Elvin Lim, associate professor of government, presented the following remarks during the “Senior Voices” baccalaureate address on May 25:
As we gather today to commemorate the last four years of our seniors’ career at Wesleyan, perhaps some of you are feeling some trepidation about your futures outside of this ivory tower. So I have decided to direct my remarks today on the subject of contingency, and the human reaction to it, uncertainty, which is the source of all our hopes and fears.
Plato had said that in order to understand the nature of justice, we must first observe its incarnations in just republics. So I shall try to do the same in my effort to understand contingency. Perhaps if we analyzed how civilizations have coped with uncertainty, we may better understand how we, as individuals, can cope with uncertainty. I will propose that the collective solution for uncertainty – stamping it out – is exactly opposite to the individual solution: embracing it.
So how did ancient, or pre-modern societies cope with uncertainty? Quite simply, they defined it away. And they did it in two ways. The Pagan religions tended to characterize the Gods as crazy. Contingency came in the form of the capricious Gods. The Judeo-Christian religions went the other way. They understood their God to be all-knowing and omnipotent. Since God was all-knowing, there was no contingency. We may not know what is to come, but God does. This can be encapsulated in the common phrase, “everything happens for a reason.” That was how we coped with uncertainty.