The Enormous Cost of Putting Belief Over Action

|July 5, 2023
One of politician sitting by table with his hands over document during political summit or conference

I’ve had a couple of recent experiences that have distilled a truth more clearly than anything else I’ve ever encountered.

That truth is the notion that belief trumps technique. That may not be the best way to say it, but stay with me.

Last month, I testified before the House Judiciary Committee regarding food security in the meat industry and the fact that 85% of the nation’s beef and pork get funneled through four mega-processors.

Some 14 congresspeople on the committee came and went during the hearing, during which four witnesses – including me – represented small processors.

Each politician had five minutes to either make statements or ask questions of the witnesses. Nearly all spent at least half their time making prepared statements.

You’d think if someone actually wanted to learn from folks who traveled to Washington to testify, they’d spend their whole time probing and asking questions.

What a joke.

Their preconceived beliefs led them to completely disregard what the four of us had to say. The Democrats, especially, just wanted to promote antitrust litigation against the big processors. One of them even went so far as to say that only big government can ensure that small businesses survive.

That is the opposite of what the four of us believed. We shared ideas and solutions that would bring competition to the marketplace.

But we were country people, peasants… not worth listening to.

The politician’s beliefs prohibited them from even imagining that there could be a different way to cut the mega-processors down to size.

Our techniques grow out of our beliefs. If we believe solutions can come only from big government, we’ll never consider ideas that don’t fit with that belief.

Beyond Belief

I also saw this idea in action when we hosted the Beyond Labels summit at our farm two weeks ago. At this event, we featured doctors who advocate unorthodox practices for wellness.

To be sure, I’m not here to debate the merits of various therapies. But as story after story of healing poured forth, I was struck by how belief determines technique.

For example, if you believe cancer is caused by rogue cell growth, you’ll gravitate toward one set of treatments. If you believe cancer grows when the body’s structured water can’t unload garbage fast enough, resulting in a tumor, you’ll opt for a completely different type of treatment.

One story came from a man who was given a couple of months to live due to terminal cancer. He was 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighed 117 pounds. He was completely bedridden and facing death.

With nothing better to do, he wrote on a card that in six months he would weigh 170 pounds and run a 5K race. Then he began a mental, emotional and spiritual marathon of expressing gratitude.

Day after day, he gave thanks for his spouse, for life, for kids, for friends, for grass, for stars – anything he could think of. Six months later, to the day, he weighed 170 pounds and ran a 5K race.

That leads me to the critical point of this little essay…

How do we keep our beliefs from being corrupted by our surroundings?

The political divide between red and blue in America right now clearly corresponds to rural and urban living. Urban centers tend to be blue. Rural areas tend to be red.

In his recent book, Small Farm Republic, conservative John Klar argues that our nation cannot survive as a republic without small farms.

I run with this argument in my upcoming book, Homestead Tsunami, by pointing out that in the country, folks are immersed in nonhuman things – trees, grass, creeks. In the city, folks are immersed in human-made things – roads, buildings, cars, traffic lights.

The result is an unconscious nudge in our belief systems toward either hubris or humility. In no way do I think city living is evil. Don’t interpret any sanctimonious bias in this. But I do think a city dweller must work harder at embracing a belief system that puts people in the proper perspective relative to the universe.

Here in the country, and especially on a homestead or farm, we encounter the limitations of human abilities routinely. You can’t stop a plant or animal from dying. You can’t control the weather. You can’t make hay when it’s raining.

These constant reminders of human limitation help form beliefs in human capacity and help us determine which techniques we should use.

A big, bossy cow never lets a timid rival get first dibs. A big, bossy government never lets a small startup compete with the folks paying for political fundraisers.

The visceral and practical expression of life’s principles can be seen in the face of rural folks every day. This may not explain all the reasons for the radically different policies (techniques) between urban and rural voters, but I suggest it might be the biggest piece of the puzzle.

More than ever, then, urban folks need to build relationships with farmers. Urban folks need to listen to rural folks – and vice versa, of course. But the tendency of advanced civilizations, as they move toward their demise, is to condescend to country bumpkins as power and profits migrate to urban centers.

You don’t make progress by telling shoplifters they’re victims any more than you make progress by tolerating a rogue cow’s aggressive behavior. If a cow won’t take discipline, you eat her. That’s country wisdom.

That’s how belief determines technique.

Joel Salatin
Joel Salatin

Joel Salatin calls himself a Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer. Others who like him call him the most famous farmer in the world, the high priest of the pasture, and the most eclectic thinker from Virginia since Thomas Jefferson. Those who don’t like him call him a bioterrorist, Typhoid Mary, a charlatan, and a starvation advocate. With a room full of debate trophies from high school and college days, 12 published books, and a thriving multigenerational family farm, he draws on a lifetime of food, farming and fantasy to entertain and inspire audiences around the world.