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. It’s a discouraging situation.

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.

I’ve tested this change, by the way, on taxi drivers worldwide; I’ve yet to find one that defended politicians to me.

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 clergymen 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 our modern delusion that groups of thieves acting together work righteously will die too.

And today I’m pleased to tell you that the political idolatry of our time—giving every benefit of the doubt to the same people we condemn as liars—is cracking.

“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 hierarchy, 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 both do it and 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 grabbing at reasons to believe, it’s a sure sign that the benefit of the doubt is cracking beneath them. Otherwise, why would they have to fight so hard?

It also happens that the circumstances of our modern world are propelling people toward this break:

  • Every time they see cops beating the hell out of people, belief in the system cracks a little more, followed by a scramble for reasons to believe.
  • Every time an esteemed figure gets caught abusing children or making up whopper lies or (fill in the blank), the image of hierarchy’s inherent virtue cracks a little wider, followed by people grasping at reasons to believe.
  • Every time an eight-year-old is handcuffed for kissing another little kid at school or running a lemonade stand or (again, fill in the blank), blind faith cracks a little more, followed by another scramble for reasons to believe.
  • And so on, on a daily basis.

More and more of us are conceding that it’s not just “one bad actor” here or there, but that Joe Stalin’s system really is evil, that the clergy really is corrupt, and that hierarchies suck by design.

Reasons to believe are wearing thin these days. Little by little, humanity’s blind devotion to authority is cracking. Someday, it will break apart.

May that day come soon.

Paul Rosenberg

This article was originally published by Casey Research.