17 November 2010

Can there be any doubt as to the importance of doubt?

Those unfortunate few who know me might be surprised when they recall how fiercely I often defend a position, how uncompromisingly I divide and draw the lines in a discussion. Surely this is not a man who doubts? But it is so. I’m a doubter. Completely unsure of anything, everything! Most of all I doubt myself. Was I really in my right to say what I just said? Wasn’t there any point to their argument after all? Perhaps I was wrong.

Doubt is undoubtedly the prime method of gaining knowledge. It is the best way to break through a rut, a paradigm, a dogma. It prevents conviction. Conviction is necessary in an argument, to be sure. But in a lot of discussions I play devil’s advocate, in the interest of getting to the bottom of things. That is why discussions, unless someone deliberately makes them so, are rarely personal. I’m only interested in the truth.

I often wonder where people get their conviction from. Human, moral and societal problems are always resoundingly complicated, complex and convoluted. There isn’t a shadow of a doubt that there is no crystal clear solution to any of it. Rather there is a cloud of possibilities and alternatives that all push through to a solution. But then I see politicians on tv, pundits and the media intelligentsia, and they all seem to know so clearly what is wrong and right. They defend their point of view with such undeterring zeal. I wonder... are they playing devil’s advocates as well? Are they performing their roles, bound by public expectation or politics? Or do they really think they have all the answers?

How much stake can you put in a person who never seems to doubt, who doesn’t even allow doubt to enter his thoughts? I suggest that in the future we approach such stern conviction not with the respectful trepidation it often receives, but with the sincerest suspicion.

Without doubt, there can be no wisdom! In a world where answers are never black and white, doubt is the only sensible recourse.