Stan Crader

Author & Lecturer on Writing About Rural America

Preferential Assent – Again

I read an article that got me to thinking. Getting me to thinking is a bit like starting an old diesel engine in the dead of winter; it takes a bit of coaxing. But just like a diesel, once I commence to thinkin’ it’s nearly impossible for me to stop.

The article went the long way around in saying that so many of our beliefs are based on notions rather than facts. It said that we tend to shape our beliefs based on choice, rather than sound argument. I thought about that for a while and decided – dang if it ain’t true.

A bushy-eyebrowed academia tells us the sun is 94 million miles away and we ‘choose’ to believe it. Our grandparents, whom we’ve known since diapers, tell us the stove is hot and we have to touch it. Maybe curiosity plays a part in the finger-tip burning exercise.

Global warming is another. One global climate group points to the fallacy of emissions being the root cause of climate change. Another equally qualified group insists that carbon emissions are the bane of oxygen breathing life forms. How do we decide which group to believe? One way would be to ask which group is funded by an entity that will benefit from their findings.

It feels natural to associate a smoke stack belching a billowing plume with depletion of the ozone, itching eyes, smog, and global warming. And that’s partially true; smog is essentially the combination of smoke and fog, and smoke can cause one’s eyes to itch. Since one of the warmest periods on earth occurred during the middle ages, it’s difficult to assign, with certainty, the cause of climate change to an industrial age belching smokestack. But we do.

We experienced an unusually warm March 2012 here in the United States’ lower 48. And the climate change crowd dusted off their posters and called for stricter emission control. And since March was so warm, it seemed to most that a dramatic climatic shift had occurred. Globally, March was one of the coolest in 13 years. But because ‘we’ were warm in March, we prefer not to believe reports that the rest of the world was cooler.

The shuttle program was recently scrapped, and the reasons given had to do with cost. It’s estimated that the entire shuttle program from start to finish cost taxpayers less than ¼ of the cost of the infamous stimulus package. And for that matter, it’s estimated that the total cost of the entire space program since JFK’s famous speech was less than ½ the cost of the stimulus package.

What benefit was the space program? Innovations that occurred during the space program that have had lasting and widespread benefits include: laparoscopic surgical devices, lightweight polymers, GPS, just to name a few. And each of these provided cost savings for virtually every American, if not most of the free world.

What benefit, lasting or temporary, has the stimulus package provided? What do you prefer to believe?

How about religion? How many people base their choice of religion on a critical search of the scriptures of their chosen religion? Sure, most can recite the behavior that’s called for within a religion’s tenants. Can many say why a particular tenant is called for? Religion must be based on enduring belief, not preference. What could be more important that one’s religion?

It’s said that we’re now in the information age. More information is available to more people than ever before. If so, then why is it we continue to believe that which we prefer to believe and not necessarily that which is supported by evidence?

It’s a chicken and egg thing. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Likewise, which comes first: belief or truth?

Preferences are whimsical and harmless whereas beliefs are enduring and indicative. I prefer mustard over mayonnaise is a harmless statement, the truth of which is determined by the one speaking, and can change at a moment’s notice. I believe the sun is less than 90 million miles away may be one’s belief. It would be wrong, but it can be a belief. Preferences can’t be wrong – they can be in poor taste – but they can’t be wrong. Beliefs can be wrong.

Preferences are best left when choosing the color of a car. Core beliefs are best developed based on evidence. And today, evidence is a fingertip away.

Are your ascendant beliefs based on preference or something more enduring? It’s not an easy question to answer.


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