Dr Jeff Kane: “Crédule” has been removed from the dictionary
Did you hear? Last week, a whistleblower revealed that Ireland’s new president does not speak a word of English.
If you believe this, your friends might see you as crazy, ridiculously ignorant, or whatever they think is in possession of an outrageous truth.
Every month, I meet four psychiatrists on Zoom. It’s not that I’m a high maintenance patient; they are regular medical classmates. I recently asked them this question:
“What do you call it when someone insists on believing which is clearly not the case, or is less likely than an opera singing a trout?” What do you say to someone who insists cannibals are hiding in the library or Italian satellites are tweaking our thyroids? Do you call it psychosis? Illusion? Lucid dreaming? Afraid of porn?
Among the variety of answers these shrinks offered me, one was particularly convincing. âAs crazy as it sounds,â said my classmate, âthis is normal human behavior. The so-called Homo sapiens has always been like this. When times are confused, we need a framework, a map, a way to organize the apparent chaos. So when we are desperate, we seek the simplest answer, whether it makes rational sense or not. We always have, and we probably always will.
Given, then, that such porous gullibility is all too human, it doesn’t matter how much you try to convince your cousin that corndogs will not cure psoriasis, or that there is in fact no northern colony. Korean on the far side of the moon. No one can change an idea.
We inevitably run our lives according to our beliefs, as they are. My psychiatrist friend convinced me, once and for all, that you believe whatever you want, regardless of the facts. Often our beliefs serve us well, bringing contentment, but sometimes they have unpleasant consequences.
The real truth, like the cream, will eventually rise to the individual and popular surface. When this happens – and provided we are mentally healthy – we reconsider our less successful beliefs and change course. In fact, such flexibility is a hallmark of mental health.
Jeff Kane is a doctor and writer in Nevada City