Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Shadows of Doubt

To paraphrase Bertrand Russell, The trouble with this country is that right-wing nitwits are cock-sure of themselves and Liberals are full of doubt. True a hundred years ago and even truer today. However along with doubt are nuances, mitigation, forgiveness, empathy etc…

Judge Amy Berman Jackson castigated Paul Manafort for fifty minutes in what seemed like a prelude to an additional ten years in prison. Yet the final sentence was a mere three years plus. Spoken like a true Talmudic scholar. There’s this yet there’s also that. The Jewish tradition is disputative of text.

Search in and out and roundabout
And you’ll discover never
A tale so free of every doubt
All probable, possible shadow of doubt
All possible doubt whatever.

So sings a character in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Gondoliers. The tale told in this chorus is so unlikely it raises more doubt. The album performed by the D’Oyly Carte Company was played all night long during my college days in a friend’s basement to keep us awake memorizing structural formulas the night before a test. If I didn’t doubt how I would ever use any of this in the practice of pharmacy I should have. I would have been better off if we’d had the record of the Jimmy Durante song in the movie, The Man Who Came to Dinner.

I may stay a month or I might leave immediately… Did you ever have the feeling that you wanted to go / but also have the feeling that you wanted to stay?

Then there is Groucho Marx in Animal Crackers singing….

Hello, I must be going. / I came to say I cannot stay / I must be going. / I’m glad I came / But just the same I must be going. / I’ll do anything you say / In fact I’ll even stay / I must be going

Wit and doubt are first cousins. Humor is often irreverent poking fun at rectitude and authority figures with a puff of Groucho’s cigar or Chaplin‘s cane. There is an element of wit in the plural mind of rational thinkers which entertain multiple ideas in collision.

If doubt is funny it can also be essential. Intellectuals, said Zorba, are like grocers; they weigh everything. Tyrants make no room for doubt. I have never heard of Trump cogitating. Nor did Jim Jones. If I may be permitted to plagiarize myself… Dying begins when doubt is forbidden. This comes from a poem I wrote a long time ago addressed to my friends at Jonestown before they lost their two teenage children. Doubt encourages the freedom they were denied.

The trouble with the world, as Russell saw it, is also our strength. Progress can be measured in the extent to which we move away from absolutes, and dogma. People of true faith wrestle with doubt in their dark moments of dread. Keats wrote of Negative Capability which asks for one to live in a place of uncertainty and mystery without reaching for resolution. Sounds like doubt to me. The pre-condition for allowing the imagination full sway.

However when objective facts are gathered and well-considered by scrupulous, deliberative minds doubt can be overcome and conclusions drawn. In other words bring charges against the man in the Oval who now soils our national fabric.

What Keats described applies to the creative, not the political, process. He, himself, was fiercely opposed to the Conservative agenda of his day. There can be no equivocating in the search for truth.

1 comment:

  1. Norm, I need solace,I want to hear these words from your lips “This too shall pass”.