This I Believe

tom - brewster, Massachusetts
Entered on September 15, 2006

I believe in nothing … with any great vigor or perfect certainty. Not anymore, that is. I am a passionately, happily opinionated person, to be sure. It is the bane of my existence that I truly enjoy to arguing and debating with others about all of the topics that our society holds taboo such as religion, race, politics and sexuality. I can come across as pushy or stubborn, unfortunately, though I do not perceive myself that way. But, some weeks ago I had a revelation regarding my own degree of moral certainty which has taught me patience with others whose opinions differ from my own.

I am a pacifist in general and believe that war is only very rarely a wise course to follow in geopolitics. I railed against the Gulf War. Later, I became angry (then depressed) about our current strategy of waging a pre-emptive war with Iraq.

As with most opinions, it is a good idea for a person to engage in the thought experiment of pushing ones opinions to their extremes to test their validity. I tested my pacifism one day by pondering what I would have thought and said of the American Civil War had I been alive at the time. Had I been able to detach myself from the prevailing war hysteria of the time I might have argued the following:

1) The nascent nation was a tenuous union, destined to fall apart. Many of the founding fathers spoke of a future reckoning wherein the disparate cultures of the North and South would separate, like oil and water.

2) If the slaves were to be freed, the North might have boycotted and embargoed the Southern states into submission and thereby avoid the same degree of bloodshed.

3) If a vicious, protracted war is waged yielding overwhelming carnage and with the widespread, wholesale immolation of the farms, cities and, indeed, the very culture of the Southern states – how could reconciliation ever be expected to occur? The deep hatred and distrust of the South towards the North, I might have argued, would have further entrenched with each city sacked and every body buried.

I could go on, but the point is that history has proven that the types of objections that I might have raised, with passionate force and conviction, mind you, against the Civil War would have been proven staggeringly wrong in hindsight.

I remain decidedly opposed on so many levels to our present occupation of Iraq, that my head spins. But, I now inject my tirades against it with sufficient qualifiers and acknowledgements of opposing ideas that I, perhaps, appear less pig-headed to my fellow “debatees”. I still stand strongly for what I believe to be right. I have not become paralyzed by uncertainties and vagaries, but I try harder than ever to absorb and more deeply appreciate the opinions of others. After all, every opinion I currently entertain as my own, I got from someone else somewhere along the line.