Believing, then Seeing

“[S]ecular Americans …  think that belief precedes action and explains choice. That’s part of our folk model of the mind: that belief comes first.” from @tanyaluhrmann in this NYTimes op-ed about the roles of faith and belief in evangelical communities.

I sometimes see intellectual property law and policy discussions through a similar lens:  People want to believe that IP does all of the things that it is said that IP does, so they proceed (law, policy, scholarship) accordingly.

But there is much more to all of this than what might appear to be simply willing suspension of dis-belief, or some obvious circular reasoning.  The reasoning metaphor, and the presumption that we reason first, are out of place.  Luhrmann, still in the Times, writes:

I saw that people went to church to experience joy and to learn how to have more of it. These days I find that it is more helpful to think about faith as the questions people choose to focus on, rather than the propositions observers think they must hold.

If you can sidestep the problem of belief — and the related politics, which can be so distracting — it is easier to see that the evangelical view of the world is full of joy. God is good. The world is good. Things will be good, even if they don’t seem good now. That’s what draws people to church. It is understandably hard for secular observers to sidestep the problem of belief. But it is worth appreciating that in belief is the reach for joy, and the reason many people go to church in the first place.

Talk among IP circles of motivations and incentives that drives creativity and innovation — even talk that focuses, as it should on non-monetary or non-financial incentives — misses, I think, at least a good chunk of this.   The “reach for joy” resonates as an ideal far beyond evangelical or even more generally spiritual settings.  Artists and scientists are, too, engaged in a kind of reach for joy — and all the more so when we expand the frame to think not only in terms of internal rewards (“I feel joy”) but external ones as well (“I share joy”).

(Post title borrowed from @dewittjones and his “Celebrate What’s Right” video, though the sentiment doesn’t originate with him.)