Certainty about facts, opinions, positions and the future is something common to politics. The chances of someone getting elected based on a platform of the reality that nothing is certain are nil. We are a culture that prizes certainty over honesty, humility or reality. Uncertainty is a weakness, indeed sinful. Yet if anything is certain it is that certainty is an illusion.
Over the span of my lifetime I can remember being certain of many many things, absolutely none of which came out the way I was convinced they would. Many of those opinions and “truths” were in conflict with later ones, but at the moment they seemed real, inviolable and something with which you should agree or doom yourself to irrelevance.
Maybe the passage of time helps some see more shades of gray, more uncertainty and a greater willingness to admit mistakes. Some never reach that stage, so I am not sure to what I would ascribe my own growing agnosticism about virtually everything.
Politics is a particularly curious subject upon which to have any certainty at all. Every solution, nostrum and position has failed over time to achieve the ballyhooed results they promised. The conviction that government could be the center of resolving the nation’s problems that was a byproduct of Roosevelt’s New Deal met the crashing shoals of the conservative movement that started in the 1970’s and reached its pinnacle more recently.
Yet the conservative and then neo-conservative certainties have all failed just as miserably as their liberal relatives. One can quibble about the details and the causes of failure, but the real world results show no promise has ever been kept by those certain they knew what to do.
Explanations of why often center around interference by “them” — if only “they” hadn’t done such and such the ideal would have worked out and life would be better for it. Rarely has someone later admitted that their earlier certainty bore within it seeds of the results and were therefore flawed.
Why we have such a need to be certain and are so loathe to admit error has spawned its own research, theories and, yes, certainties. I leave it to others to worry about the “why” of this phenomenon.
But I do want to challenge each and every thought, position, belief and opinion that contains within it any form of certainty. Now I am not saying you are not correct. If you are, we can put your name on our coins and buildings instead of God’s and live happily ever after.
If you are not correct, however, I really wish you would tone down your rhetoric, admit a mistake every so often, and find within yourself a bit of humility.
I especially say this to all those who have been granted some kind of position of authority — whether the Pope, the President, politician, corporate officer, therapist, labor boss, media pundit or mug sitting at the bar mouthing off about something. You cannot possibly know what you claim to know. You cannot possibly know what would happen if we all agreed with everything you say.
Uncertainty is the most fundamental principle of what we call reality. Yes there are conditional truths, working assumptions, viable theories. But there is nothing that is as certain as would support the way many of us behave and speak.
The odds are overwhelming that you and I are wrong about most if not everything. Frankly I think that is a good thing, something to help us sane, to relieve the burden that certainty imposes upon us.
Back in the day we used to say all this with the simple phrase “lighten up.”