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We have a holiday for it, but no good words. Belief in disbelief. The asymmetry between incredulity and credulity. The fact that too often we believe in the wrong stuff, follow the wrong leader and take the wrong medicine.
In just a few decades, we’ve managed to wreck April Fools as a useful holiday. The stakes are just too high.
For a long time, we’ve been easily fooled by patent medicines. Snake oil was a real thing. People used electricity in the wrong places for the wrong illnesses. We swallow silver, see a faith healer and spend all our money for a small bag of magic beans. At the same time, we hesitate to see the doctor, don’t talk to her when we do, and fill prescriptions but don’t take them when we get home. We’re skeptical about vaccines but eagerly line up for oxygenated water…
We believe, but in the wrong things.
When someone tells us a certain kind of person is dangerous, we’re too eager to believe our xenophobic instincts. We work ourselves into a frenzy over a small injustice, but stand by when the big scam gets done right in front of our eyes.
And we don’t like being wrong.
Hence the paradox, the corner we’ve painted ourselves into: We need to believe, we want to believe, we benefit from believing. We can’t function without news and connection and forward motion.
But, we don’t like to be proven wrong.
So it’s easy to begin by calling it all fake, by non-believing. To become cynical and short-sighted and brittle.
But non-belief doesn’t help, because we can’t make forward motion without belief. No society works without trust and optimism.
Which leads us right back where we started, which is the cost of agency and the cost of freedom: the responsibility of believing in things that work. We received leverage and the price is responsibility.
Our job is to see our misbelief and replace it with better belief, thoughtful belief, belief in things that actually work.