Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Fascist Juice

A main advantage of the kind of thinking that my last post explicated a little is that we no longer need to seek beliefs that underlie our everyday ‘functional beliefs’, in order to contain them somehow. To be sure, whatever the ‘functional beliefs’ are they are the effects of all sorts of real beliefs, but the abstract movement, which makes putting the question to concrete instances of ‘belief’ in order to find some grander belief scheme invalid (in the sense that these functional beliefs cannot yield the qualitatively different true beliefs), is a rather useful movement in that it suggests that pretty direct access to true beliefs is possible.

The move between the two abstract definitions of belief should allow us to look at the world and see what beliefs people actually do have. But this idea brings with it many problems. For instance, it isn’t the case that we can throw away socially inflicted beliefs by the truckload if they can actually really be beliefs, and this is still very possible. The difficulty consists in sorting out which beliefs belong on which pile – which belong on the pseudo-beliefs pile and which on the beliefs pile. My last post said that we betray our feelings when we adopt the pseudo beliefs, so it could be from this natural tension that true beliefs can be sorted from pseudo-beliefs, by a process of rediscovering our feelings about the world.

Of course, such a search is in itself affected by the beliefs of the investigator. For example, much theory tells us that it is in learning to suppress, deny and reinterpret our feelings about the world that we become socialised creatures, adopting in this fashion the requisite inflections (of both body and mind) that characterise people of a particular society. Thinking this true, we might accept that there is a necessary tension set up between people’s true feelings on the one hand and certain psychologically alchemical processes on the other (strange way to express ‘learning’!). If we go back this far, as these processes certainly happen in childhood, then we are in danger of only accepting beliefs consistent with the ‘genuine’ feelings before the character is formed, although of course we could feel quite happy with this. This is an entirely different way of doing things than if we affirm that whatever a person genuinely feels at the moment of questioning is what they believe. The difficulty, as with the former example, is in discovering what the genuine feelings are (and, indeed, separating the results from the affecting method of asking leading questions etc).

My question to readers is this: If finding our true beliefs requires recognising our genuine feelings/attitudes toward the world, then how is a reliable recognition possible?

10 Comments:

Blogger News is Good said...

It is confusing to ask for genuineness to sort out pseudo-beliefs from real beliefs. The very reason that pseudo-beliefs exist, it seems, is to create a 'subject position' - or more understandably, a public character - to fit in socially.

Here is one way of thinking: A person can be said to be what they want to be, what they actually are, and what they think they are. How they present themselves will be some odd and unpredictable mix of all these. If this is to some extent true, genuine belief is hard to diagnose, and it mixes with the social beliefs we use to present ourselves in order to fulfil some aim. Maybe our 'constructeds selves' and 'actual self' are mutually interdependent.

Postmodern literature attempts to explain this condition, but it all too often stops with such explanations. Their aim is to challenge modernist and absolutist understanding, to play at relativism. Foucault said that the self is constructed, a notion that has been deservedly lampooned. But he also believed that we should try to escape the tyranny of the power structures that define us, and take control of them ourselves. I think we need to move past this mess, to agree that a common sense understanding of the human self based on it being a strict, almost scientific quantity that is built by determined and understandable processes. And we need to move past the arguments of the major discontents to this approach, because they represent the mess as an answer in itself. We must disturb the hypocrisy of calling this useful-belief nothing more than true-belief, in order to consolidate what we individually reckon to be beneficial positions.

I admit that, if we looked at the history of this lying, it would become clear that it has been politically, socially, and morally useful for far too long to disappear quickly. But there have been corrective strands of thought along side it all the time, noticing its inconsistency and railing against it.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Atum said...

An interesting reply, but if, as we seem to agree, pseudo-beliefs are such because they are socially useful, is the belief not that 'if I say I believe x, it will be socially useful'? Is not noting that pseudo-beliefs are socially useful not an attempt at a genuine answer?

You write: 'A person can be said to be what they want to be, what they actually are, and what they think they are.'

I'm unsure how the first instance can work, but for the last two I think the notion of the unconscious is probably important. Thinking about the unconscious suggests the questions of whether what we believe is necessarily conscious, whether belief can be either conscious or unconcious, or whether belief is conscious but its actual truth value crosses into the unconscious. Deciding these will sort out how we interpret what people present as their beliefs, so isn't a question of to what extent people can be said to present themselves in the three cases you give but rather a question of demarcating where belief is and where it isn't.

I think treating the phenomena equally in the first instance is already to decide that I'm wrong, and in any case conflates the 'constructed' and 'absolute' theories of self that properly deny the reality of the other. On the other hand, and as the end of your comment suggests (hope I'm reading it right), if we say that treating the self as constructed is itself a kind of power play and not a serious theory, we're back at the original problem, albeit a version in which we don't consider that those who might want to show my definition of belief meaningless (i.e. empiricists) could be right.

2:17 PM  
Blogger News is Good said...

"I believe that you are wrong".

If this is an example of true belief, we can rephrase it as "I believe that your position is false". A statement about truth is being made. The believer is resting their argument on something - perhaprs rationality (your view is inconsistent / illogical), or empiricism (I have evidence that points to the contrary), or maybe even just some 'feeling' (that doesn't feel right, I'm sure that X is true).

If it is an example of useful- and social-belief, it is really a statement of "it is within my interests to disagree". It could be a politican adopting a different standpoint to court a certain demographic of voters. Or a child saying "No, Ms. Atheist, I believe in God", although they actually doubt, because the tradition in their culture is to believe.

I agree that there is a problem in that people might not know exactly WHY they believe something - quite often people only rest on feelings. And maybe if they thought about it fully, they would realise that they do not actually believe that it is true so much as require it to be true for some aim. So, in that sense, the unconscious might crop up.

It seems that we have found two general kinds of belief, one in which it is a statement of truth, and one where it is a statement to achieve a particular aim. But the person saying it might not necessarily be self-aware enough to know which.

A belief is both a 'linguistic behaviour' and a way of looking at the world, and our need to make this odd divide comes from that fact that our behaviour does not have to accurately represent what we think. Nor do we have to think to behave, we could presumably believe entirely by rote - continually assert what we have been told and not ever think about it critically, just reiteratively accept it.

From this, I conclude that when we see people say that X is true and act as if X is true, they believe; the common usage of the word hinges more on behaviour than any intent to accurately represent a personal view of truth.

If this is in any way credible, the solution would be to redefine belief as 'what you actually think is true', and treat the other kinds of belief-statements (those designed to fulfil an aim (i.e. ingratiate yourself), or those that are not actually based on anything but uncritical repetition of dogma), as anal warts. Metaphorically, of course.

5:09 PM  
Blogger Atum said...

"From this, I conclude that when we see people say that X is true and act as if X is true, they believe; the common usage of the word hinges more on behaviour than any intent to accurately represent a personal view of truth.

If this is in any way credible, the solution would be to redefine belief as 'what you actually think is true', and treat the other kinds of belief-statements (those designed to fulfil an aim (i.e. ingratiate yourself), or those that are not actually based on anything but uncritical repetition of dogma), as anal warts. Metaphorically, of course."

Yes, my position is about these views. You agree, strongly it seems, in a solution where actual beliefs are prioritised over practical 'beliefs', but you define belief as performative. If we define belief your way, it means that practical 'belief' (i.e. lying) just is belief, and 'what you actually think true' doesn't take part at all.

Assuming you can clear this up, and going back to my original question, how is the line drawn between praxis and belief drawn? In what manner can you sort the wheat from the chaff?

2:50 PM  
Blogger News is Good said...

I think it important to understand what people are 'doing' with belief first, and work from that. If most people use belief performatively, then we'll have to deal with it in that way to start with.

I'm very wary about what I believe about belief, if that makes sense.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Atum said...

Of course News your comment sounded like a full stop, and I'd under normal circumstances end the discussion there, but it seems that my position, if I am indeed to have it, requires for me to continue the line of questioning. I hope you don't find it too uncivilised of me to force you into mistakes, but I think that it's in the pursuit that beliefs can be clarified, and the only way to test that is to keep trying it.

"I think it important to understand what people are 'doing' with belief first, and work from that. If most people use belief performatively, then we'll have to deal with it in that way to start with."

The problem I can see with this is that in order to see what people are doing with a belief we assume that there is an object, the belief, and the 'doing with it', as seperate things. If not, we are just discussing a 'doing' that doesn't inform allow us to predicate kinds of, or different, beliefs of the person, and only describe what they do (in which case the word 'belief' drops away).


"I'm very wary about what I believe about belief, if that makes sense."

But that this has to be central to what we believe other people to believe, and because we've already tried to speak about that you've already committed yourself. I suppose I should ask you why you are wary, and what beliefs are involved in that, as a way of making progress. I hope you've no objection to accepting the role of guinea pig for now- though I was expecting that from the start your comments would rather push _me_ further than I should go, they have turned around and forced me to play interlocutor instead.

11:51 AM  
Blogger News is Good said...

This seems to me to be a problem of observable behaviour.

We can only see the 'performative value' of beliefs ("aah, that belief is useful to him because it means he belongs to a certain society and gets certain benefits"). We cannot know whether the holder of the belief merely professes to hold it and lies, or 'truly believes' it.

I could well imagine a behaviourist saying - "Belief does not really exist, it is only a name for a certain behaviour that is learnt because it provides rewards". They probably have, somewhere, but it wasn't as exciting as making rats learn mazes so they didn't pursue it.

So maybe we should start here, and consider that we are trying to find a distinction between the observable behaviours (that we might falsely give the same root cause) and a certain notion of a personal truth that cannot be examined in the same way.

4:55 PM  
Blogger Atum said...

My proposed solution is to consider our own feelings to find our beliefs (since a belief is an attitude to the world it must be based in attitude per se, our feelings about things), and to try to infer from what others say what their feelings are. I hope this talk of feelings isn't too vague. Do you think this is accurate? Does it completely evade lying, regarding oneself, and reasonably evade lying, concerning others?

6:51 PM  
Blogger News is Good said...

How will we perceive whether the feelings being held are present because of the assumption of their basic truth (eating meat is bad, one should not kill animals as they feel pain as we do), or for some shadowy reason that we may not grasp... and maybe that even the feeler will not grasp?

8:05 PM  
Blogger Atum said...

I imagine by breaking the issues down to where we know opinion diverges, until we can be reasonably sure what their position is. Shouldn't be difficult to do.

8:21 PM  

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