behind beliefism.
Beliefism works because we’re biological beings. We’re powered by hormones, chemicals, electrical charges. We believe from the inside out — our bodies and brains construct our reality from what’s around us, including how other people are constructing reality. We share perspective with each other and a shared reality emerges. We build things together to support and perpetuate that reality — institutions, architecture, art, economics, law, government, religion, norms and customs, rituals and practices, metaphors and icons. The “higher” portions of our brains dream all this up, the “lower” portions keep it rolling.
That warning label idea is no joke.
Beliefism has hurt a lot a people for a long time. It still does. It hurt me. It might be hurting you.
Maybe we should talk about it.
Originally published at http://iconoclast.blog on August 8, 2021.