THE WILL TO DOUBT

Life is a game, and the game of life, doubts and all, is a real interest as well as a necessity. We are creatures of habit, but we have, and we cherish, no habit stronger or more essential than the habit at once of adaptation and variation.
Doubt is necessary to life, to real life, to deep experience. Doubt is but one of the phases of the resistance which a real life demands. Real life implies a constant challenge, and doubt is a form under which the challenge finds expression. The doubter is a questioner, a seeker; he has, then, something to overcome; he fears, too, as well as hopes.
Doubt makes one dependent; isolation gives a sense of loss. Dependent man and doubting man must have society.
A man’s virtues are so near to his vices. Even what is cold is somewhat warm. Nothing is absolutely anything. In history a single ideal, rising to influence, has always divided men into two opposing camps. Witness the fact of bipartisanship, not in politics alone, but in all of life’s interests.
Democrats and Republicans, Radicals and Conservatives alike loved their country and honored their country’s flag and, regardless of party, their country’s heroes or patriots. Epicureans and Stoics—in recent times or long ago—have found the same life worth living. The Roman law and the Roman holiday, working together, like the right and the left hand, different yet in sympathy, made the great empire. Two men, furthermore, in active, open conflict are in truth at serious difference with each other; but, as they might even say, if their conflict were in the form of a debate, where words instead of fists or pistols were the weapons, in the bare, unapplied principle involved, or say in the abstract, in the final success of whichever is the “best man,” they do and they must agree.
Simply throughout this life of ours there has been and there can be no idealism without conflict and no conflict, whatever the issue or the manner, without common weapons, which means, too, without some common relationship and some common interest. As for the idealism, too, what is it but a demand for real unity?
Perhaps only to enlarge upon what has just been said, contradiction is an absolutely effective correction of narrowness or partiality or relativity or one-sidedness in life or consciousness, and so it makes experience not abstract, but realistic. This is in truth only another view of the worth of contradiction to integrity and vitality, to unity and reality.
In practical life there always are, and emphatically there always must be, two sides, to everything, to every question. In practical life, too, or at any rate in all effective activity, there always is, and emphatically there always must be, something very like to leadership; but any truly practical leadership, any leadership that is all along the lines of life, be it of things, ideas, persons, or social classes or parties, can never be confined to a single individual representative, but must be instead a leadership of many. No thoroughly practical leadership can ever be on one side or the other, but instead of being one-sided it must be both-sided, or rather, infinitely many-sided; it must be between or among all the different and opposed individuals; it must lie, perhaps in a sense sleep, in rivalry and competition.
Yes, real leadership, like real unity in general, is a divided labor; it is a labor that effects successful co-operation through its very differences and conflicts: for reality, a labor perhaps of different “elements” or “entities”; for knowledge, of different ideas and standpoints; for morals, of different standards; for politics, of different parties and platforms.
Not only do the contradictions make experience realistic and so practical, but also they make it essentially social. Let not our thinking conjure false sweetness and light. Experience is truly and essentially social; the individual was not meant to dwell alone; but herein is no immediate cure-all, no promise of an unperturbed brotherly love, of a life for one and all of simple peace and blissful quietude. On such a plan society would hardly suit the individual with whom, and with whose natural experience, we have become acquainted. To speak with the extravagance of counter-sentimentalism, the individual of our present acquaintance is forever spoiling for a fight. In the life of the society to which he belongs; in the life where he watches for his incoming ship, there must always be hate and evil in all their forms, lawlessness and destruction, illusion and error.
The good or the evil in society, being always opposed, is always also shared. So few people recognize, or appreciate, what a great mixer opposition is. Hate witnesses only a false love; sin, a pharisaical righteousness. Destruction marks an imperfect construction. In a word, the individual’s natural society is never without evil; and although social life, not less than individual life, must be one of conflict and discord, nevertheless, because the various factors or factions, however opposed, can never be unmixed, because the members of society must all be good and bad, right and wrong instead of being hopeless for having evil in it, the life of society is so much the more worth living.
For a life in which everything has an opposite, every idea a counter-idea, truth very plainly, as has indeed been frequently said, cannot be a specific consciousness or reality a fixed thing.
Have you ever climbed a mountain up and up and up, through thick woods, over rough, almost impassable trails, into clouds dense and chilling, stormy and angry, over treacherous snows and frightful cliffs, and come out at last on the very top to see both earth and heaven, yourself between, the clouds dispersed, the hardships and dangers all forgotten, the whole world real and yours? Well, that is doubt become achievement. Have you worked at some problem of everyday life, or a problem of science or philosophy, patiently or impatiently applying all the rules and precepts at your command, trying every resort known to you, and in final desperation many you only guess at, and then, when failure seems almost certain, caught a glimpse of the real meaning and the real way, attaining to an insight that reveals a new world to you? That, too, is doubt rewarded. Have you ever suffered a great heartrending disappointment or a great personal loss, and found it seemingly impossible to return to the routine of your former life, but nevertheless, almost imperceptibly, come into a sense of presence and gain from the very thing that seemed taken from you? That, once more, is doubt without its sting, robbed of its victory.
So we find ourselves well upon our way in the world of the doubter—and what a world it is! No finality, because so much reality. Conflict is forever necessary to its effective realization. Relativity is finiteness, of all things, of all things in it, just for the sake of its own true absoluteness, just to conserve its own actual infinity.
Does it hurt your business to doubt it sufficiently to make you able to sympathize with the interests of another? Does it hurt your politics, if you can lose enough of the partisan’s conceit or the jingo’s bombast to sympathize with the other parties or the other nations? The value of real independence in politics is one answer, and the idea of federation among competing states, or of international polity as a basis of successful national life, is another.
Does it hurt your understanding to outgrow your own profoundest ideas and see some validity in the doctrines and formulæ of others?
The confession of doubt, which we set out to make with all possible candors, is now nearly concluded. The confession began, as will be remembered, with recognition of certain general and easily demonstrated facts, of which there were five, as follows:
(1) We are all universal doubters.
(2) Doubt is essential to all consciousness.
(3) Even habit, though confidence be the horse, has doubt sitting up behind.
(4) Like pain or ignorance, doubt is a condition of real life.
(5) And the sense of dependence, so general to human nature, gives rise to doubt, although also, like misery, it always seeks company—the company of nature, of man, of God.
Of course in all matters as well as in this of intellectual honesty, the conceit of individual righteousness or individual possession is a very strong one, but it is “easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye” than for a man who is anything or has anything to himself alone, to enter into any kingdom. Is not life everywhere a movement and a struggle? And who is there, rich or poor, law-abiding or lawless, righteous or unrighteous, faithful or treacherous, believing or doubting, who can stand aloof, or who needs to stand aloof, and say to himself: “I personally, within my own nature, have no part in the struggle; for good or for ill, I am just what I am, and with him that is against me I have and can have no dealings”?
The doubter, then, and the believer may have to look askance at each other; the looking askance may be quite appropriate to the conflict in which each has and must feel his social role, but, at most and worst, they are only jealous lovers. They may be given, and profitably given, as much to quarrelling as to gentleness, but they love still, and, to borrow part of a line from a familiar college song, their battling love affords just one more view of that which “makes the world go ’round”—instead of off at some tangent.
(Adapted from The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Will to Doubt, by Alfred H. Lloyd)

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