Dogmatism and skepticism are both, in a sense, absolute philosophies; one is certain of knowing, the other of not knowing. What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or ignorance.

   ~ Bertrand Russell ~

Acknowledging one’s own secrets can feel as though lightning bolts are coursing through one’s veins, setting nerve endings ablaze in tiny, but palpable explosions. The idea of divulging those personal secrets can augment the explosions with the sensation of shredding, like a million miniscule scalpels are slicing one’s nerves into long, thin fibers. And then dipping the shredded filaments in a mercurochrome bath. Oh, it might extinguish the blazes, but it may be like dousing the burn of a ghost pepper on the tongue with a swig of hydrochloric acid. At some point, the idea of severing one’s own head seems a reasonable option, thereby eliminating the source of the problem. That’s a crazy idea, of course, but keeping a single-use guillotine in the back of the closet—just in case—doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

The world can, at times, seem too burdensome to tolerate. But, as we all know, the world can change in an instant. Peacefulness can become chaos in the blink of an eye. Yet the reverse is true, as well. Calamity can dissolve into serenity, too. Anxiety can be transformed into tranquility just as quickly. In those seconds beforehand, though, the metamorphosis from negative to positive can feel like light years, multiplied by themselves. If only we have enough composure and patience to wait, the universe eventually sorts itself out into a rather ordered, calm, placid place. Usually. If we cannot muster enough restraint, though, we risk severing our head just before witnessing an impossibly beautiful sunrise. That’s the problem with certainty. When one is certain the end of the world is seconds away, it is. But when one is willing to wait it out, just to see, seconds can turn into decades. Our lives are studies in risk. When we can prevent others from stumbling into an abyss, we should. And we can prevent others from that stumble—always .


Both the Right and the Left whine about the other side’s intransigence while exhibiting extraordinarily intransigent behavior. That is true of Washington politicos, of course, but it’s equally true of damn near everyone who identifies as either Republican or Democrat. Or, for that matter, Independent. Or Green. Or Tea Party. Or Libertarian. If every person absolutely certain of his or her rectitude suddenly vaporized into a pleasant, vanilla-scented mist, the air would have an overwhelming, cloying odor of vanilla beans and the world would be a far more peaceful, agreeable, and enjoyable place.

Although I find almost every Republican in Congress as disgusting as I’ve ever found a person to be, I cannot say many positive things about Democrats in the same institution. They are, with rare exceptions, partisan scum. Their philosophies are not their own. Their beliefs are fed intravenously to them by monied power-mongers, whose ideas they greedily consume. They regurgitate those philosophies as their own in return for the trappings of power and the illegitimate pecuniary rewards they “earn” through their unwavering allegiance to hateful ideas and their promises of support to the endeavors of their masters.

I feel rage inside me for the people “we” elect to Congress and to various and sundry other institutions we vest with the power to control our lives. But, that rage notwithstanding, I will harness my ill-will and place it in a paddock with the other animal-like ideas trotting around in my brain.


The language of judicial decision is mainly the language of logic. And the logical method and form flatter that longing for certainty and for repose which is in every human mind. But certainty generally is illusion, and repose is not the destiny of man.

   ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. ~


I wonder whether any of what we call “morality” is innate? Without being taught that killing another human being is wrong, would we be more likely to kill people? Are any parts of our internal “moral” codes part of us when we emerge from the womb? Without the constraints imposed by artificial limits, would the survivors among us be killers? Would we engage in child-making behaviors with random strangers on a regular basis? Would we take others’ belongings without any sense of guilt or concern? Would we cheat on tests, or lie about income to avoid taxes? Conversely, would we come to the aid of a person injured in an auto accident, without the guidance of a social moral code? Would fidelity be automatic? Would we avoid taking things that do not belong to us?

So many questions. And the answers are colored by what we are taught.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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3 Responses to Answers

  1. David, your points are absolutely spot-on. Our culture seems to be guiding us toward certainties that are not subject to change in the light of advancing knowledge; people become steadfast in their commitments to the rectitude of their opinions, facts suggesting otherwise be damned. And, yes, that’s a shame.

    Meg, I think your point is well taken. Evolution had demanded cooperation from which, in turn, certain moral behaviors must have emerged. That seems logical; and killing people in another tribe could be an artifact of our pre-moral evolutionary development. Hmm.

  2. David Legan says:

    Intransigence has gone far past politics. It now applies to foods: meat vs veggies, and cars, and probably deodorant. Somehow…perhaps with the criticisms of “flip flopping” it became unacceptable for a curious person to LEARN SOMETHING AND CHANGE THEIR MIND. And that’s just a shame.

  3. Meg+Koziar says:

    John, As evolving humans needed cooperation to survive, I do think there is a natural moral code to enable cooperation. (Now granted, one may have needed to cooperate only with a few people, and kill those in another tribe.)

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