“God knows,” said the mother to her child merely suspected to misbehave. “He knows, and he is watching you.” And so she hoped to induce shame and fear, and, indirectly, alter her child’s behavior.
This works? Really?
Waking up in the shower, two weeks ago, I abruptly realized I was thinking about this hypothetical scene and reflecting on it: “it would never work with me,” I thought, “but it’s interesting to recall when precisely I realized that it couldn’t work.”
Then I went to think about how I never was convinced by my parents’ attempts to pretend Santa existed (yes, I do have memories from that far back). Not that they weren’t trying; there was just always something oddly off about the whole concept.
And as the shower thought went on, I realized these are really two instances of the same mechanism.
It’s simple really. I look around me, I look up, and I seek folk who have attained a more advanced stage of existence than mine. Then I scrutinize what they believe in, or not.
The “not” is fundamentally more important.
For example, I ceased giving attention to the notions of a deity-who-cares and Santa because most adults around me most ostensibly did not partake in those beliefs and they were very obviously not missing from their life.
Later, I started observing that adults come in different shapes and different value systems. Some objectively work better than others. It is not easy to tell (and sometimes not possible at all), but when it is possible to tell, then I’d look at what works better and the beliefs associated and not associated with that.
This exercise pays off and continues to this day.
This is how I have, over the years, dismantled and dispelled many preconceptions and acquired beliefs; some examples, in order:
- (age ~4) that Santa is worth thinking about;
- (age ~8) that there are deities worth paying attention to;
- (age ~12) that humans are naturally decent with each other;
- (age ~16) that computers and video games are incompatible with intellectual development;
- (age ~18) that “adults” inherently know what they are talking about;
- (age ~20) that rock and hard rock can only be appreciated by disreputable people;
- (age ~22) that electronic music is too primitive and mechanical to be a form of art;
- (age ~24) that laissez-faire capitalism is a general force for good;
- (age ~26) that moral relativism is a productive philosophy;
- (age ~28) that sex and love are necessarily linked;
- (age ~30) that full-body soaping is necessary to hygiene and pleasant body odor;
- (age ~32) that wealth is necessarily immoral;
- (age ~34) that democracy necessarily tends to fairly improve individual happiness, agency and self-actuation throughout a group.
All these beliefs have gradually appeared to be unnecessary to “better” people than me. Why should I even care about them?
Interestingly, never have I considered throwing beliefs away because they would get in my way otherwise—instead, I have thrown them away because I observed them to be unnecessary, and then sometimes I would observe some new paths opening as a result and (sometimes) take them.
It’s fun to think about! And I like to reflect on how my decisions over certain topics and situation change over time depending not only on circumstances, but also on the beliefs I am toying with at a certain time.
And so the shower thought continued at a higher level: is the study of more “advanced” people the most efficient way to advance one’s beliefs?
It seems to work pretty well for me, but then I also realize there is a huge risk to land in a local minimum area. I hedge against this risk by regularly traveling and evolving my social circles, but as I grow older the rate at which I meet new people decreases.
Perhaps here is someting to learn here—conceptualize beliefs as they come and scrutinize / evaluate them myself.