What is the problem with the World? There are endless problems in the world too many to list, but I was thinking that it would be an intellectually challenging exercise to try to put my finger on it. A foolish endeavor you may think. Maybe. Only a fool or a wise man could seriously pretend to know the answer to this question. I happen to know a wise and eccentric philosopher (Bertrand Russell ) who pondered over this question and who came up with an answer that is quite remarkable.
The problem with the world is that fools, and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people are always so full of doubts.Bertrand Russell
Et voila, in just one sentence Bertrand Russell sums it up. So, now that we have the answer to the question, let’s look at this more closely to see what we find out when we dissect Bertrand Russell’s statement. Pretend you are sitting comfortably in a theater to see the latest production of this Shakespearean tragedy or comedy, depending on your sense of humor, titled: “What Is the Problem With the World”. There are three main characters on stage, the Fool, the Fanatic, and the Wise Man.
Act I – Do you want to know what is the problem in the world ? Ask the Fool he believes he knows best
The fool is grandiose (borderline annoying), confident (borderline arrogant), flamboyant (borderline tacky) and walks through life feeling absolutely certain about everything. A fool is set in his opinions and feels that he has a duty to share his way of thinking about this and that and everything important. A fool does not care to take counsel from others nor listen to their opinions, because he knows best. He has no fluidity of mind and is set in his ways.
New opinions are rejected and opposed just because they don’t fit the accepted idea and concepts that the fool has adopted as hard truth. The fool’s arrogant certainty about everything is set in stone and even King Arthur would not be able to dislodge him from that position. The problem with the fool is that he doesn’t know enough to know that he doesn’t know about the things he thinks he knows.
In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king – Erasmus
Act II – Do you want to know what is the problem in the world? Ask the Fanatic he believes he has access to absolute truth
The fanatic is not a fool because he is a true believer in his cause and spends a substantial amount of his time learning about the cause he is fighting for. But just like the fool, he feels absolute and resolute certainty in his belief. The Fanatic refuses to hear and contemplate opposing views. You can find fanatics in all areas of life religion, politics, sports, media, etc. Fanatics can be leaders or followers, they are people who indulge in a toxic concoction of self-affirming, know-it-all confidence believing that they have unique access to absolute truth, truth so perfect that they have to impose them on everyone.
It is not what they believe that makes them fanatics it is how they believe it – no need to provide further evidence, no need to question or doubt. They operate in an irrational and emotional manner hiding their irrationality by rehearsed arguments that have been repeated and learned over time, not refreshed, updated, or put to the test. Fanatics are rigid in their thinking. The problem with this is that nothing is really certain what is true today may not be true tomorrow.
“Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position, but certainty is an absurd one”Voltaire
Our two main Shakespearean characters, the Fool and the Fanatic will not give a second thought to Voltaire’s adage because they remain certain and dogmatic in their beliefs.
Act III – The Wise Man believes that he knows nothing
According to the Ancient Greeks, the source of all wisdom and clarity is to know thyself. That Motto knows thyself was one of the maxims inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.
“The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing.”Socrates
According to the Wise Man of Ancient Greece, you may find the path to wisdom, if you start from a position of humility and if you accept the extent of your ignorance. A lot of us like to think of ourselves as pretty smart, rational individuals and funny too. But what if we’re wrong? Do we overestimate our own abilities? Are we completely blind to our own failings?
Socrates is known as the wisest man in Athens, but he doubted this very much until he put it to the test. Socrates’ favorite pastime was the pursuit of Truth. His reputation as a philosopher spread across Athens and beyond. When told that the Oracle of Delphi revealed to one of his friends that he was the wisest man in Athens, Socrates responded, not by boasting or celebrating, but by trying to prove the Oracle wrong.
Socrates decided to find out if anyone knew what was truly worthwhile in life, as anyone who knew that would surely be wiser than him. He questioned everyone he could find, but no one could give him a satisfactory answer. Instead, they all pretended to know something they clearly did not. Finally, he realized that the Oracle might be right after all; he was the wisest man in Athens because he alone was prepared to admit his own ignorance rather than pretend to know something he did not.
The Wise man is humble in his knowledge, he is open-minded and recognizes that he has limited knowledge; and because he knows that there are so many things that he doesn’t know, he has doubts. The Wise Man understands that someone else may have knowledge that he doesn’t have, and this could lead him to change his opinion on this and that. He has fluidity of mind, he is not rigid in his view and his pursuit of the truth will lead him to question everything.
Ladies and gentlemen we are coming to the end of this production, thank you for reading this Shakespearean piece. And with this said, I will give the floor to the man himself for the final word.
“A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”Shakespeare.
PS: If you like this piece, feel free to applaud and comment. If you didn’t like this piece, feel free to criticize it not in a fanatical kind of way but after careful consideration just like a Wise Man would do; and I will try my best not to react to your comments in a foolish kind of way.
 Bertrand Russell (18 May 1872- 2 February 1970), British philosopher, mathematician, historian, political activist, and Nobel Laureate.
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