Anxiety and frustration are evident in every public-opinion poll, every market-research study, across the population at large.

The Demise of Certainty

Oct. 23, 2016
If they understood the benefits of working this way, wouldn’t more bright minds be drawn to such a future? Setting, maintaining standards Variations of anxiety Impending-doom scenarios

There is something increasingly rare and valuable about forging — in forging research, forging processes, and the forging profession as a whole — that may go unappreciated or even un-noticed, because it is so inherent: Forging operates within a standard of certainty. The dimensions of a part, the particular formulations for materials to be used, the specific steps and settings to be used to produce it, and the precise details of the finished object … none of these can be guessed at, approximated, or offered as “close enough.” Certainty must be established, and that standard must be maintained in order to succeed in the industry.

This is also true of various other basic manufacturing processes, and in a time when most of these professions are anxious about restocking the pool of talent to fill important openings, replenishing their intellectual capital in order to keep their technologies and industries vital, this is a feature that should not be overlooked. If they had a better understanding of the benefits of working this way, wouldn’t more bright minds be drawn to such a future?

Praising the “certainty” may seem tedious or frivolous in the context of engineering: “Of course,” such pros might respond. "Certainty is what drives engineering. Why exert the energy, the resources, the time to achieve a so-so result?” But, a dearth of certainty is one of the primary menaces to civilized life today. Emphasizing the satisfaction to be drawn by striving for certainty, the fulfillment of achieving certainty, and the gains to be accumulated by working from a foundation of certainties, is sure to appeal to individuals seeking a path in life.

The anxiety of young people now is no secret, and their frustration is just another shade of the general unease that is evident in every public-opinion poll, every market-research study, of the population at large. The failure and disgrace of nearly every important public institution are part of the background to this dire condition.

Another factor is the many cynical and contrived attempts to spread uncertainty. Using fear and intimidation is a recognizable tactic in politics of course, and readers need no examples of this point. Candidates have no need to promote their own visions, they merely warn about the disaster of the alternatives. But sowing uncertainty by preaching doom is now a common tactic of federal, state, and local government agents, of educators, business and financial authorities, and social and scientific experts. They have positions to protect and arguments to make – why not leverage individuals’ lack of knowledge, or uncertainty, to gain that advantage?

And so, the average individual has any number of impending-doom scenarios roiling his or her psyche at any time, or at all times: climate disaster, financial melt-down, debt explosion, identity theft, random violence by criminals or terrorist, loss of savings, loss of health-insurance protection … all these and more are the causes of our anxiety. 

Once thing that is certain: the average person has little to no responsibility for these purported catastrophes, and yet those to whom authority may reasonably be assigned help to raise the doubt and propagate more uncertainty.

Of course, certainty is not a constant: it is a virtue, something to be appreciated, and nurtured. It takes personal discipline, a patient approach, and a mind open to new information and reasoning to pursue certainty. One of the most frequent discoveries of such an open mind is how much more there is to be learned, how much more work there is to be done, and how much more certainty there is to be gained. Perhaps this helps explain the challenge of our age: we value wealth and influence, but not the ingenuity needed to achieve them. We value style and fame, but not the accomplishments necessary to deserve them. And we value comfort and ease, but not the efforts needed to enjoy them. We live in an age of uncertainty because we have devalued all the means of raising our minds and ourselves above the disaster of despair.