PARADOXICAL as it may sound, greater level of certainty in our views and beliefs has had a detrimental effect on our level of empathy with others and our humanity in general. The first step towards any genocide and barbarism almost always starts with a firm belief in one's own views and an equally complete indubitable belief in the crassness and falseness of the opponent's view.
Aggressive self-righteousness has given us the massacre of Gazans at the hands of Israel, which obviously thinks killing thousands of 'petty' Palestinian civilians is a justified price to pay in order to dismantle Hamas. It is true many inside Israel are voicing severe criticism but they are far and in between, the vast majority are either indifferent to the plight of Palestinians or have been able to dehumanise the Palestinians and are certain that their path is the righteous path. It is worth remembering that the Holocaust was not only a tragedy because millions of Jews were murdered but because they were done so in plain sight of ordinary educated Germans; it is the latter that makes it horrific beyond belief.
Throughout human history the greatest bane to progress has been the unflinching illogical faith in one's own views and belief, the idea that one cannot be wrong. Richard Dawkins is probably wrong when he says religion is at the root of all evil; it is not, but dogmatism and certainty are. Unfortunately, it's not only the religiously fundamentalist like al-Qaeda and ISIS who are afflicted with this disease called 'certainty,' but a large swath of people. Ultra nationalist, staunch atheist, party loyalist, followers of certain theories (a few neoclassical economists comes in mind) are all who push us towards regress rather than progress.
It was doubt that made Copernicus question Ptolemy's astronomy and it was doubt that allowed a clerk working at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern to challenge and overthrow the mighty Newtonian mechanics. Bertrand Russell once said: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” The solution is not for the wise ones to live in fool's paradise and aspire for certainty but for all us to be little more doubtful about our views, beliefs and what we think we know; in doubt we trust because doubt shall set us free!
The writer is a Graduate of King's College Cambridge.