But there is really no scientific or other method by which men can steer safely between the opposite dangers of believing too little or of believing too much. To face such dangers is apparently our duty, and to hit the right channel between them is the measure of our wisdom as men.
William James - The Will to Believe
One of my ideals is believe nothing. I could have called it a belief rather than an ideal, but even I can see the pitfall in that.
Yet as James implies in the above quote, it isn’t actually possible to believe nothing. We need beliefs as conceptual frameworks to communicate socially – to live even. It is possible try putting the brain into neutral and merely observe, but we observe via language and that's something we have to borrow.
So what’s the point of trying to believe nothing? I think it reminds us to be wary of generalisations, sentiment, cultural norms and especially language. Yet as Wittgenstein showed, we can’t become intellectual hermits and invent a private language to solve the problem.
One difficulty with a cautious attitude to belief is how we delve into matters too complex for data or logic to flash up convenient answers. Political discourse for example is easy enough to engage in but not so easy to analyse in a neutral way. Political arguments veer off so quickly into Lalaland.
This presents few problems for anyone who enjoys the fun of debate, because Lalaland is easily navigated via a host of special aids – political ideas framed by an allegiance to one’s favoured Lalaland region and written in the regional dialect.
However these regional allegiances are only clearly visible to those who don’t share them. Those with no wish to settle in Lalaland – those who are not prepared to adopt one of its seductive cultures or learn one of its many languages. Therein lies the real difficulty doesn’t it?
To see any political allegiance for what it is, we cannot share it.
We can’t easily engage in political debates as a neutral critic either, because almost any criticism is seen as an enemy allegiance. Debate grinds to a halt or becomes lost again in the endless highways and byways of Lalaland.
Of course, politically ambitious cynics often profess undying allegiance to a Lalaland region without ever going there in person. Their sights are set far beyond its borders even though they find the inhabitants useful.
Nick Clegg is an example.