Actually, as far as I know I’ve never met the Queen unless she goes around in disguise. In which case she could be the woman with the ugly dog but I don’t think so. Yet what if I did meet her unexpectedly in an informal setting?
Imagine a gentrified provisions shop out in the country somewhere. Instead of driving past we stop for a little smackerel of something. While we’re mulling over a tempting cheese counter, in walks this little old lady in a headscarf. By the way, speaking of cheese, never buy Stinking Bishop – it’s outstandingly unpleasant.
To continue. Something tells me the headscarfed one is Her Royalness, so what do I do? Now as I’ve never met the Queen, I’m not primed with the peasant’s section of the royal protocol manual (73rd edition), such as no high fives and no backslapping bonhomie.
However, even without the manual I’m sure I’d dredge up some kind of appropriate behaviour. I’d be suitably polite and deferential of course - and not just because the big chap next to her might have a machine pistol tucked into the waistband of his trousers.
The point I’m making with this absurdly improbable scenario is that I’d still manage to dredge up certain behaviours I’d never actually used before. So if I’ve never used them before, where did they come from?
Lots of places obviously – TV for example, but maybe the most interesting answer has to do with our repertoire of behaviours. We’re pretty good at adapting to circumstances, even those we’ve never come across before. As we all know, we only need a degree of similarity to something we’ve already encountered and off we jolly well go.
We do exactly the same thing when our beliefs are challenged. It doesn’t matter how good an argument might be. If it challenges our belief we can dredge up something to meet the challenge and send any would-be challenger packing. Always.
We all know this but many folk still seem to assume that belief is somehow a matter of rational choice. Supposedly we weigh our options using reason as our trusty guide. Absolutely ludicrous notion but there we are. Take a look around if you don't believe me. No, belief is a fixed repertoire of behaviours, a standard way responding to certain verbal or written challenges.
I imagine those challenges are mostly blogging or chatting in the pub or office, but the point is the same. Belief is part of our repertoire of behaviours, essentially no different to my repertoire of possible reactions to meeting the Queen.
It’s only when we understand this that we introduce the possibility of scepticism, that strange ability which seems to bring free will within reach. For habitual sceptics, the response to many challenges is not wholly automatic. Beliefs can be challenged.
Not many and not easily, but the possibility isn’t completely closed.