By nature, I am a cynic; indeed, my first name literally translates to “sea of bitterness” in Hebrew. On any given day, I can improvise a myriad of ideas I reject – from religious dogma to economic trickle-down theory – but for some reason it is painstaking for me to find one concrete idea to believe in. One might say this cynicism is the unfortunate product of a postmodern world wrought with confusion and doubt about the grand ideas of the modern era – progress, democracy, capitalism, logic, even the notion of supreme truth – but I believe differently. I believe in disbelief. That is to say, I believe in the value of skepticism.
Whether by nature or nurture, I was a recalcitrant child, prone to questioning the legitimacy and supposed infallibility of authority. This impulse led me into the principal’s office on several occasions, but most notably in seventh grade. I had a social studies teacher who assigned a presentation on early American history; I received the topic of Christopher Columbus. Anyone who is familiar with American school textbooks knows that they are very biased in favor of Columbus as the great founder of the Americas. I purposefully denied this expectation. Drawing on outside sources of information, I wrote a seething expose on Columbus, highlighting his participation in genocide and his numerous character flaws. My teacher stopped me midway through my presentation, overtly furious. When I protested, she sent me out of the class. Despite my punishment and my teacher’s proclamations that I was evil, I did not regret my actions. Instead, I felt principled; it was the first time my beliefs felt potent. I have carried that experience with me ever since.
Every great idea deserves criticism, and every person must unceasingly question their beliefs in order to truly, unflinchingly believe in anything. To believe blindly is not to truly believe at all; it is rather a hollow pretension, a discardable costume. Without exploring alternative viewpoints, how can one be sure of a held belief? One cannot. Skepticism inherently reaffirms true beliefs by pruning out the false ones. It is the necessary accessory to the constantly evolving person.
But if you still don’t believe me, we’ll agree to disagree.
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