Ideas and Experiences

From the Praxis Blog

Ultimately, what people believe determines the kind of world they live in. When the bulk of society is willing to tolerate some kind of annoyance, or oppression, or shortcoming, or injustice, or unfairness, it is likely to emerge in that society. Everyone weighs the costs and benefits of resisting undesirable features of social and political institutions, and when the costs are too high, they find ways to cope rather than push back.

Sometimes the coping includes creating belief systems that label the undesirable features good, or at least inevitable or necessary. These status quo justifying belief systems keep the status quo safe from pressure to improve. You see this in business, politics, and all manner of social settings.

If the beliefs of members of society are the binding constraint on the social order, how do those beliefs change, as they sometimes do, and often quickly and radically? (Think about the complete reversal of the common beliefs about slavery in the early 19th century, and the worldwide institutional changes that rippled outward from it).

There are two primary ways to change beliefs. You can give people new ideas and new experiences. Creating new ideas is to directly confront those that form someone’s belief system, and ask them to make room for new ones. It is to conceptually challenge, confront, question, or inspire. Think of the people who challenge the status quo with books, songs, sermons, speeches, essays, and conversation. Think of the times your mind has been opened or changed by a teacher or author or friend.

It’s easy to assume this direct educational approach is the only way to change beliefs, but there is another way more subtle and just as powerful. It may be less glamorous because it often lacks the decisive light-bulb moment or a clear hero, but it’s effect is no less profound. It is to give people new experiences.

This approach to changing the world does not require an intellectual turnabout, or any arguing over theories. When you create new experiences and offer them to the world, they are either valuable or not. If they make lives better, they succeed and overtake or fundamentally alter people’s beliefs about the status quo, sometimes before anyone consciously notices. Those who create new experiences are entrepreneurs, and they are world changers just as the influential intellectuals.

While people endlessly debate the merits of immigration law, and whether individuals from other countries should be allowed to work in the US and on what terms, entrepreneurs keep improving technology and creating jobs for foreign workers where they can create value for US firms and consumers without having to hazard immigration red tape. Innovators find ways to integrate the world economy even when political institutions and public belief make little room for it. Experts long debated the correct way to determine long distance telephone rates, who should own the valuable telephone lines, and how they should be managed. While they were wrangling, cell phones were created, and now the debate seems meaningless. While defenders of the status quo say taxi service must be regulated and restricted to work, Uber comes along and awakens us to the reality that it doesn’t.

People form beliefs with the best information available. Often, it is assumed some particular societal deficiency is inevitable simply because we lack the imagination to envision a different solution. You can open imaginations by thoughtfully articulating why the experts are wrong and computers can be small enough and useful in the home. You can also open imaginations by creating the microchip, and making, marketing, and delivering products that use it to better peoples lives.

When you see something unsatisfactory in the world around you, know that the beliefs which sustain it are subject to change. If you want to help humanity forge ahead, create new ideas and new experiences.