Ambigamy

Insights for the deeply romantic and deeply skeptical

Faith-abled vs. Faith-disabled: Toward an objective distinction between red and blue states of mind

Faith-abled vs. Faith-disabled: Red vs. Blue states of mind
Jeremy Sherman
This post is a response to Inheristance: Where you stand depends on where you sat by Jeremy E. Sherman, Ph.D.

As I've mentioned I'm trying to put my finger on what makes me and others intuit that there are two different psychological sub-cultures of humans. Red vs. Blue, Conservative vs. Liberal, Right vs. Left, religious vs. secular-maybe these divisions are symptomatic of the underlying difference, but they don't seem to get to the bottom of it.

I obviously believe I belong to one of these two psychological sub-cultures, and am naturally inclined to think my sub-culture is superior. To counter my chauvinism, I'm looking for an objective way to distinguish the two sub-cultures, some characteristic about which representatives of both sub-cultures would say, "You're damn right that's how I am, and proud of it."

In other words it's not going to be the usual self-congratulatory "Liberals are more loving," or "Conservatives are more patriotic." The other day I saw a vegan restaurant called "Loving Hut." Something about the signage implied that love was a defining characteristic of liberal vegetarians. I see the connection. Not eating animals is more loving to the animals than eating them. But for the first time I read the connection as a conservative carnivore would: "What, you think you liberals have a corner on love? Just because your lifestyle is loving of someone, it doesn't mean my lifestyle isn't loving. I love my family enough to make sure they get great animal protein."

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For the first time I noticed that liberals do what conservatives do. When conservatives claim the mantel of "patriotism," arguing, for example that being pro-Iraq-war is patriotic, they imply that patriotism is their distinguishing characteristic, and we liberals don't buy it. The distinguishing feature I'm looking for would not be one of these self-congratulatory distinctions. It would be one we'd all buy, saying, "fair enough, that really is the distinction between our two approaches."

I suspect the distinction is around a trait I'm calling meta-confidence. There's your interpretation, then there's your confidence in your interpretation, and then there's your confidence in your confidence--your meta-confidence. "Meta" has come to mean "recursively about" so a meta-blog is a blog about blogging. Meta-confidence is your confidence about your confidence.

How sure are you that London is the capital of England? That's your confidence level. If you're 100% sure that London is the capital of England, how sure are you that it really is? I mean, can you ever be 100% sure of something and it still not be the case?

I'm exploring the possibility is that if your answer is "No. If I'm sure I'm sure, then it's true," then you're a member of one of the sub-cultures, and if your answer is, "Yes. Being sure I'm sure about something doesn't necessarily mean it's true," then you are a member of the other sub-culture.

The capital of England is not the point. Nor is the point that some people are more confident than others. Confidence is the source of focus, attention and effort for all of us. If every day you flip-flop about whether you should pursue the career you're in, you won't be in it very long. Any of us can reach 100% confidence in an interpretation, story or belief. These day's I'm high on confidence about my choices. I think I'm on the right path. Last year at this time my confidence was way down (see mid-mid-life crisis) and I'm much more productive this year by the standards I'm confident in. I'll go further. I hold the theories I hold with extremely high confidence. I just don't' hold my confidence in them with high confidence. Though my confidence is approaching 100% my meta-confidence can't, won't and shouldn't ever approach that.

The distinction I'm exploring is between the faith-abled and the faith-disabled. Faith is a belief that one can discover the best interpretation possible. POSSIBLE-meaning that there's no benefit from further exploration, no need for further evidence. If you have the best explanation possible, all receptivity to a better explanation is a total waste. There's no need to wonder, doubt or question ever again. Faith-abled means that one thinks it is possible for interpretations to stop being interpretations. At that point they become absolute truths. They are equivalent to reality itself.

The faith-disabled approach is that all interpretations are interpretations and will always remain interpretations. There is no such thing as the "best story possible." Only "the best story so far." Every theory no matter how wedded we are to it (how much conviction we have) is a story up for challenge to be beaten by a better story. The faith-disabled have convictions, but their convictions and indeed no convictions, can ever be articles of faith-interpretations beyond doubt. They have disabled faith defined as confidence in a belief as the best possible belief, a story as the best possible story, an interpretation as the best possible interpretation-and therefore as reality itself.

I like the implications of the word "disabled." Faith-disabled is indeed the impairment or loss of a natural human trait. Confidence in our confidence is the default human state. The more conviction we feel, the more we assume that reality conforms to our conviction, or rather, we assume that we're realists and that our convictions are based on hard evidence. Since our convictions conform to reality, if our convictions are elevated it's because reality convinced us, so of course, if we're convinced to the point of total faith, then that must mean that reality concords with our faith-that would be the natural assumption. When you're sure; you're sure. Who has ever even heard of meta-confidence? The concept is very complicated and un-natural. Confidence is confidence. Period. We are born faith-abled.

"Disabled" is also apt because being faith-disabled is a real challenge to practical success and status. The faith-abled, once they have found something to have faith about can throw themselves entirely into complying with their reality. The faith-disabled can't achieve that level of meta-confidence. Even at 100% confidence, the faith-disabled still hold the possibility that reality doesn't conform. Holding that possibility means keeping a hand open to receiving contradictory evidence. Those who embrace with however much conviction a story that could be beaten by a better story have to embrace it looser than those who embrace the best story possible. Debating or fighting with someone who is faith-abled, the faith-disabled is fighting with one hand occupied, or as it were, tied behind his back. This is a real disability in fights. We're seeing it in our elections these days. The people who are faith-abled are winning. They don't have to waste any time or energy wondering if reality conforms to their beliefs. They have meta-confidence, confidence in their confidence, pride in their faith.

This distinction has a long history. It goes at least as far back as Plato's cave story, the story of someone who breaks away from a flock of sheep-like followers stuck in a cave. Exiting the cave, he is blinded by reality and then re-enters the cave to save the deluded sheep from the deluders. They are crusaders for the truth.

The distinction I'm making is really a distinction based on two different responses to the blinding light. The traditional one is that, discovering truth you must engage in the two-fisted fight to promote the truth and the light. The other is that, you recognize that you are delude-able, and never again have 100% confidence in your confidence.

Of course I think of the reds as the faith-abled and by that I mean both the red voters and the communists. Faith-abled is a state of mind applicable to any interpretation, story or belief. One can be a faith-abled atheist, communist, socialist, Muslim, Christian or liberal.

So, a special request to those of you folks I'm calling faith-abled: Please tell me whether I've read you correctly. About your meta-confidence would you say, "You're damn right that's how I am, and proud of it"?

 

Jeremy Sherman is an evolutionary epistemologist studying the natural history and practical realities of decision making.

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