The pragmatist in me is calling out for attention. He or perhaps she is arguing that belief is not the issue. The issue is whether my unique collection of notions and ideas about how things are and how they work are serving me, furthering my interests. Admittedly, this is a rather pedestrian perspective; but if it works for me, I see little need to reason otherwise. If I may lean on Robert Brault again, “Sometimes you believe a thing that isn’t true because in the world you wish to live in, it would be true.” In the world I prefer, the way I arrange the pieces and parts, notions and ideas is reality, is worthy of belief.
As self-centered and self-serving as my pragmatic self prefers being, I suspect that I’m not alone with my pragmatism. And therein lies the problem, the crack in my carefully cultivated system of beliefs. If all of us adopt this “Me first” approach to life and living, we quickly find ourselves in a pseudo-Darwinian video game where only the most ruthless survive. Me has precedence over us, person has precedence over people, power has precedence over weakness, will has precedence over law, interests have precedence over values, and the winners take all.
I am coming to understand that Laurens van der Post has a point. “Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.” It seems to me that our elected politicians are increasingly convinced beyond doubt that they are right. But the truly frightening element is that they also believe that anyone who disagrees with them is, along with being wrong, stupid, subversive and unamerican. Name calling and finger pointing have become the political coin of the day. Ezra Pound thought that “What matters is not the idea a man holds, but the depth at which he holds it;” and the “I’m right and everyone who disagrees is wrong” approach to political discourse is deeply held.
It would be easy to just chalk it up to politics and the political game were it not for what I find to be a most disturbing theme. Dodinsky tells us that “Life will magnify what you choose to believe;” and the political single mindedness is definitely magnifying. Herbert Agar takes the point a step further, “Man tends to treat all his opinions as principles;” and unfortunately, poorly constructed and ill-considered ideas and reactions are elevating to the level of governing principles.
I could make my list of action and inaction within our federal government that I think is wrong and ill-considered, as could you. I could point to this politician or that who I think is making things worse for all of us, as could you. That fact not withstanding, I suspect we may agree that we are going through a time when there is less and less room for negotiation, diplomacy, compromise and civil discussion. We might also agree that representation has taken a back seat to re-election, public service has taken a back seat to political popularity and the rule of law has taken a back seat to whatever those in power can get away with. Of this I am sure: our government does not function the way I believed it does and perhaps never did. I’m toying with the possibility that it is less a government of laws and more a government for and by those with the most power, money and influence.
May I conclude by simply repeating myself?
I am reluctantly considering the conclusion that much of what I have believed for as long as I have believed anything may represent far more hope than truth. Sure, I admit to taking it for granted that things actually are the way I have always thought they are, that my reality is valid and based on the true and factual, and that my sense of what’s real is correct and axiomatic. Naive? Simple-minded? Perhaps dangerous? Indeed. But nonetheless, I believed.