Monday, December 21, 2015

Living by Our Stories

Living by Our Stories

The stories that we tell each other explain our world and give meaning to our lives. Our stories illustrate our cultural values and model our desired virtues. They teach moral lessons and set the foundation for our debates. Thus, we should think carefully about our chosen stories and beliefs.

When you were young, were you told to be good because Santa Claus knew if you were naughty or nice? Even the stories that we openly acknowledge as myths or fables are repeated to illustrate what we should or should not do and how we should relate to others. For instance, the story of Pandora’s Box illustrates the bad that can happen from disobeying the instructions of someone older and wiser. Believing that thunder is the laughter of the gods can help ease a child’s fear.

This week, Public Policy Polling (a highly ranked organization with a history of reliable results) examined widespread conspiracy theories sometimes held by American voters.
Curiously, it turns out that those who identify themselves as ‘very conservative’ are usually more likely to believe any given conspiracy story. But, that’s another story.

Consider these facts. “15% of voters say the government or the media adds mind-controlling technology to TV broadcast signals. An equal number are not sure. 5% believe exhaust trails seen in the sky behind airplanes are actually chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons. 11% of voters believe the US government allowed the 9/11 attacks to happen. 15% of voters think the medical industry and the pharmaceutical industry invent new diseases to make money.” These beliefs help explain widespread distrust of government.

It gets worse. 71% of people who called themselves very conservative say global warming is a hoax and 22% of those who voted for Mitt Romney believe that President Obama is the Anti-Christ. 11% of very conservative voters say they believe “shape-shifting reptilian people control our world by taking on human form and gaining political power to manipulate our societies” and another 10% are not sure. There does not seem to be any crossover data on whether President Obama is a lizard person.

Speaking of which, “29% of voters believe aliens exist and another 24% are not sure. 28% of voters believe in Bigfoot or are not sure. I’m not sure what any of this helps explain. But, it startles me to realize that, walking down the street, every fifth person I see may believe that our president is the antichrist or that some politicians are lizard people. I am even more startled by the thought: “What if they’re right?”

What do our beliefs help explain to us (or about us)? How do our stories affect our values and choices in life? Do things happen for the reasons we have been taught to believe? Are there alternative explanations? If so, we should regularly give serious consideration to what we believe, what we value, what we do and why.

David Satterlee