BELIEFS AND THEIR CONFIRMATION
This Page is a very long and detailed examination of focusing, beliefs, closed mindedness and its social confirmation.
This was all explained very beautifully(!) in only 6 paragraphs under The Human Survival Strategy in Survival Strategies.
If you already sympathise with the ideas in Survival Strategies, then the place you want to get to next is Displacement Activity.
Humans had all that animals have, and then we started developing our talent for abstract thought.
We'd have imagined by adding abstract thought to our basic sensory abilities, we would be far more successful than other animals. For a short three million years it seemed to be working out well. But recently, suddenly, we have developed enough bombs to destroy all life on the planet, and with an ever-increasing variety of methods, we are destroying animal species, our environment and ourselves.
Modern man has lost and we are ignoring, part of how we always sensed the world around us, part of how we managed to survive for millions of years. And simultaneously our existence has become more insecure than it ever was. This is more than just a coincidence.
The Modern Human Animal
Mankind was successful as a species, primarily because we learnt to focus with our minds and think. We developed memory systems with abstract words and symbols. This was a new level of understanding and being in the world. Humans processed, collected, and communicated ideas quickly, and we soon learnt to repeat an amazing amount of tricks. From fashioning stone-axes and aiming arrows – to reading and writing. We secured our survival by being clever and creative.
With modern civilisation our lives have become increasingly materially safe, and now we never need fear being eaten alive, we have solid walls, hot water bottles and the deep freeze is full, and we have slowly overcome any need of our panoramic senses.
It is a multi-efficient system. Learnt habitual repetitive ruts, the lessons of the past, are essential. And they are normally based on something enjoyable, advantageous or successful.
We secured our survival and overcame our angst and insecurity with our ability to focus on abstract ideas, remember the things we learnt (focus on a memory), associate thoughts, and be creative, ... quite different habitual ruts to those of animals.
Beliefs and Their Confirmation
And when we found Gods to believe in, the relationship between individuals, groups, and the whole universe became secure or at least negotiable. Since humans developed beliefs, they became the central priority for our sense of reality, identity and security in the world.
This was yet another new level of understanding, and being in the world. A level of making connections between abstract ideas. This was another great step away from our animal heritage.
Human cultures passed ideas and customs down through thousands of generations. And up to a few hundred years ago, even though humans were often hungry and cold, we lived with a social consensus of dress codes, language, ideas, beliefs and opinions.
Our sense of belonging and identity was found within our social group. The communal identity within our group, with each other and in relation to a big picture of the world, was confirmed by each other.
And it felt so good to know who and why we were, that generations of children were reassured as we retold these stories. The stories and beliefs gave people and cultures their integrity, meaning and purpose. And any comparison with neighbouring cultures and their stories, merely reconfirmed each cultures individual identity.
In ancient cultures, the beliefs united a tribe. And it really didn't matter much if we all believed we were living on the back of the Great Turtle, or, that the stars were the children of the sun and the moon – because for our sense of identity and security, the confirmation of the tribe was more important than the truth.
It's worth stopping there for a moment, the confirmation of the tribe was always far more important than the truth. We don't need to prove that honey tastes good, and we don't need anyone else's opinion about if fire is hot. But in our abstract world, the only way to confirm thoughts is with another being who understands such abstract thoughts.
And slowly, over the last few centuries, as we started questioning all our old truths; any trace of the original animal social sense of belonging has disappeared, and now we have lost the mutual confirmation of our social group.
Our beliefs are insecure in a way no humans in any previous culture have ever experienced, or even imagined, and so regardless of our modern material security, we all still feel insecure.
Our present day feelings of angst and insecurity operate on an entirely different level to animals. We need abstract abilities to feel secure in our modern world. And when we feel unsafe it's because of psychological or abstract reasons.
In modern times, with the cultural meltdown, the beliefs which were central to our understanding of life, the ones which gave our tribe identity and security, the ones which over time, in free thinking countries, developed into a multiplicity of new creative ideas and opinions ... Nowadays it is exactly such beliefs, ideas and opinions, which lead socially to division, and individually to insecurity.
The Lack of Mutual Confirmation
Each individual has their own habitual self repeating ruminating ruts, always thinking, as though desperately trying to confirm their own beliefs, ideas, and opinions, by their constant repetition.
In our modern diverse culture, the endless need for confirmation, on an individual and cultural level, causes worry and suffering in a way that no animal or early human could ever imagine. And the need for identity and confirmation is self-perpetuating. It's become its own cause, always generating more of itself. It's exponential.
Our modern liberal thinking to socially integrate and contain the diversity of beliefs – rather than infallible rulers forcing a consensus of ideas –, is a great step for civilisation. But, respect for someone else's beliefs is only a shadow of the mutual confirmation of the group.
A few lucky individuals find a degree of stability and satisfaction in their lives. Some have public respect and feel confirmed (or appear so) in their social image, but even this is usually dependent on having even more 'success'. The search for confirmation in modern culture, is relentless and self-perpetuating. It is a recent, common, extremely uncomfortable, cultural habitual rut.
To get everything modern civilisation offers, we had to focus on it, and this had amazing advantages, it was all, or mostly, good. But now the only thing we can do, and think of doing, is focusing even more. And, we are all experiencing the effects of overcompensating with an inappropriate habit.
Please continue with Displacement Activity
I believe the above ideas are the central ones.
There is a further detailed background explanation in The Amazing Development of Focusing.
And some broader rough ideas on cultural consequences in note form in Buddhism : Its Importance Culturally Today.