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Uncertainty and Dread

Yesterday, I read Seymour Hersh's latest: Shifting Targets The Administration's plan for Iran in the New Yorker. I found myself slipping into a cocoon of dread as I read. The piece examines the Administration's deliberations around how to justify attacking Iran. It tells a story of cynical certainty creating conditions before the fact that will justify the unthinkable after the fact.

Later, I was listening to a book called Dark Star, which tells the story of a Pravda journalist during the run-up to WWII. He, too, was surrounded by cynical certainty seeking to justify unthinkable actions. He lived in dread, too.

This got me thinking about uncertainty and realizing that I usually operate pretty well under conditions of uncertainty. Uncertainty is, after all, the human condition. I start going ginky, though, when a cynical kind of certainty slips into the conversation. Like when I'm certain of what I need to do and uncertain how to justify doing that. Or when I'm certain that something is going to happen and I can't imagine it turning out well. These combinations seem like the perfect breeding grounds for dread.

Dread seems to spring from the certain parts, not the uncertain ones. Cynicism has been defined as wounded optimism. And when my own certainty shifts from optimism to wounded optimism, I slide into dread. Maybe you do, too.

My problem is certainty then, not uncertainty. It won't respond to becoming more certain because the root cause already wallows in certainty. More certainty then just creates more muck to wallow in.

Perhaps, if the difficulty is certainty, the antidote lies in uncertainty. But not the "damn, I'm stuck with not knowing again!!" wounded certainty, but with another kind. An optimistic uncertainty. Since both my certainty and my uncertainty are about the future, they're both just stories, just fiction now. If the present fiction isn't working, a replacement fiction is called for.

I'm learning to appreciate my dread. It's evidence that I'm not yet as productive a writer as I might be. It challenges me to write a better story, one that might satisfy me now, today, rather than leave me huddled and fearful.

If this seems awfully notional to you (like it does to me!), it's only because it is. Our notions (aka our fictional certainties) have powerful influence, and might well be effectively neutralized by simply changing the story.

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