Many years ago, I was browsing thought the Borders bookstore, one of
the earliers ones, on State Street in Ann Arbor, and encountered a book
about psychotherapy. It claimed to be a sort of encyclopedia
of named styles of psychotherapy. I can’t recall the number
of them, but I think it was between 300 and 400. That was 20
years ago. I’m sure it is in the thousenads by now.
Of course most of these are merely variations of just a few themes.
And most have not been validated systematically.
One of these is called
Belief Engineering. The basic principles
are sound. The only quibble I have is that most psychotherapy
will involve changing core beliefs, so there seems to be little point
in splitting that off and giving it a separate name.
Probably the name serves to give the approach a certain degree of curb
appeal, and prima facie validity.
Anyway, the idea is that people hold certain beliefs that tend to shape
their behavior in important, systematic ways.
For example, if a person finds that they keep dating other people who
turn out to be untrustworthy, it may be that they have a core belief
that no one is honorable in romantic contexts. That belief
may shape their behavior, such that it becomes a self-fulfilling
prophesy. By being suspicious, hypervigilant, and constantly
seeking reassurance, they drive people away. This simply
reinforces the belief.
That is only one example. There are many ways that this plays
Nowhere is this more evident that in politics.
Politicians usually will tell you what their core beliefs are.
This is a problem, since much of what they say in
not true. However, by examining their behavior for
patterns, it is possible to discern the core beliefs. Then,
you can figure out if the beliefs they profess, are in fact the beliefs
that are guiding their behavior.
It sometimes helps to look at some examples. Say a politician
claims to be “pro-life.” Let us imagine that said
politician refuses to sign the ban on land mines, the ban on cluster
bombs, the ban on chemical weapons, the ban on torture, and mounts a
war of choice that kills tens of thousands of people, vastly increases
childhood hunger and mortality, causes cholera outbreaks, and creates
over two million refugees.
In that case, it is safe to say that the core beliefs have been
However, sometimes the core beliefs are exactly what they are said to
Let’s say that a politician claims to hold this belief: that
government is always inefficient and incompetent; government is not the
solution, it is the problem. One could test the validity of
this claim by examining the behavior.
If a politician acts in ways that cause government to be inefficient
and incompetent — to be the problem and not the solution — then that
would constitute evidence that the politician has portrayed his or her
Such a core belief may, for example, cause one to appoint the former
Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse
Association to head a national emergency management agency (working
with a Deputy Director who used to be a TV news anchorman); or, to
appoint a Secretary of Labor who thinks that states should be able to
opt out of the minimum wage law; assign a corporate lobbyist to head
the Consumer Product Safety Commission (thus replacing someone who had
managed to generate just one rule change in four years of service);
appoint the former ambassador to the Vatican to head the department of
Veteran’s Affairs; appoint a vice-president of Monsanto to be the
Deputy Administrator at the EPA; appoint a mining-industry lobbyist to
be Secretary of the Interior; appoint a coal-industry executive to be
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety. And so on.
I suppose honesty is a good thing, so we should be quick to praise,
even re-elect, a politician who is honest about at least one of his
core beliefs. It turns out that that is
exactly what we have done.