Skip to comments.Are You Certain About That?
Posted on 12/27/2006 6:45:47 AM PST by Grig
Have you heard the news? Belief is bad.
Pick up an eggheady book review, an essay in Time magazine, or listen to a thumb-suck session on National Public Radio for very long and youll soon hear someone explain that real conviction dogmatism! is dangerous.
Andrew Sullivan, in his new book The Conservative Soul, declares a jihad on certainty, by which he means the certainty of fundamentalist Christianists the allusion to Islamists is deliberate. The New Republics Jonathan Chait proclaims that liberalism is the anti-dogmatic ideology. Sam Harris, a leading proselytizer for atheism, has declared a one-man crusade on religious certainty. Intellectual historian J.P. Diggins writes in the latest issue of The American Interest that theres a war afoot for the soul of the American Republic between the forces of skepticism and infallibility. And so on.
Much of this stems from the popularity of Bush hatred these days. Bushs alleged messianic certainty to use Sen. Barack Obamas words is dangerous and evil in the eyes of supposedly meek and nuanced liberals.
The rot, not surprisingly, has reached Hollywood. For example, in Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith, George Lucas caved to the fashionable anti-absolutism that comes with Bush hatred by having a young Obi-Wan Kenobi proclaim, Only a Sith lord deals in absolutes! Translation: Only evil people see the world as black-and-white. This signaled that Lucass descent into hackery was complete, since it was Lucas himself who originally explained that the entire universe is divided into light and dark sides.
Longtime New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis captured the thought nicely a few years ago when he said that a primary lesson of his entire career was that certainty is the enemy of decency and humanity in people who are sure they are right, like Osama bin Laden and John Ashcroft.
Whenever I hear people say such things, I like to ask them, Are you sure about that? When they say yes, which they always do, I follow up by asking, No, no: Are you really, really certain that certainty is bad? At some point even the irony-deficient get the joke.
But they still dont understand that the joke is on them. Virtually every hero in human history has been driven by certainty, by the courage of their convictions. Sir Thomas More and Socrates chose certain death, pun intended, over uncertain life. Martin Luther King Jr. to pick liberalisms most iconic hero was hardly plagued with doubt about the rightness of his cause. A Rosa Parks charged with todays reigning moral imperative not to be too sure of herself might not have sat at the front of the bus. An FDR certain that certainty is the enemy of decency and humanity might have declined to declare total war on Nazism for fear of becoming as bad as his enemy.
The fact is that unless you know where you stand, its unlikely youll have the courage to understand where someone else is coming from.
Obviously, theres more than a grain of truth to the view that closed-mindedness is bad. Immunity to new facts and a smug confidence that you couldnt possibly be wrong are serious character flaws and the source of grave mistakes. Yes, of course, dogmatism can be very bad, if the dogma in question is bad. But, as Chesterton teaches, a dogmatic conviction can also be morally praiseworthy and socially valuable. If you doubt that, let us now commence the war on the certainty that murder is wrong, that racism is bad and that a parents love should be unconditional.
This ultimately is my problem with the anti-certainty chorus: They arent offended by conviction per se, but by convictions they do not hold. Jean-Paul Sartre famously wrote that hell is other people. Well, for the new liberal champions of skepticism and philosophical humility, hell is the certainty of other people.
Closed-minded has come to mean people who disagree with me. (This is a corollary to the popular tendency of defining diversity as a bunch of people who look different but think alike). So, for example, pro-lifers have an unshakable dogmatic and faith-based certainty that abortion is wrong. But, we are told, pro-choicers are merely open-minded and realists. People who are certain gay marriage is good are enlightened people, while those whose convictions point elsewhere are zealots.
In other words, certainty has become code among the intellectual priesthood for people and ideas that can be dismissed out of hand. Thats what is so offensive about this fashionable nonsense: It breeds the very closed-mindedness it pretends to fight.
Andrew Sullivan is certain of only one thing in this life - where he wants to put his penis!
I have long argued that there is no such thing as neutral. That humans by virtue of their survival instainct must necessarily pick a side.
They never will.
A car won't go far in neutral (hey, I just made that up)
Ask the morons if there is global warming and if so if it is caused by man...
No Dogma there...
Except, of course, Islamists, since by this enlightened thinking, theirs is only a reaction of the oppressed to the evil "certainty" of the Judeo-Christian west. Islam is really all about "peace and luuuuv," save for millions of dogma-crazed "freedom fighters," whose only wish is to enslave the world, poor darlings.
Unlike television comedy shows [Seinfeld], civilizations cannot be based on nothing. Civilizations must be sustained by beliefs, strong beliefs. If the leadership of a civilization does not transmit certainties about the value of that civilization to its populace, that civilization will wither and die, and be overrun by some other civilization that DOES have strong beliefs. For instance: today's Europe, based on nothing but the pleasure principle, is being overrun by Islam. And America is not immune from this fate.
Certainly, I'm certain. But, are you certain that you are certain? For certain is, as certain does...
It can go downhill.
Wheezing! Collapsing! Tears in my eyes! Funniest thing I've seen on FR in months! ;)
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