Thursday, April 29, 2021

Certainty and Doubt

Search in and out and roundabout

And you'll discover never

a tale so free of every doubt.

No probable, possible shadow of doubt,

No possible doubt whatever.  

        Gilbert & Sullivan, The Gondoliers

We live in uncertain times. I’m sure of it. Those two poles have always yanked me back and forth.

John Keats famously described an artist’s consciousness as one being able to live with uncertainties without reaching for resolution. Easy for him to say; he was all of twenty-two. When he was my age he’d have been dead for sixty-three years. But he was wise beyond his years. The poet, the artist of any form of expression, knows some resonant chord may have been struck when the inexplicable has been attained. Not an absolute but a nascent emergence from chaos. Truth has a ring to it and it is beautiful. It may also be fleeting.

Dying begins when doubt is forbidden. One of my best lines. I wrote this in a poem trying to understand why my dear friends joined the Jim Jones cult almost fifty years ago. The same question could be put to those in the Donald Trump cult. There seems to be something in the human unconscious which so desperately seeks an authority figure that autonomy is happily ceded. They squirm living with doubt.

When I hear Dr. Fauci change his mind regarding masks or the safety of the J&J vaccine, it is the sound of Science, always a work in progress. Let Fox News mock him as they pander to the vexed but un-vaxed Repugnants. I count them among those looking for Daddy to set in stone some unassailable commandment.

I know the feeling. When I was young, centuries ago, I too sought out a kind of doctrinaire philosophy in Marxism. No matter the question, I had the answer. I couldn’t, for a minute, be wrong. If I was wrong about who was the best shortstop I could be wrong about everything. It took me a long while to live comfortably in the muddle of conflicting ideas. It seems to me that is the source of imagination.   

Absolutism could be seen as a failure of the imagination. I don’t mean the certitude of who won or lost the election. That is quantifiable. The imagination is not the delusion of self-serving deceit as practiced by Donald but the vision of what this country could be and how this planet could yet thrive.

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