The “House of Cards” Belief System: When Ideology Trumps Evidence

If you can't justify your beliefs, you should question whether they're defensible beliefs.

Members of both sides of the political Left-Right spectrum have belief systems that resemble a fragile House of Cards.

The fragility of such belief systems is symptomatic of ideological subjugation. Belief systems and worldviews that are grounded in ideology are fatally brittle, lacking even the slightest tinge of malleability. Because every ideology has multiple fundamental assumptions about what reality is AND what reality should be, evidence or ideas that contradict these sacred assumptions must be suppressed by the ideology’s adherents, so they don’t go insane from the discomfort of cognitive dissonance. Just like how a House of Cards collapses if a card is removed or added to the structure, the ideological belief system collapses when it is exposed to new evidence about the world.

This phenomenon causes many people to ignore and suppress new discoveries about the world around them because it conflicts with some facet of their worldview – their ideology.

Too often, we are acutely capable of diagnosing and highlighting ideological, House of Cards belief systems in our peers, but we are surprisingly handicapped when it comes to diagnosing our own fragile and brittle intellectual frameworks.

Progressives correctly note that many conservatives and/or Trump supporters continue to deny the science of climate change. They call it a hoax. They are unable to distinguish the scientific evidence of climate change from the religious dogma of militant climate activists. The conservatives and Trump supporters are wrong here.

What progressives fail to do is highlight the ideological madness of the climate crusaders themselves. Climate activists like Greta Thunberg and politicians like Elizabeth Warren have stated that nuclear power is not part of the planet’s future. This is ridiculous. Nuclear power is the only clean energy source that is capable of producing power in the amount that we need. For America to be powered by wind and solar, the entire Western hemisphere would need to be covered in solar panels and windmills.

Why do these progressive activists demonize nuclear power? Because one of the dictates of their ideology, their House of Cards belief system, is the intrinsic evil of nuclear power. In trying to save the world from the plight of greenhouse gases, they vilify one of the few feasible solutions to the problem.

The Antidote to the HOUSE OF CARDS

What is the antidote to House of Cards ideological belief systems? Simply put, the rejection of ideological fundamentalism is both the destination and the journey in this case. There is at least a hint of truth in most ideologies, but no ideology ONLY consists of truth and no ideology contains the ENTIRE truth. In “On Liberty,” legendary philosopher John Stewart Mill laid out a foundational defense of free speech.

Mill said that no opinion should be silenced, including moronic and vile opinions because we gain knowledge of the world from the “collision of truth with error.” He offered three main arguments for why free speech should not be infringed upon: ϖ

“First, because no one knows the truth, censoring an idea may be censoring the truth.

Second, free competition of ideas is the best way to find truth.

Third, because no one idea is the sum of truth, even those ideas containing only a portion of the truth will help society acquire knowledge. This argument implies that even false ideas are valuable, because they both test the truth and prevent it from slipping into dogma, and because they too may contain a germ of truth worth preserving.”  ϖ

Overall, Mills believed that nuanced and unbounded discussions of ideas, which is the intention of free speech protections, will help preserve individuality, constrain the tyranny of social opinion or what Mill and many others called the “tyranny of the majority”, and ultimately help find the truth. ϖ Π

Mill’s concept of free speech and the free exchange of ideas is a micro-mechanism for uncovering the truth of a specific, discrete and atomic issue. For example, arguments for and against the legalization of marijuana are acutely focused on that issue. The domain of the conversation is relatively small and whether or not arguments are considered germane to the topic is a function of whether or not they stay within the domain of the issue. Π

I propose a macro-mechanism for uncovering truth – an epistemological triangulation method that considers different ideologies about a comprehensive meta-narrative instead of different opinions about a specific, defined issue. Instead of considering different arguments and opinions related to a specific issue, this method involves the comparison of different ideologies to see which elements of each ideology are true, which are false, and how the true pieces of all ideologies can be salvaged into a cohesive worldview. For example, when it comes to the role of government, consider a progressive, conservative, and libertarian ideological position. All three of them are true in some ways and false in others. We need to find a way to mimic Mill’s free exchange of ideas concept on a macro scale. Π

I acknowledge that this isn’t easy. But it’s not supposed to be. It’s easy to settle for a fragile House of Cards belief system. It’s hard to construct a robust belief system that can weather the disruption of new information and new discoveries about the world. Remember, nothing in this world worth having is easy to acquire. Belief systems and worldviews are no different.

References

ϖ Schultz, David. (2009). “On Liberty.” The First Amendment Encyclopedia, Middle Tennessee State University. https://mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/872/on-liberty

Π Williams, Leonard. (2009). “John Stuart Mill.” The First Amendment Encyclopedia, Middle Tennessee State University. https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/1258/john-stuart-mill

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