Doubt is often described as an unsettling emotion that eats away at us from within, something we want to rid ourselves of as soon as possible. Doubt is portrayed as a sort of purgatory, as it leaves us uncertain whether it will ultimately lead us to the eternal bliss of heaven or to the infernal cauldrons of damnation. To the one who doubts, the object of doubt appears neither entirely good and trustworthy, nor entirely sinister and harmful.
In a state of unconditional surrender, individuals typically know well what is expected of them. Within safe boundaries, they play their designated roles, without unnecessarily concerning themselves with external matters. Despite being quite unsettling and frightening, the world is rather transparent for the paranoid person as well. In a paranoid outlook, everyone is bad, everyone is an enemy, and approaching the other is perceived as harmful. Therefore, almost all vital energy is spent on safeguarding oneself from potential harm coming from the other.
We can observe the destructiveness of paranoia on both an individual and societal level. It is rare for a mental health practitioner to overlook a paranoid clinical case. However, the same cannot be said for unconditional surrender. In contrast to the unpleasant connotations that paranoia evokes in the mind, submission seems to always pair with tranquility. Those who open fire on the paranoid leader striving to construct formidable border walls may easily brush aside the crowds that yield to the leader’s irrational behavior.
In his novel “Honey in the Horn,” H.L. Dewis depicted indigenous people as those who had not ventured beyond their own ten-acre domain for nearly a thousand years, without the slightest doubt that any place in the world could be more pleasant or intriguing. Feeling pity for this group or admiring them are both valid responses, and where you position yourself on this spectrum, I believe, reflects your ideological stance.
Monotheistic religions initiate humankind’s adventure on Earth with doubt. Those who, looking at where this adventure has led, see a bleak picture might be inclined to say, “If only we hadn’t eaten that cursed apple, we would have enjoyed a secure and peaceful existence in paradise.” Because I find our journey on Earth quite thrilling despite everything, I hold great gratitude for Eve, who dared to doubt the forbidden fruit amidst all of the Creator’s prohibitions. Perhaps that’s why, ever since I began contemplating doubt, I’ve felt rather uneasy with the paralyzing ease of sentences that start with “Without a doubt…” that have flooded my mind.
If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. Descartes
Those who advocate us to stop doubting claim that they offer us a world where everything is explained, and we should surrender ourselves. It’s not easy to plug our ears to this promise of tranquil lands. While we carry within our skulls an organ that has evolved to have the courage to doubt even itself (I think, therefore I am), what could those who serve us heaps of undisturbed surrender expect from us? In order to be able to answer this question from a psychological perspective, we need to briefly touch upon the paranoid-schizoid position put forth by Melanie Klein to describe the early stages of an infant.
In a simplified description, during the paranoid-schizoid position, the infant completely segregates themselves and the world (primarily the mother’s breast) into good and bad. According to Klein, in the first months of life, the infant projects the life instincts that bring satisfaction onto the “good breast” and the death instincts onto the “persecutory/bad breast” that deprives them of milk. Later, these good and bad objects are re-introjected into the inner world, creating a cycle of projection and introjection. Such segregation serves to protect the good breast from the persecutory death instincts. Sufficient internalization and strengthening of the good breast experience prepare the infant for the next position, the depressive position. At around 6 months, the child begins to perceive the object as a whole. The relatively healthy progress of integration in this stage is possible when previous good object experiences are stronger than persecutory object experiences. During this phase, the child becomes more capable of tolerating ambiguity, recognizing the object as a whole with both good and bad aspects. The object is no longer perceived as either entirely harmful or completely perfect; the bad object also contains elements of the good object. Consequently, aggression towards the object is accompanied by feelings of guilt and gratitude, enabling reparation.
Although the paranoid-schizoid position typically gives way to the depressive position under normal circumstances, individuals can regress to this position, especially during times of intense stress when they feel powerless. When observed carefully, a similar dynamic is easily noticeable on a societal level. Just like individuals, communities that feel threatened can go through paranoid periods in which they externalize their aggression entirely and create ideal/savior political figures (good breast) to protect themselves from the object of their aggression (bad breast). In such times, all the virtues become embodied within the community, while the other becomes a a malignant tumor that needs to be eliminated. In such a world, the sides are clear, and boundaries are sharp. There is no question of the wisdom of those in power and the animosity of the other. I am sure the reader can recall dozens of examples from both history and our contemporary world, as well as from far-flung places, that relate to the described dynamics.
The described position aligns with our evolutionary processes and our fight-or-flight response, and it’s undeniably crucial when facing a real threat. Suspecting that the stranger approaching us rapidly who points his barrel at us might have a toy gun in his hand and intends to play can come at a great cost in our lives. On the other hand, the prolonged state of feeling under threat is highly consuming, both on an individual and societal level. Yet, in today’s world, in many regions including our country, we witness that these states of threat persist almost uninterruptedly. North Korea’s nuclear weapon threatens the youth in Texas, the cheap labor of a Polish immigrant threatens the British worker in Birmingham, and external forces refuse to leave our country in peace. The promoters of the “ Land of No Doubt…” keep inviting us into this paranoid-schizoid state where things are perceived as either completely pure or utterly dark.
The quest for a refuge where we can seek shelter without doubt is undoubtedly very human, especially while bearing the heavy burden of existence on our shoulders. However, to reach such a haven, it is equally necessary to first navigate the sea of doubt and maintain our ability to doubt even when we finally arrive at our destination. After all, the peaceful arms of surrender are adorned with the predatory claws of paranoia.