Babies, bombers, and believers

What would you tell your birth parents? A suicide bomber? Or just someone whose mind you wanted to change?


Salon Staff
July 29, 2005 9:41PM (UTC)

Families Who Think

Adult And Adopted

Magpie - 06:47 a.m. Pacific Time - July 27, 2005 - #33 of 57

I was adopted as a baby too. More than anything I'd like to find my birth parents to set their minds at rest if they're worried about me. I want them to know that I'm grateful for the family I've been given, and that I appreciate the pain my coming must have caused. I want them to know that everything turned out OK. I'm open to a relationship, I'm interested in seeing what they look like, but mostly I just want to thank them for letting me into this world.

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Social Issues

The mind of a suicide bomber

Robert Rubin - 04:47 p.m. Pacific Time - July 27, 2005 - #64 of 66

After the Second World War, there was interest in what led people to become Nazis, Fascists, etc. Much research among war criminals led to a test -- The F-Scale (F for fascist) -- identifying those with psychological profiles typical of those prone to organized violence. The F-Scale was popular during the 1950s through 1970s. The key finding was that nascent fascists tended to say that some people were all good and other people were all bad. This made it appealing to find and destroy the bad people, leaving a good world for everyone else. Those unlikely to become fascists tended to say that everyone had good and bad elements -- the war was within the individual conscience rather than between groups of people. Despite the passage of time, this still seems to me an essential insight.

The contemporary application seems obvious: Those who see themselves as members of a categorically good group are ready to kill bad outsiders. The trouble is, categorical thinking is appealing. If you belong to the right group, you needn't reflect on your behavior or motives; it's enough to stay clearly identified with the group. This licenses criminal behavior, so long as it targets bad outsiders. What a deal! Do what you want, and you're still a saint! Live free of ethical doubts!

White House

George Bush: Public Enemy #1 XVIII: The Continuing Adventures of Commander Cuckoo-Bananas

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pmk - 01:48 p.m. Pacific Time - July 24, 2005 - #3470 of 3676

I have a theory that some people operate on belief, others operate on knowledge. Although I sometimes think of them as two distinct populations, people undoubtedly fall somewhere on a continuum. They may operate as belief people in some areas of their lives and knowledge people in others.

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For knowledge people, things need to add up, beliefs are theories that are constantly being tested. They figure out how things fit together and fill in gaps as they seek to understand their world.

Belief people come to their beliefs by looking to others. They adopt conclusions and don't need to know the basis. Beliefs are beliefs, not theories. Belief people adopt a belief because people they identify with believe it. They are influenced by the beliefs of people that "cut to the chase." They are more likely to be influenced by people who accept and respect them as they are than people who look down on them.

"Knowledge people" are doomed to frustration when they try to influence "belief people" by giving them the information that would lead another knowledge person to reach some knowledge-based conclusion. A belief person doesn't adopt their beliefs in that way. They know what they know and arguing details with them does little to change that.

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Certainly, some belief people may change their beliefs when enough information is thrown their way, but most don't budge until others around them do. When "everybody knows" something, they join right in. Doesn't matter what they believed yesterday, they just adopt the new beliefs.

When dealing with belief people, knowledge people need to learn to simply assert their conclusions with assurance. No need to muck up a general truth with qualifications. No need to provide the details that led them to their conclusion. Listen to Rush for a short time. You'll notice that he just spouts a series of conclusions. Whys and wherefores are rare.

Ever wondered why polls sometimes turn on a dime? I think those giant swings are belief people flipping. Beliefs can turn on a dime. There is no need to spend time reconstructing the basis to reach a new conclusion. When some critical mass is reached and enough people have adopted a belief, that belief spreads like wildfire.

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There is enormous variation in how people process information and function in the world. Just like a person with a photographic memory has a hard time imagining how a person that forgets so much can function, a "knowledge person" has a hard time imagining what it is like to be a "belief person," and vice versa.

Both belief people and knowledge people can be led in the wrong direction through the manipulation of information or the dissemination of "everybody knows" propaganda. There are times that faith/confidence/belief serves us much better than analysis. For example, many looked at the evidence and concluded "you'll never get a senator to object on January 6." Others had confidence that it was possible, and so kept pushing.

Although I might find it useful to have a photographic memory, I would hope that those with photographic memories don't look down on those who do not. Unfortunately, knowledge people sometimes see belief people as obstinate or lazy knowledge people. As a consequence, they make unproductive negative judgments.

Belief people are what they are and trying to change them into knowledge people, or trying to figure out why they are belief people, or berating them for being belief people, is not helpful.

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Whether or not this theory is true, it sure saves me a lot of frustration and grief. It also gives me hope. We don't need to inform or educate "everybody" -- we shouldn't even try. We can ignore misguided belief people. We just need to reach that critical mass and the misguided belief people will come around on their own.

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