Where Did You Get Your Cherished Beliefs?

If we had a time machine and went back to the birth of a current Fox News conservative and stolen that baby Tea Partier from the hospital and given it to a very liberal family to raise, would that Republican from our time line grow up to be a Democrat in the altered time line?

In other words, are such basic personality traits as conservative and liberal come from being taught, or are they in the genes?

We know things like racism is learned.  David McCullough in this new book The Greater Journey talks about Charles Sumner who was studying in Paris in 1838 and encountered some black students.  He was surprised that they were treated no differently for their color and they acted and dressed no differently.  This made him realize that how Americans treated blacks in America and how they acted were due to the education of each.

We know that religion is learned.  It’s amazing that so many people stake so much importance on something they received from the randomness of birth.  Any child moved from one culture to another will grow up believing whatever religion they are taught.  In fact, nearly everything one believes comes from what one is taught.  And few people challenge the beliefs of their childhood.

You would think that people would grow up, go off to college, examine all the beliefs from around the world and then pick out the ones they like best.  That usually doesn’t happen.

Then we have biology.  What aspects of our personality come hardwired?  A large part of sexuality for one thing, but not all of it.  It’s rather amusing that some people believe that homosexuality is something taught and when they assume their religion is immutable.  Training a gay guy to be sexually attracted to women is as likely training a horny male heterosexual teen not to think of naked women.  Most sexual beliefs are hard wired.  Sure, certain kinks in the drive can be trained by society, but if you’re a guy obsessed with T&A or a gal who falls for alpha males, you’re pretty much born with it.

Interesting enough, your attitudes about sexual morality can be trained.  We know this several ways.  Adults change their attitudes all the time with training, but we also know people raised in different parts of the world have different attitudes about sex.  We also know if we transplant children from one culture to another their attitudes will change.  Attitudes towards gays have significantly changed in recent decades because of social education.

Once you realize that the beliefs you hold most dear are taught to you then you can free yourself of cultural programming and start to reprogram yourself.

When I was a teen I realized I ate what I ate because that’s how I was raised.  As an experiment I became a vegetarian.  When I was very young, before I was a teen, my mother tried hard to make me religious, and my Air Force dad tried hard to make me a pro-military Republican.  I tried to be what they wanted, but then I read too many books and realized I could be what I wanted.

If you hate blacks and gays, it’s because you were trained to hate them.  If you see all kinds of sins in the world, it’s because you were trained to see them.  Anyone who wants to be truly free must examine where their beliefs come from.

I recently read Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne, about the Comanche Indians.  The Comanches like to take captives.  They would torture and kill adult male enemies, and they would rape and enslave grown women, but they would raise captive children like their own, even if they were white, black, from another Indian tribe or any other race.  Captive children who grew up with the Comanches often loved their new way of life and would do anything not to be recaptured.  The most famous of these was Cynthia Ann Parker.  This really illustrates just how much of our beliefs are taught to us.  And it showed how smart the Comanches were because they knew they couldn’t retrain adults.

Religion, eating habits, philosophical beliefs, sexual morality, passions, hatreds, xenophobia – all are not relevant to the facts of reality.  They are clothes you can dress up in and change just as easily.  What’s important are to learn what’s real – aspects of reality that doesn’t change.

Too many people are looking at the 2012 political campaigns not because of what’s real, but because of things they were taught to believe.

Just remember, if you were taught to believe something, you could have been taught to believe something else.  If you are a Christian, you could have just as easily been a Muslim if you were born in a different location on our globe.  What’s truly valuable is what’s true no matter when or where you are born, and the same truth applies to all people.

JWH – 9/5/11

9 thoughts on “Where Did You Get Your Cherished Beliefs?”

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. Those childhood beliefs, however, are hard to overcome. And, you can overcome them by reeducating yourself and truly seeing other human beings as they are and not through a lens of taught beliefs. The Catholic church says give me a child until he (she) is seven and they will not leave. Could be true..and not something that can be overcome.

    1. Yeah, it shows the early programming is the strongest. It’s hard to deprogram a person. It’s also easier to get someone to believe something than it is to learn something.
      But then I’ve got to wonder why it’s so easy for a kid to give up believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.

  2. Sadly, since it’s so easy to believe what you want to believe, even a sincere desire to examine your beliefs often has little effect. We have a mutual acquaintance in the ClassicScienceFiction group, Jim, who decided to look at all of the religions in the world and make a rational decision as to which one was best.

    But the religion he settled on, the one he decided makes the most sense, hands down, just happens to be the one he was raised to believe. Of course, that wasn’t coincidence, not at all.

    Science has careful procedures to combat this natural tendency to believe what you want to believe, and so scientists worldwide come to a consensus about what’s true and what isn’t.

    This will never happen with religion, because religions are faith-based, not evidence-based. In religion, unlike science, skepticism isn’t considered to be a virtue, nor is changing your mind considered to be a good thing. Science reserves its highest honors for those who successfully overthrow established thinking. In religion, that’s heresy.

    Without careful procedures to combat this natural tendency to believe what you want to believe (usually, what you’ve been brought up to believe), there’s no way to winnow what’s true from what feel’s good. And yeah, that’s pretty much the case with politics, too, not just religion.

    1. I’ve heard that memory is like chemical etching in the brain. Maybe the very lowest levels are the strongest because they are on bottom and all the later memory are on top, thus making the earliest memories hard to change.

      We’re not computers. We can’t just remove a subroutine, but it sure would be nice. We also know that humans can be raised to be almost anything because of the diversity of cultures in the world.

      Maybe we should start in pre-school or early elementary to train kids that they can reprogram themselves, and teach them they are responsible for what they believe. Like I said, kids are willing to reprogram themselves about Santa Claus.

      Of course when I was a kid, I was so shocked about the Santa Claus lie that I immediately wondered if the Jesus story was also a lie.

    2. I have a completely different memory of these events. All through the Clinton and Gore years the conservatives hammered them any way they could, with lots of personal attacks. So when Bush was running my liberal friends retaliated with very harsh comments about Bush and Cheney. I was shocked by how often the liberals compared Bush, Cheney and their neocoms to fascists. And the conservatives were extremely mean to Gore I thought. There was tremendous animosity on both sides. Then when the election was so close, tempers really flared on both sides. Then even after Bush was given the election the conservatives continued to hammer Gore, and my liberal friends continue to hammer Bush. Whenever Bush did something I liked and said so I was turned on by my liberal friends.

      1. It might be a matter of our living in different states, Jim, or just having different friends. I didn’t vote for Bush in 2000, and I was disappointed in the election (the fact that it was settled in the Supreme Court with a completely partisan 5-4 decision didn’t help). But I didn’t hate the guy, not at all, not at first.

        Unfortunately, I see a strong tendency among liberals and moderates to always want to balance their criticism with a “both sides are at fault” theme. (You never see conservatives doing this, do you?)

        Of course, neither side is completely pure. That’s a given. But there are matters of degree, and we give extremist behavior a free pass when we shrug it off as “both sides.”

      2. I think both party have extremists that use nasty rhetoric. But I also think the conservatives take a special beating by the humorous press, like the Daily Show, and I think that pushes them to attack back more. It’s funny, but the conservatives don’t seem to have comedians giving the Republican news.

        I’m amazed by how politically polarized our society’s become – and to me it started with Clinton. The right really hated Clinton. And that might have been because the right felt the left had been to hard on Reagan.

      3. Well, I guess we’ll have to disagree about this one, Jim. If you watch The Daily Show, you’ll find that Jon Stewart skewers the Democrats, too, when they deserve it. True, he has a bias towards reality, so he spends more of his time laughing at the right, but certainly not all of it.

        IMHO, the right have become hysterical in recent decades because they fear the changes here. Those include the browning of America, our increased diversity, where white men aren’t automatically on top, but must compete with women and minorities.

        But they also include the economic changes, where poorly educated blue-collar workers struggle to maintain the lifestyles their parents enjoyed. Right-wing politics have caused that, to a large extent (and yes, all too many Democrats went along with it), but these people aren’t that rational or that knowledgeable.

        They’re just scared, and they want to lash out. The Republican Party encourages that. The GOP knows exactly how to push the right buttons to get them to hate “those people” (i.e. anyone different). So these people who are angry and scared end up supporting the very people who are harming them.

        Irrational fear is very, very dangerous, and that’s what the right-wing has been encouraging. It’s no coincidence that the Democrats, and only the Democrats, keep urging compromise. (Sorry, to be so adamant, but this “both sides” idea is a real pet peeve of mine. There are REAL differences between the sides here.)

      4. Oh, I agree that Jon Stewart and all the other comic newscasters skewers the liberals too, but liberals have a sense of humor and they can take it. Evidently conservatives don’t and can’t. The Daily Show and others like it make conservatives heads explode with anger. Bill, I don’t think you understand how sensitive and thin skin conservatives are. You are an extremely reasonable person and you expect other people to be the same way. But there are few people as reasonable as you. Conservatives don’t understand humor, wit and sarcasm. They just read it as attack and insult. And I really believe many of them hate liberals because of all the liberal humor – they see it as making fun of them. They don’t see that it also makes fun of liberals.

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