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Philosophy Politics

On The Importance of Doubt

From a very interesting article by Peter Birkenhead (at Salon) on the value of questioning:

Forty-five years ago today, JFK, speaking to the graduating class at Yale, said, “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived, and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic … Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” He urged the students to “move on from the reassuring repetition of stale phrases to a new, difficult, but essential confrontation with reality.” Kennedy was urging the students not to let the establishment, which he represented, get away with anything. Submit its rhetoric to the fiercest scrutiny. Think for yourself. It was an invitation that reflected his own education, two years earlier, in the wisdom of doubt.

By June 11, 1962, the president had learned the lessons of the Bay of Pigs disaster well. His Yale speech seemed infused with regret at not having treated the CIA’s intelligence with more skepticism before the invasion. (The agency had promised that the exiles could “melt into the mountains” if the plan failed — mountains that it failed to notice were 80 miles away.) The speech also foreshadowed his own fierce scrutiny of the rhetoric of Gen. Curtis LeMay and other administration hawks, who urged an attack during the missile crisis.

Leave aside the application to George W Bush in the article, and just read JFK’s words in the first paragraph above. Wouldn’t a bit of that spirit have come in handy in this decade so far?

1 reply on “On The Importance of Doubt”

Love that quote. It has been a problem of mankind forever. There is no end to the examples in history of people led and misled by myths and beliefs perpetuated by the propaganda of the leaders of the time, and lately the media (somewhat on their own and via some other sources). I stand by what I have said for a long time, “all conflict is a result of a struggle for power”. Those who are able to best establish and carry on the myth are those who will attain the most power.

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