Even the Holocaust is Open to Skeptical ManhandlingEducation, Philosophy — By Nathan Bennett on May 14, 2014 at 7:30 am
Openness is a form of vulnerability. Openness to question, openness to explore, openness to reach bold conclusions and overturn tradition: all the graybeard warnings about change are, to some extent, right. Openness and vulnerability are not necessarily good things, taken by themselves. In the Rialto Unified School District, somebody came up with a debate assignment on whether the Holocaust was real. Like as not, it was just a devil’s advocate argument taken in very, very poor taste. Nevertheless, it proves that even that today’s most ardent beliefs (hate, racism, and genocide are evil) are open to future questioning and skepticism. Though doubt is natural, openness to it is not uniformly virtuous, and can even be wicked.
Doubt does not progress in a straight line. Progress comes from inquiry, examination, and reasoning that gathers evidence and builds conclusions. Doubt reels like a drunk. Although everyone is entitled to occasional wooziness, drunkenness is pitiable at best and depraved at worst. I want to be certain about things because there are things to be certain about, things that hurt me if I do not know them, things that benefit me if I can use them, things that affect me even if I do not know that they exist. Uncertainty and disbelief are human conditions, so a WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE approach is useless. Although kinds of people live today who would have died quickly under more primitive medical care, there has not been a new model of human being, and even in religion one must be converted to benefit from whatever spiritual rebirth awaits. There are those who actively doubt the Holocaust’s existence. While wrong, they do no more than other questioners have done in the history of the world and are not uniquely evil.
Why is no one permitted to question the Holocaust? The Holocaust really happened, and no one wants it to happen again. No good, reasonable person wants terrible history to repeat itself. The facts of the Holocaust are true, and at least as far as not openly torturing and murdering lots and lots of people is concerned, modern society loves to haul out the truth so that the Holocaust doesn’t happen again. We do not want to do that again, and we even recognize that it was “us”, Western civilization, who did it. The Holocaust is one concrete example of utter depravity that society recognizes and would not like to repeat. Anyone who questions the Holocaust starts out on the wrong side of the argument and their evidence is a burning multi-car pileup of logical fallacies at best. All this is to guarantee that it will not happen again, but earnestness and sincerity are easy to use against forceful arguers.
Some martial arts rely on using the bad guy’s force against him: he throws a punch at me, and because he is already going in the general direction I want him to go, I turn to the side, keep him going a bit further, and SNAP goes his arm. His reach turns into overreach, I exploit his extremity, and I hurt him badly. Just as Christianity, the role of God in the world, and even God’s very existence were opened to skepticism and the advocates for various positions down the line were shouted down as ignorant, backward, stuffy-headed fools, so the Holocaust is also open to skeptical manhandling, even if belief in its reality ever comes to have the Inquisition’s power behind it. Only good faith on the part of the audience are of any use to earnestness and sincerity. When drunkenly indulged, skepticism and doubt strike down truth, wielding mocking irony like a machete. The “wrongness” and “badness” of the Holocaust rest on reality that stretches from the visceral horror we feel when we see Holocaust videos to the abstract reasoning that damns genocide with clinical surety and severity, but even that rests on something else.
A lot of life goes unexamined, and even intelligent, energetic scholars accept buckets and buckets of knowledge on faith. Even for what they prove in their own work, they cannot hold all proof and all reasoning in their minds at once, so they have to take that thing they proved five minutes ago on faith in order to get on to the next thing. Doubt is natural and skepticism is useful, but self-control (which is healthy) constrains nature, and faith (which is good) regularly disappoints usefulness. Volumes have been written on choosing the right object of faith, but my arguments for Christianity (and even which kind) are beyond the scope of this post. When doubt and questioning are allowed to drunkenly crash through and break obvious truth, it should not be surprising when they break something else. Although Uncle Bubba gets a worse beating when he destroys Auntie Eglantine’s antique tea set handed down ten generations than when he crashes through the bay window in the living room (at least that one can be replaced!), skepticism demands discipline and doubt needs restraint.
You can ask questions about anything you want, and that makes for a good Q and A session, but answers must be allowed to stand, though they may have to learn to walk. Maybe your questions are better than my answers, but heck, I only have a BA and you have me as a friend, not Dr. Scholarly Academic, PhD. Why are traditions in certain places allowed to stand? Why are old ways preserved and not changed, even if adapted for modern use? You have to have substantial convictions to be allowed to hang the guilty at Nuremberg, and you have to have some sort of faith to stand against the hateful Nazi creed. Though doubt may drive out a defective creed, only a stronger creed can hold the fort. Although doubt takes neither of two opposing sides, it is not at all neutral.
Doubt is a condition to resolve, a place to escape. There are things in this world worth doubting, even aggressively. Like lies. Skepticism is a powerful weapon, but no one should act absolutely surprised that it would ever be turned on beliefs that they hold absolutely essential for anyone to be a good person. This has happened over and over again in the history of the world. Certainly be astonished, but history, which repeats itself, may just be the most eloquent stutterer in the world.