The Crime of Certainty

The brightness of a good idea is no less blinding than the darkness of a bad ideology. Either can enrapture the mind with visions of the Rapture: a mystical experience in which common sense yields to a singular sensation of certitude; in which what you feel is more important than what you know; in which what you see matters more than what others cannot see for themselves—the truth of an idea, despite all evidence to the contrary, whose realization is the result of the best of intentions or the worst crimes of intent.

I refer to the certainty of the partisan, whose fanaticism our Constitution checks and whose plan of action is a plan of attack. I refer to the frightening gains of the enemies of doubt.

To call these individuals religious is to deny the value of doubt in the service of religion. The religious Christian knows he sometimes knows not what he does. The observant Jew knows he transcribes the laws of the Almighty, rather than rewriting the law to make man the mightiest of all. Both accept the limits of reason for the simple reason that the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

Only the few, who are certain, transfer the feelings of one unto the lives of all. Only the few, who are never uncertain, refuse to listen to what others long to hear: contradiction, doubt, and disbelief. Such a system is only possible if vengeance is the purpose of justice and malice is a just substitute for mercy.

Such is the rage in national politics, campus politics, and office politics: a paroxysm of certainty against alleged wrongdoers, in spite of incredulous assertions and impeachable arguments.

In spite of everything, I still believe many people are really not good at heart.

Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

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