When we hold 'merit' beliefs, we can kill our 'little darlings' and change our minds when confronted with newer or better evidence
I listened to the experts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Particularly to Dr. Fauci.
I supported lockdown, masks, and social distancing (with some initial bitching). Young, badass COVID-19 circled the pre-vaccines globe killing millions, especially those who resisted preventive measures, and I didn’t want to deepthroat a giant metal phallus while I gasped out my last. Sure, I knew global extreme efforts threw billions into uncertainty and chaos. I watched the economy grind to a halt, along with my infant freelance writing business just as my employment insurance ran out. I sympathized with those suddenly unemployed, especially in the U.S. with little left of the safety net, run by a lying, narcisisstic halfwit who thought injecting disinfectant would send everyone back to work after Memorial Day.
I survived The Plague and by the time I finally lost my ‘VID virginity, the worst physical affliction was the thoracic muscular fatigue from coughing that lasted longer than the infection. I stayed inside for five days except to take out my garbage, and I was a good citizen and masked up outside my apartment five days after the symptoms went away, in accordance with the latest decrees from Health Canada.
Today I listen to skepticism and questioning from all quarters as to whether all those preventive measures, especially lockdown, did more damage to economies, families, children’s educations and our collective future than they protected.
It’s hard to sort truth from fiction anymore, and especially fact from hack. I want to read or see a balanced exploration of what we did right, what we did wrong, what we could do differently next time around. Sure, even tell me what Da Right got right and what I got wrong. But one thing I feel confident about.
If I was wrong to trust the experts as much as I did—I’ll accept that. And I’ll change my mind with newer, solid evidence.
Crony vs merit beliefs
Author and scientist Kevin Simler, who wrote The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life, compares our beliefs to employees in a company. Some are ‘crony’ hires, maybe nepotistic or as a favor for a friend, so they weren’t necessarily the best possible candidate. That employee might be awesome, good enough or they might be less than stellar.
The ones chosen out of a pool of candidates, short-listed and interviewed further, with one designated the ‘best’, were chosen for their merit and are statistically better positioned to be more productive and beneficial to the company.
Merit is based in reality.
Therefore, ‘merit’-based beliefs are formed from all available evidence, versus ‘crony’-based beliefs—what makes us feel good or look good to others, just as hiring the not-necessarily-the-best candidate might make one feel good that they’re cutting someone a break, returning a favor or helping out a friend.
Crony beliefs are more bound to our self-image, and therefore are more likely to be inaccurate, and difficult to uproot if they prove to be wrong.
We all hold crony beliefs at one time or another, and on some level we’re aware they’re kinda fragile, laced with contradictions, uncertainty, and questionable origins. We don’t like to examine them too closely and we don’t want to discuss them with those who might come up with an argument we can’t refute. We’re defensive about our little darlings. They serve us, and we won’t give them up easily.
Common crony beliefs include the conspiracy theories my lefty friend believes, and who lost his temper when I challenged him, asking for evidence. On the right, crony beliefs frequently connect to Donald Trump - that he’s the world’s biggest victim of political persecution, that the last election was ‘stolen’ from him, that more dead people voted for Joe Biden than appeared in Zombieland.
Perhaps the most pervasive, and clearly untenable crony belief of the left is the near-dictatorial public speech freeze on criticizing or questioning transgender narratives: That people can simply ‘identify’ away their birth sex (but not cross-racially), that transwomen are the same as real women, and that Will ‘Lia’ Thomas has no appreciable physical advantage over his teammates. Because, like, he took female hormones or something.
If you really want to start a fight with your favorite ‘woke’ progressive, point out there’s no science behind gender-affirming care for kids.
There’s a moral apocalypse barrelling down the hill for the progressive left, and I fully expect their response will greatly resemble the clinging religious devotion to its discredited beliefs we now see with the right’s dogged devotion to Donald Trump.
While Team MAGA plots Jan. 6th, Part Deux, whether Trump wins in 2024 or not (either way libs are going down), zero evidence also won’t pry the belief from the wokes’ cold dead brains that puberty blockers are just dandy for normal kids undergoing a normal adolescent physical transition.
The lure of the virtue signal
The number one reason why we cling like barnacles to our unhealthy, discredited, crony beliefs is we hate to be wrong.
Especially when ‘those assholes’ are clearly right.
The ‘assholes’ for the Donald Trump contingent are the Democrats and their liberal voters, and those for Team Trans are the Republicans and their conservative voters.
Now, the right has a long history of antagonism to evidence, as detailed in the book The Republican War on Science. They, like many others, cherry-pick what conforms to their confirmation biases.
The Religious Right shares much of the blame for the idiocrasizing of the Republican Party. Fundamentalist religion is almost 100% crony beliefs, at least some of which are demonstrably wrong, like the Creationist story or the tale of Joshua commanding the sun to stand still, based on the erroneous belief at the time that the sun revolved around the earth. Belief in a 100% inerrant Bible requires a hell of a lot of cronyism. It’s why QAnon seized the far right so seamlessly. QAnon appeals to that willingness to believe anything that fits the narrative, rather than any genuine commitment to truth.
The left’s comparable fanatical devotion to the trans movement will not likely disappear once the truth comes out about the futility of truly changing gender.
Relinquishing their crony beliefs will be intolerable, an admission that those ‘idiot Republicans’ were right and the left was wrong all along, opening them up to the accusation they’re ‘anti-science’ and challenging their conceit that liberals are the science supporters.
Mostly, but not always, and less often today.
The ‘woke’ are riven with many other crony beliefs but they’re not as virulent nor will they be as subject to direct contradiction as the immutability of sex. The belief that ‘white supremacy is baked into everything’ is a widespread opinion, and will remain so. ‘White supremacy’ is intangible, like ‘The patriarchy’. Both function more as a collective conceptualization of harmful beliefs, values, and a documented history of sexist oppression, and we’ll continue to debate how pervasive it is, but beliefs aren’t immutable. They’re also frequently wrong.
To commit ourselves to truth and reality, we must make sure we don’t embody the problem we seek to eliminate.
I’m willing to rethink what I believed about the pandemic if I’m proven wrong about how we could have handled it differently without lockdown.
(President Obama tried to warn us about the need for pandemic preparedness in 2014, but no one inside or outside the government cared to discuss it.)
To change my mind on the lack of vaccine efficacy I’ll require the newest scientific evidence and some logical, rational arguments for what we did wrong. I’m okay with changing my opinion if anyone can provide real evidence. I strive always to kill my little darlings.
It’s not about ‘being wrong’; it’s about being as right as I can be given the evidence available.
For example, I was quite, quite, QUITE certain the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to win the 2016 election, but Robert Mueller’s final report admitted that while there was evidence of conspiracy, he couldn’t establish it as conclusive fact. He also stated “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Regardless of how I feel about the Russia-Trump Election Collusion, I also know ‘gut feelings’ work best when you’re in danger rather than evaluating evidence you strongly identify with. I won’t state publicly Team Trump colluded with Russia. I may feel it in my bones but I acknowledge the Mueller Report failed to draw a conclusion.
Free at last….free at last!
The way to self-check for a crony belief is to observe how defensive it makes you feel. Do you want to discuss it with others, especially people more knowledgeable than you? Share it on social media? Do you feel a topic is ‘not up for debate’, and if so, why? Understandable if the premise is, The United States should abolish the 13th amendment and return legal slavery. Less so for Vaccines kill more people than they save. If a respectable source can provide real evidence the Fauci Ouchie has killed hundreds of thousands of people, I’ll listen. But not to Alex Jones or Mike Lindell or a semi-literate Facebook ranter.
Very few of our most divisive topics are as truly undebateable as ‘legalize slavery’ so the rest are, in fact, up for debate. Those who want to shut them down are on very shaky ground and they know it.
Here’s the beautiful thing about being willing to relinquish your ‘little darlings’; you may not realize how limiting and self-imprisoning your beliefs are until you let them out of their cage.
Killing your ‘little darlings’ and moving on to a better explanation heralds a happier, more honest mental outlook.
A Substack newsletter I subscribe to recently carried the story of a progressive-minded lesbian who experienced a ‘crisis of faith’ when she realized she’d been wrong to allow her son to transition. “My entire belief system crumbled,” she wrote. “I feared losing my entire tribe, all of my friends. I even feared losing my marriage. I had to slowly pick up the pieces, and reintegrate my sense of reality, my values, identity and beliefs.” But, she rekindled familial connections and rediscovered joys she loved that she’d given up when she was taught they were ‘oppressive’.
Crony beliefs are cages.
I used to pity on some level the fundamentalist Christians with whom I engaged in verbal battle in a New England community newspaper, sorry that these anti-scientists couldn’t appreciate the glorious universe we’d been given, whether by God or happenstance. I felt badly for the writer struggling with the desire to masturbate because he believed an invisible deity prohibited it for illogical reasons.
They’re self-imprisoned, along with the QAnoners, the xenophobic Trumpers and now, more every day, the fading progressivism of the ‘woke’ left with its hidebound, useless, hopeless dogmas.
The most oppressed person each one knows is in the mirror.
They oppress themselves and others when they believe it’s more important to feel good and virtue-signal than to be factually correct, with a high penalty of feeling bad about one’s self if they’re smacked upside the head with a clue-by-four.
Freedom of belief is our cherished First Amendment privilege, but perhaps freedom from belief is the greatest freedom we can possibly know.
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