In the spring of 1951 distinguished American broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow, who was portrayed by George Clooney in Good Night, and Good Luck, launched the radio series This I Believe. Each episode featured someone, be it a Supreme Court Justice or a secretary — reading an essay expressing the core principles guiding their lives. This programme, in which anyone, from a Supreme Court judge to a judge to a butcher could enunciate their world view, would go on for five years. Here is Murrow presenting the idea. I just love that voice:
The show was later revived by Radio Luxembourg from 1956-58 and by NPR from 2005-2009, which is where I first came across it. I have often thought about doing my own version and today I am taking the plunge. I have done it my way. I wasn’t sure if to call it This I Don’t Believe, as this is a part of my weltanschauung. Anyway, here is my contribution:
This I believe by Martin Oliva
I am a sceptic. That does not make me a knee-jerk naysayer, but I want to be shown evidence before I believe something. In fact, I am even a bit sceptical about scepticism itself. There are too many times when we are preaching to the converted. We need to engage in debates with people we disagree with. Perhaps it’s a losing battle anyway –people seem to want to believe. It’s like that game, Whack-a-mole – as soon as you knock down a dodgy idea, it will pop up somewhere else, in a new form, but sometimes not even that.
I believe in science. I think it is the greatest tool for understanding our world. It is the systematic application of scepticism. I love the lack of absoluteness the provisional nature of its conclusions. I have no desire for absolute knowledge. This scientific scepticism makes me reluctant to believe in creationism, paranormal phenomena, conspiracy theories, the New Age movement, postmodernism and alternative medicine. Science does have its limitations – there is no such thing as scientific morality.
I don’t do religion. I am an agnostic. I don’t need to believe in a creator to find meaning in the world. I believe the world is random. Life is not going in a direction. However, I am not one of those aggressive atheist types. If I could abolish religion tomorrow, I would not put an end to violence.
The lack of certainty and the complex nature of our world should instil humility in us. Beware of those offering easy solutions. They believe that they can solve everything with their masterplans. In this sense intellectuals can be particularly dangerous, as they tend to believe in the powers of their intellect to solve all the world’s problems. I believe that humans are fundamentally flawed, and any attempts to perfect us will end in failure. The millennia of human civilisation should make us aware that utopia is not an option.
I am passionate about history and I think we can learn a great deal from it, although extrapolating the right lessons is not always easy. I believe in the contingent nature of history. Things could very easily have turned out differently. Although it may be uncomfortable, we need to look at our country’s history warts and all. I am also a fan of Big History, whose starting point is the origins of the Universe some 13.5 billion years ago. This gives you a real perspective on the vast time scale of world history and the relative irrelevance of events like the French Revolution, or even the two world wars.
I love language; it is one of the things that makes us human. It is a wonderful example of an emergent phenomenon. Like evolution, it is design without a designer; nobody planned it top-down. I am sceptical of those who want to put language in a cage, as it is constantly evolving. I am a descriptivist; I take language as it is.
I think trade is a positive force. I think economic freedom is good, allowing us to capture innate human creativity. There may be some examples of successful government intervention in the economy, but these are surely outnumbered by the disasters. I think technology, though it may create disruption in the short term, does not destroy jobs in the long run. Inequality is a problem that does worry me. In the wake of the 2008 crisis it has become a hot topic. We will need to find solutions that balance economic freedom and the need to maintain legitimacy in the economic system
I think politics is everywhere, from the corridors of power to family dynamics. I take a sceptical view of democracy, but it is the best system known to us so far. I favour systems which protect freedoms. I am suspicious of people who think they know our interests. Prohibition was indeed a noble experiment, but its unintended consequences far outweighed any possible benefits. Policies should always be judged by their results, not the intentions behind them.