It should be apparent from my blog and for anyone who knows me, that I prefer to take a rational, evidence based approach to things.
I’ve recently been considering that truth shouldn’t trump all, and that if someone gets comfort out of say, believing horoscopes, then why should rationalism seek to destroy that? On the otherhand – I think the willingness to believe conspiracy theories, also has people believing that climate change isn’t happening, and that’s concerning to me.
What might not be apparent – is that I didn’t always take a rationalist approach, and it’s easy for me myself to forget that.
I used to genuinely believe the 2012 Mayan prophecy. If you’re not already familiar with it – it was a prediction that ‘the world as we know it’ will end on December 21 2012 – the date that the Mayan 5,126 year calendar ends.
What ‘the world as we know it’ ending means wasn’t exactly clear. For me, at the time it meant a collapse of the global system of governance and an anarchistic uprising.
My belief in this prophecy did have real world effects. Most concretely in that, when I was 18 years old (in 2004), I took out an interest free overdraft with no intent of paying it back – the global financial system will have collapsed by then. Other shortsighted decision making – like my reckless disregard for getting criminal convictions for graffiti also stemmed from this belief that it wouldn’t matter in eight years.
By the time 2012 came around – I had long stopped believing the prophecy.
This part of my life is a useful look in at how beliefs are formed, and why people hold the beliefs they do.
For me, a big part of believing the 2012 prophecy was that a lot of people who I thought were cool around me also either believed it, or enjoyed talking about it, and from memory, I didn’t hear much of a counter opinion to it..
I think this shows that the kinds of beliefs people have about things, does depend on how common the belief is in the people around them, and also how offering countering beliefs in a civil and persuasive manner is probably genuinely useful in grounding people’s beliefs, even if it doesn’t change their mind at the time.
It also give insight into why someone will hold a belief, for me, it’s because I liked the idea of this great prophecy, and a new world populated by people like me.
I think belief in especially end of world prophecies, but also global elite conspiracies are indicative of a cognitive shortcut – it’s much easier to imagine the world coming to an end, or some dramatic change – that is to image what the world is going to look like in ten years, or twenty years, or thirty years, maintaining the status quo.
So I guess I should be more sympathetic to people who I think hold irrational or baseless beliefs – but at the same time this actually encourages me to speak out more. I might have made less bad decisions if someone had taken the time to explain to me that there was no objective reason to believe that the 2012 prophecy was true. But of course that would have me then questioning whether my friends were as cool as I thought they were.