by William Seavey
One thing I know about the state of human existence — it is that there is a dichotomy, and a constant tension between, beliefs and knowledge that has often led our species to the precipices of survival.
Only humans have beliefs because as the highest developed species on earth our cerebral cortex is capable of evaluating and analyzing beyond the necessities of even most mammals — which is to find food, shelter, protect themselves, bear and raise young, and repeat.
But humans have the luxury in most cases to form beliefs, whether or not they are connected to the physical world in which most animals must toil.
Beliefs might loosely be defined as ideas and thoughts that are not based in actual knowledge (we will get to that definition soon) but emotional, mystical or intellectual “revelations.” Remember, no species but ourselves have them and “the others” pursue the challenges and rewards of LIFE (which as far as we know is unique to our one planet in the solar system despite our ability to now travel in space) without an intellectual framework to guide them.,
Beliefs are religious, political and moral and are often rather arbitrarily conceived and perhaps far too universally applied (at least in my view). Whereas knowledge is generally thought to be gained by direct observation, scientific or deductive thought and provable through a variety of steps that can be taken and verified by a body of hopefully well informed persons (“vetted.”).
People can and will believe anything they want to as it’s part of the freedom we have as the dominant species. In America we can believe in gun ownership (enshrined in our second amendment) even though no one is required to own guns, or even chooses to. The KNOWLEDGE that gun ownership clearly can lead to mass murders SHOULD be persuasive in discouragimng idle ownership, but many people hold to their beliefs in their right, under our Constitution, to bear arms. (This is clearlly a political belief). They can and will believe in God even though no one has been able to actually prove in his (or her?) existence, or that Jesus Christ was his son and the only human to come back from the dead (via the Ressurection).
The devout will say the proof for God is in the Bible, Koran or other documentation handed down, but humans have been writing fiction and non-fiction for thousands of years and the lines between them have often blurred. I’m dubious of the word “faith.” (I tend to write non-fiction about many subjects because I believe in the old adage that “truth is stranger than fiction” so why bother with anything less than the truth?. And boy has my own life had a lot of truth — and has made for some good stories.
By now you probably have concluded that I am not terribly fond of beliefs. I believe in love, even though it, too, is hard to prove outside of one person’s perceptions and experiences. I believe humans, due to our evolutionary benefits, are possibly the most intelligent creatures there ever were, but I can’t prove that either. I believe that other people’s beliefs should never be imposed on you by force, or deception, and manipulative proselytization.
I believe humans should strive to, as Rodney King once said, “all get along.” (The fact that we DON’T is a clear flaw in our evolutionary design.)
And here’s what I DON’T believe. (Maybe it’s a non-sequiter that I don’t believe in most beliefs, yet here are the ones I DO believe aren’t true.) I see no evidence that I will have another lifetime unless it is via the cells and molecules in my body somehow reconstituting themselves in a different being — whether human or not. (If more people felt this way I think there would be even more emphasis on making the most of your ONE life, and not wishing vainly for another one.) To put it in three words: one and done. I don’t believe anyone should have to die by another’s hand, but I also don’t believe there is retribution in an afterlife (sadly). I believe we should try and convict murderers, and probably execute them for crimes they consciously committed. A lifetime of remorse in prison (at taxpayer’s expense) seems an odd and futile response to killing someone, unless in self-defense or by accident, of course. But I can understand people’s discomfort with the state making these choices.
Killing someone in the name of religion is equally abhorrent yet this is exactly what is going on around the world by Islamic radicals who, as I stated before, have no right any more than anyone else to impose their beliefs on others. I find it ironic that ANY belief could justify killing, but knowledge is a different thing. (If you start a war that kills and cripples others out of some ideologcal or religious belief, you need to pay.) I do have a problem with killing hundreds of thousands as we did when we dropped bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima — it wasn’t the average Japanese citizen who was suicidal (as it turned out) but the leadership that refused to surrender. Same goes for the Nazi party, or Serbian radicals.
When it comes to Knowledge, we have tons now in the 21st century. Our health and medical sciences can cure many illnesses We know that democratic societies are generally productive and fair to most. We know how to make things that have greatly improved our standards of living. We have the solutions to pollution and global climate change if we will put in the effort — and not deny their existence. We know how to live a long life if we take the proper precautions (and should be grateful when we do).
I write this from a place of privilege, and I know it. I’m neither really rich nor poor but I live in the United States, still arguably Great (sorry, Mr. Trump). Sure, we could do better — Canada does, as I write in my book at americanada.us (no, I’m not Canadian). FYI, it is KNOWLEDGE that led to the last conclusion, carefully documented. (Remember, I don’t write fiction). Inequities and abuses abound everywhere but at least in the “first” world there are policies and procedures to rectify some of them.
I don’t expect everyone reading this to agree to it all, but I have tried to have “common sense” all my life and not become polarized in one way or the other .
William Seavey is is an author of more than a half dozen books
(see williamseavey.com), a retirement consultant and bed and breakfast owner in California.