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We are a Nation of True Believers

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True Believers by The Big Slice

Isn't it strange that in America, where individual freedom is so valued, we've given up the most important individual freedom we have; to think for ourselves.  

To understand this issue a bit better think of childhood adolescence.   When we are that age we want very much to be part of the right group.   Although we claim to be individuals we sign on to the beliefs of one group or another.   We dress like them.   We talk like them.   And we suppress our own opinions to be like them.    And as if that's not enough, we need to demonize "others", people who are not a part of our "in-group."  

We become, in a sense, "true believers."   And with this decision we unquestionably buy our group's world view and give up our individuality. In the process we lose our ability to look into our own hearts for direction.   This is one of our most important problems today.

If you're an old enough parent, you've seen your child go through the trials and tribulations of trying to fit in while ignoring your good advice and the values you've taught them.

Your child became a "true-believer" in a particular narrative and there was very little you could do to convince him or her otherwise.   In Eric Hoffer's 1951 book, The True Believer, a core principle is his assertion that mass movements are interchangeable so as we get older all we need to do is find another narrative to hang on to.  

And for the "true believer", substance is less important than being part of a movement.   This true believer syndrome is also an informal term used by M. Lamar Keene in his 1976 book The Psychic Mafia. Keene considered it to be a cognitive disorder.

In his book, Keene writes "I knew how easy it was to make people believe a lie, but I didn't expect the same people, confronted with the lie, would choose it over the truth. No amount of logic can shatter a faith consciously based on a lie." Sound familiar in today's political environment?

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So why are there so many political true believers today?   I think it's because at the societal level, so many of us are still adolescents.   It's hard to accept the view of ourselves as a society in collapse.   So many of us hang on to our claim of exceptionalism even though there are so many facts to the contrary.  

When reality rebuffs us, we need some personal validation.   It's during these times a small still voice tells us we just might be wrong.   That frightens us and it drives us to seek and find those who will affirm us and repeat familiar mantras until our anxiety subsides.  

But that's not enough. For a movement to thrive it needs to keep the demons alive.   The demonization shows up as character assassinations and baseless accusations.   Other people become the enemy.   Groups of countries become an "axis of evil."  

There are no demons roaming the earth and evil is not an autonomous force.   Evil either is or isn't based on the actions of people. And no one owns the market on it.   But that doesn't stop us from joining a movement and believing in its phantoms.

So I think we have a long road of pain and struggle ahead of us until we mature.   It will be exacerbated by the political movements that seduce us into their fantasy world of threats and fears behind every bush.   And we will join those movements and give up our ability to discern right from wrong. But we will receive a gift in return; we can blame our problems on someone else.   

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Our future?   Not very good if we don't mature and see the world for what it is:   A planet of countries all competing for the same finite resources.   The first step is to acknowledge that others have legitimate reasons for their actions. The second is to acknowledge that the relative importance of every event on the planet is not determined by how it affects the United States.  

Robert DeFilippis


Author, columnist and blogger with a long career in business management, management consulting and executive coaching. I am a certified ontological coach. I've studied clinical therapeutic practices in Gestalt psychology and am a Certified Birkman (more...)

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Affiliation is more important than understanding o... by Robert De Filippis on Sunday, Mar 17, 2013 at 7:23:12 PM
Great article :)... by Judy Swindler on Sunday, Mar 17, 2013 at 7:23:52 PM
 Sir,  You begin with:"Isn't it strange ... by Ad Du on Sunday, Mar 17, 2013 at 11:30:40 PM
Liberal public education is no education at all. T... by Bill Johnson on Monday, Mar 18, 2013 at 7:47:07 AM
Ad Du did not say anything about 'left' and this t... by Mark Sashine on Monday, Mar 18, 2013 at 8:13:27 AM
 Sir,  Thank you for your appreciation.&... by Ad Du on Monday, Mar 18, 2013 at 11:32:16 AM
I would not give you two cents for left-leaning so... by Bill Johnson on Monday, Mar 18, 2013 at 12:47:35 PM
Although I agree on several of your points, I'm no... by Robert De Filippis on Monday, Mar 18, 2013 at 1:51:08 PM
 But, what happened to the schools for those ... by Ad Du on Monday, Mar 18, 2013 at 9:17:42 PM
That is an interesting point of view. I wish you w... by Bill Johnson on Tuesday, Mar 19, 2013 at 9:25:15 AM
I'll briefly respond to that, but it's not my fiel... by Ad Du on Tuesday, Mar 19, 2013 at 11:51:01 AM
 What kind of Left is that, not to seize on t... by Ad Du on Tuesday, Mar 19, 2013 at 11:55:51 AM
 I must tell you, I can't believe very good... by Ad Du on Tuesday, Mar 19, 2013 at 12:01:05 PM
Just to invade your fact free zone.1917 Russia had... by Arend Rietkerk on Tuesday, Mar 19, 2013 at 12:36:31 AM
The left here in America can not and should not be... by Bill Johnson on Tuesday, Mar 19, 2013 at 8:01:49 AM
I did not say anything about the Left, and I gener... by Ad Du on Tuesday, Mar 19, 2013 at 9:39:24 AM
I mostly agree with Bill.  But, I think that ... by Doc McCoy on Tuesday, Mar 19, 2013 at 1:30:58 AM
 Mr. McCoy,  Others (perhaps even better... by Ad Du on Tuesday, Mar 19, 2013 at 10:20:06 AM
 For example, healthcare is very important, n... by Ad Du on Tuesday, Mar 19, 2013 at 11:36:55 AM
to me.  Unfortunately, I am not "honored" by ... by Doc McCoy on Tuesday, Mar 19, 2013 at 6:35:24 PM
Honored or not, thanks for your comments.... by Robert De Filippis on Tuesday, Mar 19, 2013 at 8:05:57 PM
I would hope you found no offense, for I don't nee... by Ad Du on Tuesday, Mar 19, 2013 at 11:10:01 PM
I really like this. Two things come to mind--... by Elizabeth Hanson on Monday, Mar 18, 2013 at 12:40:39 AM
You honor me when you comment, agree or disagree. ... by Robert De Filippis on Monday, Mar 18, 2013 at 9:06:37 AM
that we all  first and foremost  claim t... by Mark Sashine on Tuesday, Mar 19, 2013 at 12:54:53 PM
Being human would be giving our children a decent ... by Bill Johnson on Tuesday, Mar 19, 2013 at 2:24:18 PM
Quotes From Admiral Hyman Rickover On American Pu... by Bill Johnson on Tuesday, Mar 19, 2013 at 3:00:01 PM
"It is too bad that the "personality cult" and the... by Bill Johnson on Tuesday, Mar 19, 2013 at 3:07:12 PM
what would be the best school/educational framewor... by Mark Sashine on Tuesday, Mar 19, 2013 at 6:56:43 PM