Gorgeous celebrities swear by getting rid of this one thing. It’s the one thing holding you back from your true potential and the Kardashians (only mentioned here so I can exploit Search Engine Optimisation and use a glamorous photo of Kim) may have never had this one thing in the first place.
But wait, it doesn’t come that easy. Bearing in mind this article will also be online and Google’s mutant algorithms pay for the amount of time you spend reading over-promised clickbait: you’ll have to digest an entire preamble about how I myself became happier, more successful and so devastatingly attractive I actually had to borrow the picture of this guy just to slow down all the proposals so steamy I don’t have to turn the central heating on until at least mid-September.
Sorry. This paragraph will also not tell you “the one thing”. Rather, it will annoyingly tease you to pique your curiosity and keep the suspense going even though, by now, you’re probably thinking “really?” Am I actually going to learn something that will improve my life or is this just trying to sell me something? And that’s great because that’s scepticism. And scepticism is healthy. Right? Well, maybe.
But, by the fourth paragraph you’re in danger of thinking this article’s premise might have been a tad oversold, this is getting a longwinded, and it’s probably not going to be worth the effort. Oh and there was that other article you were going to look at too. So right now I’m going to have to tell you that that “one thing that you need to get rid of” is exactly the same thing that made you give this article just four paragraphs to come up with the goods before looking elsewhere.
Gotcha. Paragraph five, sucker! You’re still here and I still haven’t told you and, honestly, having written this far, I’ve new respect for all the clickbait Medium-style list writers who have to pad their articles rather than just go for:
The two simple things you can do right now to lose weight.
- Eat less
- Move more
… and be done with it.
But weight isn’t “the one thing” … I mean it’s another thing you could get rid of; driven home, if you were reading this on most online platforms, by the five ads you would have already had to scroll past targeting people eating at their computer screens, feeling unfulfilled and suffering early mid-life crises. You would have had to endure gods, with way better teeth, sharing beautiful food, or sailing under azure skies or, if you had my particular micro-targeted cookies, somebody who’s life has rather dubiously been changed by a food processor.
But here’s the reward for your endurance, this is the “the one thing”. Buried in some text so you couldn’t just cheat and skip down here. The “one thing you have to get rid of” to improve your life immeasurably, is doubt. Doubt holds you back like a mate in the pub when you’re pretending you’re actually hard enough to take on a pint spiller.
People unplagued by doubts are demonstratively more successful than the rest of us who fret and think twice. Doubt is the real curse of the human condition. Eve plucking the apple wasn’t, as Milton would have it, “Man’s first disobedience”, but just an act of doubt. Don’t eat from the tree of knowledge? Why not? One tiny bit of disbelief and you’re out of Eden. But then disbelief negates God, religion and anything else for which there’s no solid proof and, it seems, is inherently human even if, like teeth, neck muscles and a dread of Mondays, it’s something we develop rather than are born with.
The one thing that characterises the most successful people is a lack of self-doubt; blithely surging forward whilst the rest of us wonder if what we’re doing is good enough.
We develop doubt to question the world and try to work it out. Unfortunately, after questioning the world we start to question ourselves and that blithe assurance of youth becomes the crippling self-doubt of broken dreams.
Even so, just five years ago I would have sung the praises of doubt from the rooftops, even while doubting my footing, a loose tile or the mess I might make if I slipped. Because by questioning the world we protect ourselves from conmen, spivs, bamboozlers and almost anybody on QVC. I was proud of my scepticism, it seemed the perfect answer to the crazinesses that belief can lead you into. In the face of rising religious fundamentalism, desperately trying to remain relevant in a fracturing world where “God” was no longer the most popular answer to “why?”, the end game of the enlightenment, scepticism, was the intelligent antidote to belief. Habeus Corpus – you believe in God/fairies/fate/karma/the 4.20 to Waterloo actually arriving at 4.20? Then show me the proof, bring me the body, step off the platform. Question everything.
But, in a few years, what was the preserve of those keen on intelligent debate has quickly diversified and become attractive to a broader population; fuelled by the plurality of opinions on the internet and “alternative facts”. But these neosceptics are less prepared to understand the limits of the perspective.
Scepticism has been hijacked by dumb people thinking that it makes them look smart. 10,000 of them turned up at Trafalgar Square at the end of August to protest about facemasks because they doubted the existence of Covid-19. They cheered at speeches by conspiracy theorists and a man who believes the world is run by people who are actually lizards. And if you no longer believe the media, or books, or experts, or government, or plausibility well, really, it’s as good a theory as any.
Scepticism was engendered to enable the scientific approach. Doubt, test, evidence, know. And, if you can’t test and find evidence for everything that you encounter in life, trust the sceptics who came before you and did do the tests.
So sources become important. If you don’t believe that NASA put a man on the moon or that every one of the thousands of companies that are employed to put satellites into orbit actually use the same model of a rotating orb planet to make your GPS work or deliver your Sky TV; if they are all covering something up and cannot be trusted then, then yes perhaps the earth is flat.
The growing movement of flat earthers exposes everything that’s wrong with neoscepticism because they have a very real answer. “I can see that the earth is flat.” Which means that it’s up to the person who is disagreeing with what you can see with your own eyes to prove that something different is going on. Which is very difficult.
When scepticism was an intellectual stance it was understood that you stand on the shoulders of giants. Trusting your source is not the same as a blind belief. Yes a Christian trusts the source material in the bible. But a sceptic trusts other sceptics who have actually done the research/science and if necessary they can source their research and, if they absolutely need to, repeat the experiment themselves.
But doubt is easy to cast when your audience is emboldened and think they’re smart because they can question. So when Cummings walked into the rose garden, when the Russians started tweeting about Brexit, or Trump, all they had to do was seed a little doubt knowing that there are enough idiots who believe that they are “free thinkers” on social media to do the rest.
The neosceptic delights in challenging any presented fact and offering alternatives however implausible. The loss of faith in the “Mainstream Media” and accountable news sources has turned scepticism, the child of the enlightenment, which should have brought forth a rational world, into a monster that allows Russia, and those in our own Government, to sow discord, disinformation, confusion, and random thinking. And as long as we all disagree with each other we can’t agree to depose them.
The “one thing you need to get rid of” turns out to be the one thing the whole internet connected world could do without: “doubt”. But if faith isn’t the answer, where the hell do we go now?
A version of this article first appeared in