Need for perpetual skepticism [Archives:2003/670/Culture]

September 22 2003

By Sam Ashuraey
For the Yemen Times

Although skepticism is largely a philosophical concept, I fail to see why it shouldn't be incorporated into the lives of all people. Unfortunately, it is generally viewed negatively, and is associated with such words as cynical and pessimistic. Skepticism is simply the questioning of commonly and traditionally accepted ideas and ways of thinking. It is our right as human beings.
Those who do not question are sheep; following the commonly accepted way of thinking. They do not think of where they are going or why they are going there, and do not think to care. They simply let out insignificant baas, as is expected of sheep. This is the herd that sane human beings should be careful not to join.
I grant that it is frightening to question the very concepts that we once thought solid.
We think many of them solid only because we are misled, by ourselves in fact, due to the fact that we hadn't really looked at these handed down concepts closely before.
But when we do look at them closely, we realize they are far more imperfect than we had thought; and this is when our skepticism is justified.
If we do not question, however, we are confronted with a much more frightening idea later on: an uncertainty and even regret as to how we lived our lives.
Unfortunately, it is part of our nature as human beings to accept that which is handed to us rather than to look for what fits us best as individuals; a sort of intellectual laziness -if you will. That is, we are offered the answer to a potentially complex and difficult question (the question of how to live our lives), and we accept it based on the ideology that “somebody else already had this concept figured out, so I'll just take that”.
For those of you who do not see the need for the questioning of seemingly universal truths, I wish to present to you one main point: the very idea of a broad concept applicable to all is, in its essence, ridiculous (let's not forget, we are indeed individuals). But sadly, due to the inertia of our ancestors, we now have a set of -call them- rules that we need to follow. If we do not we are subject to abuse by the even more stupid members of our society, those who wish to enforce these rules.
I feel that, in order not to be misinterpreted, I should clarify two points.
The first is that I am not saying that all that conform to a certain belief are wrong to conform. What I am saying is that history has taught us that no one broad belief has been accepted universally; otherwise we would all have a broad belief in common. Until this happens (which I believe is highly unlikely), I think we all have the right to question, and very likely form our own different opinions on many concepts. Another point I would like to clarify is that I do not think that after a certain concept is questioned, it is always proven (by ourselves at least) wrong. In fact many times, it is probably regarded as right and adhered to. But skepticism is still required in such cases because it increases our conviction in whatever belief may be in question; and, incidentally, that belief is no longer taken “for granted”.
Allow me to justify my view of skepticism in a way that is perhaps more appealing to the more self-oriented and ambitious of us. Those of us who simply conform and do things the traditional and accepted ways are rarely acknowledged as anything -say- special. It is only when we do things in a new, original, and even unprecedented way that we are set apart proudly from those sheep mentioned earlier.