The Power of Belief

I finally finished reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell this morning and was struck by the closing words of the novel, from “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing”. Here is an excerpt, which I don’t believe requires much additional commentary:

My recent adventures have made me quite the philosopher, especially at night, when I hear naught but the stream grinding boulders into pebbles through an unhurried eternity. My thoughts flow thus. Scholars discern motions in history & formulate the motions into rules that govern the rises and falls of civilizations. My belief runs contrary, however. To wit: history admits no rules; only outcomes. 

What precipitates outcomes? Vicious acts & virtuous acts. 

What precipitates acts? Belief. 

Belief is both prize & battlefield, within the mind & in the mind’s mirror, the world. If we believe humanity is a ladder of tribes, a colosseum of confrontation, exploitation & bestiality, such a humanity is surely brought into being, & history’s Horroxes, Boerhaaves & Gooses shall prevail. You & I, the moneyed, the privileged, the fortunate, shall not fare so badly in this world, provided our luck holds. What of it if our consciences itch? Why undermine the dominance of our race, our gunships, our heritage, & our legacy? Why fight the “natural” (oh, what a weaselly word!) order of things?

Why? Because of this:–one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself. Yes, the Devil shall take the hindmost until the foremost is the hindmost. In an individual, selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction.

Is this the doom written within our nature?