Norm normativity #1.5

Posted by – April 1, 2009

Before I go to #2 I want to briefly discuss belief.

What you believe about the world controls what you do in the world. Therefore, commonly held beliefs shape the way society works. In a sense you could even say that beliefs shape reality, although this can obviously be taken too far. On the other hand, your beliefs are your map of reality. Now, when choosing your beliefs, is it better to choose the best reality or the best map?

I used to think the choice was obvious: you should unconditionally choose the best map. One problem with choosing the best reality is that the less your map corresponds to reality, the more difficult it becomes to alter reality by choosing your beliefs. But that’s not the real reason I chose the map. In fact, there was no real reason, I just thought the truth is important and damn the consequences. I hoped I could learn to control my actions independently of my beliefs and get some of the reality-changing benefits that way.

I have a personal guru. Call this person “Sai”. It has often happened that Sai adopts some belief that seems totally stupid to me, only for me to adopt it as well some time later. Some time ago Sai started talking about choosing beliefs with the aim of getting results in reality. I was quite shocked by this, and in some senses I still think it’s misguided. But Sai’s goals have shown me that sometimes the map is tangled together with reality. This is especially true concerning beliefs about yourself.

A simple example: if you can really believe you’re feeling happy, then you really are happy.

A less simple example: what is the main (or most common) difference between someone who is good at picking up girls and someone who isn’t? Confidence. Believing that you can get the girls doesn’t automatically make it so, but it makes it a bit more so. More importantly, it opens up new ways for your mind to perceive yourself and other people, allowing you to learn and actually become the thing you’re trying to believe you are. Many so-called pick-up artists (PUAs) have taken this approach, and although they end up deluding themselves for a while and frequently losing faith (because that’s what it is), it seems that this is actually a somewhat reliable way to achieve the goal of picking up girls. When that happens, the map is again reconciled with reality.

A less pleasant example: if you don’t believe your personal god has power in the world, he doesn’t. But if you do believe he does and start converting people and making the world conform to your idea of the god, then even after you’re dead people will talk about the god and think about what he wants and continue conforming to the idea of the god. Then, in some twisted sense, the god has come into being in reality.

At some point before the last example the reasonable idea of the map having something to do with the reality (after all, the map exists in reality) becomes a bad guide for behaviour (I would rather be an evil religion-inventor, one who doesn’t even believe in the god himself and just gets everyone else to worship him). In the earlier examples there are tangling effects between the map and reality. There is not that much discrepancy between the two because we’re talking about a part of reality that partly is the map. At the other end of the spectrum we have causal effects between the map and reality. This is where you falsely believe something and trigger some behaviour in yourself that affects reality.

In the case of norm normativity (heteronormativity, white normativity, right-hand-normativity, what have you), tangling effects aren’t very important because we’re primarily talking about society as a whole. When you decide whether to conform to a norm, the tangling effects only affect you but the causal effects affect everyone around you. So in this case beliefs can be simplified to two aspects:

  1. Truth, ie. whether the belief conforms to reality
  2. Consequences, ie. the causal effects of beliefs on society

(As an aside, there are also people who want good maps for their own use but want other people to have beliefs that will make their lives or the world better. For example, many lies are told to modify the social reality to the liar’s benefit. I have also often heard people who don’t believe in God say that it’s still good for “the masses” to believe in God because it makes them behave better and gives them a sense of purpose. They will sometimes tell me I’m arrogant for arguing against people’s well-meaning faith in God because I am trying to take control of “their reality”.)

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1 Comment on Norm normativity #1.5

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  1. Incestuous J says:

    The depressed live in a world closer to the truth, and that’s why they’re depressed.