It can defy gravity and disrupt the electro-magnetic field. It can kill the strong and empower the weak. It can miraculously heal the most afflicted and terminally disease the healthiest. It can topple empires and build nations. It can mercilessly slaughter countless millions and save the lives of countless more. It turns particles into waves and waves into particles. What is this unfathomably ambivalent power capable of such greatness and horror?
Think about it. What creates the massive success of people like Andrew Carnegie or Maya Angelou? Belief. What motivates every war, now and throughout history? Belief. Why are charitable organizations created? Belief. What drives someone to commit a crime? You get the point. Somewhere along the way, an idea is formed. This idea then finds consistent validation in the witnessing of multiple occurrences. Finally, after one’s perception has been properly skewed or attuned toward the veracity of this idea…BAM!…it’s stuck in there, as real and true as anything they’ve ever known. It has become a belief.
That’s fascinating, don’t you think? Something as fleeting and innocuous as an idea has the ability to start a Holocaust in Nazi Germany or ignite a revolution in thirteen disparate British colonies. This whimsical and wispy flicker of consciousness has sent humans into the vacuum of space and brought them back safely. It has created bombs that have the ability to wipe out entire populations and even alter the genetic code to ensure the genocide continues for generations. However, the idea, itself, isn’t capable of such things; it’s only when the idea has been concretized into a belief that these atrocities and miracles become possible.
Obviously, these are extreme examples. We don’t need to kill offmillions of people or free humanity from the Earth’s gravitational pull to witness belief in action. What got me contemplating belief in the first place is the quadrennial shit-show known as the American presidential election. To be fair, it’s not the election, itself, that has the poo flying. Elections are the great culmination of the individual expressions of democracy. When democracy works, it’s a beautifully egalitarian human construct offering sovereign individuals the right to choose. When it doesn’t work, it offers the facade of choice while enacting an agenda beyond democratic reach. Judging by the extreme shittiness and outlandish showiness of this year’s shit-show, I feel safe saying that democracy isn’t really working here in the good ol’ US of A.
Like clockwork, every four years in this country people start extolling their beliefs as absolute truths. Granted, I’ve only been around for nine of these ridiculous attempts at democracy and I’ve only really been cognizant for six of them, but this one seems to be the wildest and most divisive since John Adams’ Federalists took on Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans. That one was nasty. The country was nascent and these men were truly attempting to shape a nation with explicitly contrary perspectives on government. Jefferson believed that the government ought to be "rigorously frugal and simple.” He strongly believed in the will of the people and the democratic process to carry out that will. Adams, conversely, believed in centralizing power in a national government, taking power away from states and individuals. By all accounts, the debate between these two founding fathers and…ahem…gentlemen, quickly turned away from silly things like democracy and went strait after what really matters in politics, the character of the politicians involved. For example, Jefferson once referred to Adams as a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." To which Adams called Jefferson, his Vice President and one time dear friend mind you, "a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father." There’s something so charming about colloquial Colonial mudslinging, isn’t there?
What is actually going on in our country right now? We’ve seen Donald Trump, perhaps the most polarizing figure to ever grace the political stage, go from billionaire businessman and reality TV star to being nominated as the GOP presidential candidate. Conversely, people all across the country started to Feel the Bern as a little known, radical, finger pointing socialist senator damn near captured the Democratic nomination. At first glance, these two men could not appear to be more diametrically opposed. However, the more I observed these individuals and the frenzied, fanatic populace that propped them up, they began to look more and more alike. It reminded me of enantiodromia, an odd occurrence observed and introduced by depth psychologist Carl Jung, where “the superabundance of any force inevitably produces its opposite.” In other words, the further into an extreme one wanders, the more and more it tends to morph into its opposite. Jung found this to be especially abundant in psychological development. I don’t pretend to be a psychologist, but to me, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and their followers sure did seem to begin showing signs of an enantiodramatic response. I witnessed friends and ardent Bernie supporters start to exhibit behaviors usually reserved for those engaged in religious zealotry. The same sort of behavior that they criticized Trump supporters for demonstrating. But, pardon me. I digress. This was not meant to be a political rant. Why have I taken us down this political black hole? Because all of this fervor can be attributed to belief. People on both sides of the political spectrum believed so strongly that the system needed a complete overhaul, they pushed two very unlikely personalities to within arm’s reach of arguably the most powerful position in the "developed" world. It remains to be seen whether or not the extreme beliefs of the populace with thrust Trump and his…um…entertaining(?) platform upon the world. No matter the outcome of November’s election, the incredible power of belief has been on full display throughout this entire, absurd process.
So, belief has the power to effect a wildly radical outcome on the world and inspire improbable action in its inhabitants, but what of its more subtle abilities? How far do its capacities reach? The world of psychiatry has bared witness to instances more likely to be found in science fiction novels than medical journals. Enter Multiple Personality Disorder or Dissociative Identity Disorder (as it’s now called), an extraordinary disease where an individual can develop anywhere from two to hundreds of alternate personalities within themselves. The individual may look like a twenty-something female, but may switch between being an eight year old boy, a fifty year old lesbian, an eighty year old female painter or a forty year old male construction worker. As if the capacity for these full psychological switches wasn’t compelling enough, the physiological anomalies associated with MPD/DID are where things get really interesting. According to a NY Times article from 1988 (http://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/28/science/probing-the-enigma-of-multiple-personality.html?pagewanted=all) “For more than a century clinicians have occasionally reported isolated cases of dramatic biological changes in people with multiple personalities as they switched from one to another. These include the abrupt appearance and disappearance of rashes, welts, scars and other tissue wounds; switches in handwriting and handedness; epilepsy, allergies and color blindness that strike only when a given personality is in control of the body.”
That is astounding! Someone can believe so thoroughly and completely that they are actually different people that diseases will come and go in an instant? Observable, physiological wounds will appear and disappear? Do you know what that means?! Our minds are capable of so much more than we can possibly comprehend.
All this evidence leads to some pretty wild questions, like how do we harness the uncanny power of belief to enact radical change within ourselves? Can we finally toss aside the tragically limiting Cartesian split? How do we thoroughly convince ourselves that ANYTHING is possible? Just how far do the capacities of our neurological construct extend? How do Jung’s collective unconscious, Teilhard de Chardin’s noosphere, and Sheldrake’s morphic field come into play?
I can’t definitively answer these question just yet…yet, but I’m working on some demonstrable hypotheses. We shall see…In the mean time, if y’all have any ideas, please do share!