Facts, facts and more facts–give me nothing but facts, or so we could say Mr Gradgrind would say . . . did say in similar words, I remember Hard Times by Dickens. I read it for an Urban Sociology class now nearly four decades ago. Ours is another call for needful things. The one truly needful thing in our world, our culture, our country, this civilization of ours–whose civilization is it–what is it, this one truly needful thing? Ideas are things; civilizations are things–how long is this civilization? Should I ask, how long has it been? I have not disbanded with older notions of what our civilization has been, has meant, could have meant in face of what it has never meant, even if it tried to mean it for itself. Now, though, the highest wisdom is Doubt. Doubt, doubt and more doubt–glorious, marvelous doubt . . . we are in love with doubt, invite doubting, are virtually ecstatic (yes, virtually) to have felt as if we could have known the nothing we have settled on in our quest to raise doubt and doubting in our esteem.
Yes, give us doubt and nothing else but doubt. Doubt, doubt and more doubt. Didn’t Socrates say, “I know nothing?” Didn’t Montaigne also begin with an inquiry rooted in doubt? What do I know? What can I know? What are the limits of knowing? What is knowledge? What does it mean to say I know something? Beginning and end are not the same place we do not have to say, or do we need to remind ourselves, reading the newspaper, or trying to, with it pressed to our noses.
Nonetheless, the only wisdom ever needed, or so we assume, is an overriding doubt at the end of the day. We do not begin with the rhetorical posture of doubt, but conclude it after all, ending with an oppressive doubting of knowledge and the possibility of knowing anything.
The new dogma complete–you find it at the heart of everything we do and think–thinking itself having come under assault even in the academies of higher learning. I have had educated colleagues ask me rhetorically, and with a nearly contemptuous mocking jibe seeping through their smirk, How can you teach critical thinking? You could say that doubt has been instilled, imposed–no, that it has been planted to bear the fruit of a greater nihilism. But we wouldn’t like to hear that.
It must be facts for me; doubt is an end and not a means to understanding the limits of knowledge, of what knowledge is or could be, not what I know, but the end of all knowing. As a result, I have only things, facts as things, disconnected, more like confetti to throw into the air, the only effect being how pretty it looks as it falls in array. Facts, facts and more facts, of course only facts and the first and last fact of them all is that even facts can lie, even facts are uncertain. The one overarching and singularly guiding fact is doubt. I must doubt Truth, even all truths, any truth, minuscule ‘t’ truths accumulating in reserve. I only have to look at our contemporary civilization’s guiding metaphysics, look to my participation in my culture’s assault on reason, on truth, on, yes, dare I say beauty–or should I say Beauty Truth in deference to a lost initiative. What then must I do? I look at the poverty of our thinking and am not astonished by the increased poverty of our lives, nor am I astonished by how Power has gotten more monied and Money more powerful–ever more and more of each in fewer and fewer hands. And we sit or we stew or steep in our doubt,unable to answer the ever more and more certain Power of its power, the rightness of its power and the convictions of money for the necessity of its money and the ever increasingly grossly out of proportion disproportionate wealth.