The Big Issue : Edition 495
THEBIGISSUE9–15OCT2015 13 Facebook and b) I am not unusually depressed. I have just taken one of the two possible human approaches to knowledge, which is to doubt that I have enough of it, rather than the other popular option, which is to be absolutely sure that I do. Once, I was proud of my ability to hold forth on almost any topic. I considered it a great gift to be able to bang on and on about something to the point that I could convince some others, and often myself, that my lack of doubt was founded in knowledge. Now, I consider this to have been a great way to avoid acquiring knowledge and a strain on the ears and patience of honourable doubters. But, apart from all of this moralising, there’s an unanticipated benefit of welcoming doubt. And that is the emergence of more free time. Just like banning oneself from Facebook, which is itself full of presentations made with absolute confidence in knowledge, doubting one’s knowledge saves labour. It might sound miserable, but it is actually an efficient use of a day. When somebody asks for your opinion on a particular matter, you can easily say: “You know, I doubt that I have the knowledge to answer that.” Recently, a colleague asked me if I had a view on a much-discussed website that encouraged extra-marital affairs. Rather than engage with the news story, make pronouncements about the moral dealings of others, or even give a clue as to my own infidelity (between you and me, I am far too lazy for adultery), I was able to say: “I don’t know”. Then, my internet service provider called to ask me if I was happy with my service compared to other services and I was able to say: “I don’t know”. I mean, I didn’t know. I have been a customer with that particular company for a decade and any memory I had of other internet service providers has long since been stolen by time spent on the actual internet looking at pictures of hilarious animals. A relative asked me if I felt her decision to keep her maiden name after marriage was “feminist” and I said: “I don’t know”. Which I genuinely don’t. I could have explained the doubt that was really on my mind when it comes to this issue, which is: “That is a preposterous question. Asking me if changing your name makes any difference when you are already honouring an institution whose historical basis is one of consigning women to property law and whose presence confers no legal benefit to its participants is a bit like chopping your arm off and asking me if you think you ruined your manicure.” But this would have taken significantly longer than “I don’t know” and almost certainly produced an argument from her and regret from me that I chose to belittle her question with doubt. So, in short, I do not doubt that the simple expression of doubt is the best and least doubtful course of action. Doubt will not get me to the moon. But it can get me out of some very tiring conversations. “There’s an unanticipated benefit of welcoming doubt. And that is the emergence of more free time.” RAZER A Dose of Doubt PHOTOGRAPHSBYJAMESBRAUND IF THERE IS one reliable thing I have learned about life, it is that I am yet to learn one reliable thing about life. Which is a depressing thought only if you underestimate doubt. Doubt is arguably our species’ finest quality. When doubt was transformed into a method, we began the process that would fly us to the moon. Doubt is not a bad thing and methodical doubt, or science, is a marvellous thing. Doubt is the fuel for rockets. Doubt is the fire of magic. This, at least, is what I have been telling myself as I begin to doubt more than I ever have before. And, no, don’t feel that you have to send me an “RUOK?” message via Facebook because a) I have banned myself from » Helen Razer (@helenrazer) is a writer, gardener and a contributor to this magazine over a very long period. For which we are grateful.