I appreciate all of those who participate here at UD. We have some great debates. Here’s one of them.
Mark Frank (whom I thank for sparking this debate) thinks it is wrong to be certain:
It has usually been the people who are sure they know what is right who have done the most terrible things.
No, this is obviously false. The most dangerous people, including the three most prolific mass murderers in history (Mao, Stalin, Hitler – in that order BTW), are those who do not believe there is such a thing as “right.”
KF jumps in:
Pardon, but the evidence is there all around, this is living memory history. On the part of the Marxist dictators, the death toll is well known to in aggregate exceed 100 millions. Such Marxism was premised on atheistical dialectic and historical materialism and led to a cynically nihilist totalitarianism of unprecedented proportions. . . .
The cynically nihilist corruption of morality, nay the naked amorality in this is patent. The toll for what we see above from 1925 – 6, was a devastated continent and was it 40 – 50 millions dead in Europe because of this demonic madman? (And I here deliberately use the terms the White Rose movement’s Catholic martyrs used in the pamphlets that cost them their lives.)
Barry’s point is all too apt.
Mark Frank responds
I clearly haven’t explained the point because your excerpt supports my case! My point was that idealogies, principles, and being sure you are right, are among the most dangerous things in history (especially when they are mixed with paranoia).
Hitler had an idealogy – racial purity – which is demonstrated in the excerpt. He did not act to make money, or give himself a comfortable life, or attract beautiful women (although he might have come to enjoy these things as well). He acted out of a principle – one that all of us would reject vehemently but which was sufficient to galvanise a nation. If he or his followers had been more sceptical, less sure they were right, more ready to respond to human suffering rather than abstract ideas, then the world would have been a much, much better place.
The real pivot of your assertion is that you stricture “being sure,” by invidious association and by asserting its danger. We were not born yesterday.
What I showed above was that amorality and relativism on morality are indeed associated with key ideologies that had much to do with the biggest mass murders of all time.
By contrast, being certain that 2 + 3 = 5; or, more directly relevant, being certain — let’s say it: morally certain — that humans are valuable and have equal worth to be respected through the neighbour love principle, and through justice, are NOT dangers to be grouped with the likes of the amoral and nihilist tyrannies discussed above.
Pardon directness, but it is blatantly outright irresponsible and absurd to pretend or suggest that “being certain” (especially regarding self evident moral truths such as that the holocausst or torturing innocent children and raping then murdering them are self evidently evil . . . the specific context of this discussion) is a danger to be grouped with ideologies that led to the holocaust or to the Marxist police states and their crimes.
WJM puts in his $0.02:
I absolutely agree that there is a case to be made for humbly admitting that one can be in error and for maintaining a certain degree of skepticism. As MF rightly points out, a bit more humility and skepticism is in order especially when you are being asked to go along with that which your conscience tells you is wrong.
There is a problem that arises, however, when one applies too much skepticism and commits to the idea of the fallibility of their own minds to a degree that will accommodate that which their conscience alerts them to be wrong. Too little skepticism can sweep one up in a false ideology; too much can result in the apathy and acquiescence that allows dangerous and destructive ideologies power.
The case can be made that Hitler and core, ideological Nazis ran roughshod over a nation not because most people were too ideologically committed to Nazi views, but rather because most of the nation was too uncommitted to any ideology that would obligate them to intervene even at the expense of their own comfort. For the most part, they were willing to turn a blind eye even though their consciences were telling them that what was going on was wrong.
Yes, it takes someone committed to an ideology to do what the Nazis did; it also takes someone committed to an ideology to do what Miep Gies did in hiding Anne Frank at the risk of her own life. One cannot stand up (and risk their lives and their family & friend’s lives) to a tyrannical ideology without being committed to some other ideology that obligates one to do so.
The ideology of skepticism and potential error, where one will not even commit to calling the holocaust an obvious evil, is not an ideology that can generate the kind of sacrifice Miep Gies was willing to make.
Some degree of skepticism and admission that one might be in error is a good thing; too much of it is simply a coward’s way of avoiding making a commitment to what they believe is right.
There are some things where skepticism is appropriate; there are some things, like the principle of non-contradiction, where skepticism is a self-negating absurdity. Skepticism should never be an ideology in itself; it should only be a tool appropriately and reasonably applied in examining one’s views.
The Teacher writes:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
My conclusion. There is a time to be skeptical and there is a time to be certain. Wisdom is knowing what time it is.