Credulity — A Disposition To Believe Too Readily
Man’s natural state is not doubt, but credulity — a combination of suggestibility in the face of whatever is clearly and strongly presented, and the will-to-believe whatever is personally or socially congenial. Harold Larrabee, 1945
It is well known that we believe what we want to believe. We prefer to believe what we prefer to be true. Francis Bacon. Our tendency to believe what “sounds right” has become a big problem today, especially in politics. In order to become a rational, mindful believer today requires paying more careful attention to the difference between opinion and fact than ever before.
This is hard to do because of the incredibly easy access to whatever is clearly and strongly presented, and whatever is personally or socially congenial. This onslaught of data feeds our disposition to believe too readily. If there is such a thing as “extreme credulity”, technology of the future may achieve it.
Although credulity has probably existed forever, I believe it is possible to say that believing whatever we want to believe is an extremely serious problem today, even dangerous to democracy, because it dominates political discourse. Mark Twain once said: A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting its shoes on. In today’s politics, this lie can travel all the way around America.
The political strategy of today seems to be: Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is already made up. This allows believing whatever is personally or socially congenial. When today’s president speaks, he speaks with “baseless certainty” — as described by his associates. This frees him from restrictions on his opinions or beliefs. When he says something, that makes it the truth.
It seems to me that today it is important that we acknowledge that American democracy is in a credibility crisis. Something needs to be done. Who is capable of doing it? Not the president. Apparently not the congress. The overwhelming influence of credulity in today’s political discourse, needs public acknowledgement and action.
The remedy for credulity is to slow down our believing with uncertainty, which would lead to an investigation of the reality of one’s opinions AND facts. If doubt is not our natural state, it needs to be learned. Baseless certainty won’t work. My suggestion: “Confuse me with facts, so my mind can see reality.” Facts may not be personally or socially congenial, so they challenge credulity. Political credulity needs to be challenged.
Every man prefers belief to the exercise of judgement. Seneca
We have become so accustomed to our illusions that we mistake them for reality.” Daniel J. Boorstin