The Power of Belief


The philosopher Donald Davidson once pointed out that, “Truth is beautifully transparent compared to belief …”. As human beings, our vanity is that we believe we act rationally when, in fact, the vast majority of human activity is motivated by belief. Throughout the course of history-social contracts have been based on belief systems regardless of truth, as for example, “… all men are created equal”.  No form of social contract, from so-called Democracy to totalitarian states can exist and function unless people believe its tenets, be they true or not. This necessary belief may be coerced or delusional, condign or voluntary, but is always foundational to all social contracts. It cannot be any other way. Because of this, any discussion about social contracts must include what people believe in a specific social context, that is to say, their belief system. Liars, public and private, and politicians know and exploit this dynamic simply by telling people what they want to hear based on what they need to believe.  It’s how cons, in and out of politics, work their magic selling the Brooklyn Bridge.

The US government has already built, at a not inconsiderable expense, a wall and fence along the border with Mexico to keep out people many of whom are refugees fleeing violence in their home countries. The GW Bush administration built around 670 miles of fence along the border at an estimated cost of $2.4 billion to keep people out. One former Republican presidential candidate, Marco Rubio, made fencing the border a major component of his campaign agenda. Not to be outdone, Donald Trump went Rubio one better promising a 2000 mile wall along the entire border and, he said, Mexico will pay for it. How do politicians get away with this nonsense? Belief – the belief by  their audience that such a fence will make them safe, keep out the threatening undesirable refugees (including children), and that Mexico will pay for it. It’s a con playing to ignorance. It’s cons who have been playing to fear since white people first set  foot on this continent. Demonized Italians, Frenchmen, Poles, Lithuanians, Irish, you name them and just about every group that came to this country has been demonized at one time or another by a group that had themselves been previously demonized.  Every protester who now wants to pull up the gangplank owes their citizenship to an immigrant ancestor including those who came across the Bearing  Straits land bridge 16 to 13,000 years ago.

Recently a group of individuals took over a federal facility in Oregon, claiming their rights as “sovereign citizens”. “Sovereign” generally refers to royalty; however, as an adjective sovereign implies ultimate power, and in a democracy that supreme power is said to rest with the “people”. It is important to note that the group in Oregon consisted mainly of white males who were armed and who had, in this staged drama damaged or destroyed public property. So what do these protesters believe sovereign means? Do they believe they can enjoy the benefits accruing to citizens of the US without communal duties or responsibilities, a notion that has been regularly rejected by the courts? Their belief is strong enough for one of them to get shot to death by police and others to be jailed. 

Perhaps one possible explanation to these questions lies in the power of false and contrived political identity born of a lack of a sense of authentic political and  social identity.  In short, they believe they have to declare themselves sovereign to be authentic. Another observable authenticity scam is the skilled use of false identity by politicians to divide their believers from others. Donald Trump is a master of this kind of demagoguery.  Fear is the belief system being appealed to no different from Hitler demonizing Jews. Believers are easily conned because what they are really afraid of is not truth but what they believe.


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Emanuele Corso’s essays on politics, education, and the social contract have been published at NMPolitics, Light of New Mexico, Grassroots Press, World News Trust, Nation of Change, and his own - He taught Schools and Society and school reform at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he took his PhD and three Master’s degrees. His BS was in Mathematics. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force’s - Strategic Air Command where he served as a Combat Crew Officer during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He has been a member of the Carpenters and Joiners union and has worked for the World Bank and abroad as a management consultant. He is presently working on two books: Belief Systems and the Social Contract and Schools and Society. He can be reached at