Looking for a Reason to Believe: The Benefit of the Doubt Is Cracking

Those of us who pursue positive change are very often frustrated. We see the necessity of change all too clearly, and we can explain how it should come about, but it never seems to happen.

The truth, however, is that change does come; it just comes more slowly than we’d like, and in ways that differ from those we imagined.

One real change I like to point out is the passing of blind trust in politicians. In the 1950s and ‘60s, most people spoke of politicians with respect and even with reverence. Now it’s almost standard for people to agree that they’re liars and thieves. That’s a very significant change, even if it did take several decades to unfold.

So, a significant change has occurred in our time, and over a very broad base. Still, most people are hanging on, and often desperately, to old ways that should really be abandoned.

The Automatic Benefit of the Doubt

It’s a bit troubling to see how blindly, and for how long, people give the benefit of the doubt to hierarchy and its operators. They can know that a system is abusing them, and they can complain about it at length, but still they grasp at reasons to keep believing in it.

Here’s what I mean:

  • During the bad spots of the Middle Ages, people would be abused by the clergy but say, “If only His Holiness knew!”
  • During the reign of the USSR, people in the Gulag would often say, “If only Stalin knew!”
  • In our time, people hold Political Party A or Political Party B as grave evils, while pretending that the combination of A + B is good and noble.

Still, such blind biases do eventually break. Stalin, after all, is gone, along with his USSR. The Protestant reformation broke the domination of the Church. And the delusions of our time will die as well.

“Still, I look to Find a Reason to Believe”

If there were such a competition, I’d nominate Rod Stewart’s song, Reason To Believe, as the Anthem of the Age.

Regardless of how badly they are abused, people have a very hard time letting go of their hierarchies; they’ve taken emotional refuge in them, after all.

Even when sharp pain forces them to examine the hierarchy that constantly tells them, “Obey or we’ll hurt you,” the impulse to maintain belief erupts. Here’s how the song expresses it:

If I listened long enough to you,
I’d find a way to believe that it’s all true.
Knowing that you lied,
straight-faced while I cried.
Still I look to find a reason to believe.

Humans have a real problem with that last line: looking for reasons to believe. It flies in the face of both logic and honesty, but people not only do it, but vigorously defend it.

As for specific reasons to believe, they’re endless. Seldom are humans quicker and cleverer than when justifying their previous actions.

Why This Is a Good Sign

When people are desperately grasping for reasons to believe, it’s because the benefit of the doubt is cracking beneath them. Otherwise, why would they fight so wildly?

The circumstances of our modern world are propelling people toward this break. Every time a ruling system tells gigantic lies, censors the public square, surveils their own people and frightens the masses for their own benefit, belief in their system cracks a little.

More and more people are conceding that it’s not just “one bad actor” here or there, but that Joe Stalin really is evil, that the clergy really is corrupt, and that hierarchies are abusive by nature. The whirlwind of distractions and slogans arrayed against moral clarity are losing their effectiveness.

Little by little, humanity’s blind devotion to authority is cracking. Someday, it will break.

Paul Rosenberg

This article was originally published by Casey Research.