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In Praise of a Movement to Overthrow Certainty

By Wendyrw619 @WendyRaeW

Today, I’m writing to seek your support.  As we hunker down in these last few hours of the year, it’s almost impossible not to reflect on the year nearly past and the one creeping up on us.  What are our intentions for this brand new, yet-to-be-tainted year?  Sure, I need to exercise more—a lot more—and I absolutely must better understand how to manage adolescents.  I need to call my mother more often and also keep the laundry pile from becoming a rival to the North Cascades.

question mark

But, I also feel called to start a movement—or maybe join one—a movement to undermine a tic in public discourse that is threatening our ability to solve almost any collective problem, that is corrosive to the very heart of a deliberative democratic nation.  That tic—or habit of mind or rhetorical rut—is our national compulsion to present everything with such certainty.  Anytime we make an argument—myself included—we spell it out definitively with no air holes, no rise of voice at the end of the sentence that might even vaguely suggest a question mark, no possibility that what we are saying is anything other than an absolute truth that should be obvious to any one over the age of reason.

This commitment to certainty leaves no room for experimentation, for failure, for innovation.  If it is obvious that you must agree with me or be pronounced a dolt, there can be no spirit of let’s try this and see if it works.  Let’s give it a whirl. Let’s make time for adjustments.  Let’s mix a little of that and a little of this and maybe we can make the whole enterprise better.

Nope, it’s just:  1) We must raise taxes on the 1% that are living off the fat of the land tilled by the rest of us or 2) We must wean ourselves from the nanny-state that is undermining entrepreneurship and killing the American dream.   We choose and present our positions with such moral force and certainty that any other arguments are to be met with scorn and then with outrage.

I for one am tired of the sound of my own indignation.  I am certain we need additional gun control in this country.  Absolutely certain of it, but I also wonder if there is just a tiny space to also talk about increased law enforcement and flexibility to make people feel safe in their own homes and their own communities.  I am sure in the end I will have a position—probably one very close to the one I have now—but I would like to reach that position after listening to a range of options and honestly weighing the arguments.  I would like to come to my position humbly and without disdain for other frightened and well-intentioned parents who are looking to keep their children safe in schools and malls.

Plus, it will be fun.  We—the foot soldiers against certainty—can tell each other our secrets.  We can confess that we don’t really know what to do about climate change or the national debt or tax reform.  We can swap recipes for raising kids in an uncertain world.  We can spin out wild ideas over bottles of wine and imagine an America that is so much more creative and vibrant than the one we live in now.  We can laugh at our own mistakes and crack jokes about our foibles.  We can come out of the bunkers marked with the team colors of our political brands and shake our heads together over a crazy experiment that just might work.

Doesn’t that sound like a movement worth joining?  I’m just certain it is.

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