I’m driven by many things. I’m driven by love and I’m driven by spite. I’m driven by being successful. I’m driven by making money, and being right. I’m driven by my family being comfortable. I’m driven by the fear of being average, or regular. I can’t say that every move I make has a purpose, but there is a very good chance it relates in some way to what I’m driven by.
I trust my judgement, because more than anything else I am driven by doubt.
I believe doubt is one of the most important concepts, at least for my life. It bleeds into my religion (or lack thereof), my worldview, and every other decision I make. I envy those that can live life straight off the hip, or from purely emotional responses. They just do what they feel. But that isn’t me and that never has been me. I am somewhere between rational and calculated, and I’ve been this way ever since I can remember.
I can recall my doubt in God from some of my earliest memories. I was in kindergarten the first time I thought to myself that this shit can’t be real. I don’t know what triggered it; after all it was well before the age where I thought I knew everything (and didn’t know anything); I just stood there, as a five year-old, and the fleeting moment passed where I just knew, instinctively, that it was extremely unlikely something could exist who knew everything I (and everybody else) thought and did, all at the same time.
Then I got a little older. I was 19. And I read a book from Ayn Rand called The Fountainhead; you’ve probably heard of it. In it she spewed her philosophy, the same one she gave in Atlus Shrugged and every other rag she put together. The philosophy was called objectivism but most people know it nowadays as existentialism. It was a popular theme for Rand, as well as another Russian writer from the 19th century, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Basically it’s the idea that everything you know is what you’ve experienced, and your future actions are influenced by what happened in your past.
It was certainly (for me, anyway) an upgrade over blind faith in an intervening god, but it still left some room to be desired. After all, Rand was a staunch libertarian. She literally wrote a book titled The Virtue of Selfishness. In her world it was every man for himself, dog eat dog, and to hell with looking after your neighbor. As a 19- or 20 year-old it made a lot of sense to me that I’m only in this world to get mine, and screw everyone else, but with age I’ve realized that wasn’t the road I wanted to travel.
Despite this maturation I have found that, present day, the most advanced philosophy I can live by is also the simplest: treat others how you want to be treated. It’s the Golden Rule. It doesn’t alienate any Christians or Catholics, and it doesn’t alienate any Atheists. It’s universal. If you come at me with respect, I’m gonna reciprocate.
But this has only come to be through doubt. I am good at just about everything I do because I live in constant doubt. I like to write, and I think I’m a fairly decent writer, because I read and re-read everything I write and invariably come to the conclusion that I am nothing more than a complete amateur. I think I know a good amount about sports more than the average Joe, because I compare myself to professional sports bettors and front office executives who know way more than I ever will. I think I’m a good craps dealer, because I compare myself to the best craps dealers I’ve seen and judge myself next to them. That’s how I roll.
I have a lot of pride, basically. That’s what I’m saying. I can’t pinpoint many of the people who have influenced me over the years, but I know there’s a common thread between them: they haven’t taught me what to think, they’ve taught me a way to think. There is a seismic difference between the two. I believe that is why I ultimately rejected the teachings of the baptist church I grew up in, and why I thought better than taking at face value all the seemingly brilliant things Ayn Rand had to teach me. I have never been interested in answers others have found for me; all I ever ask for are the tools to get there.
Doubt is one of the most important concepts I have at my disposal, because doubt constantly gives me the ability to reinforce my own beliefs. When I was younger I wrote that the day I finally grew up would be the day I die. I’ve been wrong about many things over the years, in every aspect of my life, but that statement still holds true.
I think it’s easy for older people to brush off things I say, noting that I’m too young or that I haven’t experienced enough. That’s not how I want to operate when I’m in my 40s or 50s and I’m talking to a 20-something, but I understand it’s kind of the way things work. If you strip everything down to its bare-bones, lived experience is some of the only leverage someone twice my age has over me. I don’t discount that as meaning nothing, but it’s so obvious and low-hanging that, by default, it must be overrated.
That’s how my dad is. He is convinced that the only reason I don’t believe in god, and lean heavily to the left, politically, is because I’m young. He believes if only I were older, then I would finally come around to understanding that Fox News is the only objective journalism, that being conservative makes most sense, and that all of life’s answers can be found in a 2,000 year-old book.
He doesn’t hold himself to the same standard I do, and when I push back at him he always says I’m only interested in “evidence,” like it’s some dirty word. I don’t want to single my dad out on this because he is nowhere near alone. He’s just the closest example I have to someone who doesn’t think the way I think. For someone as smart as he is (and he is smart), he relies heavily on his gut — what he feels — over his brain. In a different life he could have been a doctor or a lawyer. In this life he hit the fork in the road and chose to believe in things that made him feel good rather than what is necessarily proven or verifiable.
Part of why I like writing so much is because it’s not like math. There isn’t one “right” answer for everything. In writing the process is more important than the end result, which is another reason why doubt is so valuable. I don’t write things unless I can source what I’m saying, effectively leaving a trail of bread crumbs so you know how I got here. If I can’t give evidence, then what is the point of mentioning it?
Here, again, we see that these standards don’t mean anything to a lot of people. Makeshift bloggers (much like myself) can post articles on AMMO NATION dot com, or PATRIOTS FOR AMERICA dot com, and people will post it on Facebook like it’s a legitimate news article. Most people don’t give a damn about sourcing. They just think, hey, I agree with that, and it’s on the Internet, so therefore it’s the same as anything that was written at The New York Times or Washington Post. (Not saying I’m a fan of either of those papers, but you get my point.)
People have told me my whole life that I’m arrogant and come across as condescending. The truth is I’m actually pretty insecure. The last thing I want to be is someone who sounds like an expert, whether it’s writing or talking about sports. I know I’m not an expert at either of those things. But what I do choose to talk about, I am one hundred percent a believer in. Because if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t say it. If I’m anything less than a hundred percent I litter what I say with qualifiers like “I’m not an expert on this, but…” or “You probably know better than I do, but…” or, simply, “I don’t know.” There is a lot of power in simply admitting that.
With that said, I often sound like a cocky mutherfucker because when I do talk it’s with full confidence and clarity. I think I’m right more often than not, but I think I’m right because everything I say has been tested by my own bullshit meter. I am in the business of objective facts. So when you disagree with me — whether it’s about politics or sports — most of the time you aren’t arguing with me. You are arguing with data, and individuals much smarter than I am.
So when I talk about doubt, I don’t mean that I doubt myself, in general. I don’t. I’m just saying I have to doubt everything I believe, because such doubt makes what I believer stronger. No, I’m not ever going to be a doctor or scientist; I’m not ever going to be a physical therapist or nutritionist; I’m not ever going to be a music guy or a car guy or a film guy; I’ll defer to the experts on all of those things.
But if it has to do with what I really believe, I am going to feel pretty good about where I’m at. I think it’s possible to be a good person and do the right thing without the promise of everlasting life in heaven. I think it’s possible to get what you want, to be rich and successful, while also wanting to implement policies that raise the floor for the poorest and weakest and most vulnerable among us.
Religion didn’t have the answers I was looking for, because the Christian church is so rigid about what is right and wrong, what is acceptable and not. Ayn Rand didn’t have the answers I was looking for because her philosophy rewarded only the winners, and shut out everybody else.
The Church and Rand remain influences on my life to some degree, because those philosophies are where I came from. They are what I believed in when I didn’t know what I believed. They had the answers I needed at the times I needed them, which is all any of us are trying to do. We want to do the best we can with the information we have. As a child the best information I had was that there was a big man up in the sky who apparently said if I lived a good life I would be rewarded. As an old kid/young adult the best information I had was that it’s all about number one, and the weak are weak are weak for a reason.
Now I sit, as a 30 year-old, and I’m just trying the best I can. What I want for myself, selfishly, isn’t good enough if I can’t have what’s best for those around me. And I imagine if it was all good, if I did have what’s best for me, and I did have what’s best for those around me, that wouldn’t be good enough, either. Then I would be shooting to make things better for everyone else.
It sounds corny, I know, but it’s the best I can come up with. After all these years. As a youth I always kind of imagined myself as someone who would get married young — in my early 20’s — and have a family and live happily ever after. Where I’m at now is your best guess. I have the foundation in place to be that person, and to live that life, yet I can’t shake the feeling that this is all one big project. That nothing is set in stone. That I am going to be having the same discussions internally forever. It doesn’t matter if I’m 19, or 25, or 45.
But I know my strengths are how much I doubt myself, and how insecure I am. I know there’s a certain segment of the population who thinks they already have it all figured out, and I know there’s a certain segment of the population who just go with the breeze and don’t really have any concrete feelings or beliefs. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things. I just aim to be better.