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Foxes and Hedgehogs


[The following is a chapter from Dr. Julie Ponesse’s book, Our Last Innocent Moment.]

I did not ask for success; I asked for wonder. ~ Abraham Joshua Heschel

I dont know.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how squeamish does this sentence make you feel?

If the verbiage floating around social media is any indication, 21st century Canadians score pretty high in terms of our intolerance of uncertainty. In fact, we seem to be drunk on certainty, so completely convinced we are right about what’s going on in the Ukraine, why whites are inherently racist, why gender is (or is not) fluid, which politicians will save us and, of course, the truth about Covid-19. 

We live fanatically, but possibly unreflectively, by a few simple mantras: 

“We’re all in this together.” 

“Trust the experts.” 

“Follow the science.” 

(And, if you want to be really safe, “Shut up and don’t say anything at all.”)

Certainty had clearly taken hold before 2020, with some opinions acknowledged as more socially acceptable, and others more incendiary, than others — supporting Biden/Harris, Green Energy, and women’s reproductive rights was much socially safer than the alternatives. But, for some reason, Covid-19 is the topic that really made us ‘lean into’ certainty. It became the box outside of which we are simply not allowed to think. And the thoughts in that box were expected to be collectivist, uniform, and adopted from so-called ‘experts.’

We live our lives today in a thick culture of silence, a certainty culture in which outliers are discouraged, dissenting views are fact-checked into oblivion, and those who question what has been deemed certain are made to run the gauntlet of shame for daring to swim outside the mainstream.

Rather than acknowledge what we don’t know, we vilify those who try to penetrate the fortress around our well-guarded beliefs and we even fashion legislation — Bills C-10, C-11, C-14, and C-16 in Canada, for examples — to give the administrative state ever more authority in our lives. We are so certain about what’s good and right, on the one hand, and what’s dangerous and hateful, on the other, that we confidently entrench that certainty in law.

When was the last time you heard someone say, “I don’t know,” “I wonder?” When was the last time you were asked a non-rhetorical question? Remember the mantra “There are no stupid questions.” Now, all questions are considered stupid and the act of questioning, itself, is a subversive, heretical, even treacherous activity.

I can’t help but wonder, why did we become so certainty-obsessed and how did it help to create the culture of silence that allowed the Covid response to unfold as it did? Is our certainty obsession new or have we always been this way? Does certainty serve us? Or is it ultimately too costly?

The Roast Upon the Plate

In July 2022, I had the pleasure of interviewing former Global News control room director Anita Krishna. Our conversation was wide-ranging, but we kept circling back to the theme of uncertainty. 

Anita explained that, in the newsroom in the early days of 2020, she started asking questions about Covid. What happened in Wuhan? Why aren’t we exploring Covid treatment options? Was there an increase in stillbirths at North Vancouver’s Lions Gate Hospital? She said the only response she ever got — which felt more like a recording than a human response — was to be ignored and shut down. The message was that these questions were simply ‘off the table.’ 

Tara Henley used the same language when she left the CBC last year; she said to work at the CBC in the current climate is “to consent to the idea that a growing list of subjects are off the table, that dialogue itself can be harmful. That the big issues of our time are all already settled.” To work at the CBC, she said, “is to capitulate to certainty, to shut down critical thinking, to stamp out curiosity.”

When did we decide to take questions off the table? What gives this ‘table’ its epistemic invincibility and why are we so sure about what we are leaving on, and taking off of, it? Are we really so certain that we have all the answers and that the answers we have are the right ones? And, at the risk of mixing metaphors, if asking questions is bad because it rocks the boat, which boat we are rocking and why are we so sure our boat is seaworthy?

Today, we seem to hoard certainty as a stepping stone for status and achievement. The more certain we are, the more we appear right and safe and trustworthy. Our world is bedevilled, as Rebecca Solnit writes, by “a desire to make certain what is uncertain, to know what is unknowable, to turn the flight across the sky into the roast upon the plate.”

One thing that strikes me as particularly odd — in a sea of very odd things — is that it is the most complex issue about which we seem to feel most certain.

If we’re entitled to feel certain about anything, wouldn’t you expect it to be about the little things in life? The coffee mug is where I left it, the gas bill arrives on the 15th, my front door is green. Instead, we seem to reserve certainty for the things which would seem to most resist it: climate change, global politics, Covid policy, the effectiveness of gun control, what it means to be a woman, the war in the Middle East, and the real causes of inflation.

These issues are highly complex. They are multifactorial (involving economics, psychology, epidemiology, warfare, and theology), and are mediated by an unquestioning media and public officials who hardly warrant our trust. The CBC was quite quick, if you remember, to chastise Prime Minister Harper’s government for supposedly muzzling the scientists but the same outlet has been silent on the current government’s handling of Covid. As our world grows ever larger and more complex — photos from NASA’s Webb telescope are showing us new images of galaxies millions of miles away — I find it odd, at the very least, that this is the time we pick to be so certain.

Where Did Our Certainty Obsession Come From?

The insatiable desire to know the unknowable is hardly new. And fear of the unknown, and of unpredictable others, has likely always been with us, whether in relation to the uncertainties we face now, those of the Cold War era, or the fears of prehistoric man struggling for survival. 

Perhaps the first recorded story of our certainty obsession — played out to fateful ends — is the Adam and Eve story. The text of Genesis, in which we find the story, is a religious explanation of the origins of mankind. Even if you are not a believer, there is something compelling in the fact that the story has so ably withstood the test of time. It taps into something powerful about human nature, about our weaknesses and our desire to transcend our limitations. 

In the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions, Adam and Eve are the original human couple, parents of the human race. According to Genesis 1:1-24, on the sixth day of Creation, God made creatures “in his own image,” both “male and female.” He placed them in the Garden of Eden, giving them dominion over all other living things. But He commanded: “…you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Unable to resist the temptation of an evil serpent, Eve ate the forbidden fruit and encouraged Adam to do the same. Immediately aware of their transgression, God doled out their punishment: pain in childbirth (for the woman) and banishment from the garden. 

It’s interesting that Adam and Eve weren’t after good and evil, themselves, but knowledge of these. They wanted not to become good but to know all. They wanted epistemic certainty. It’s also interesting that, in their attempt to acquire knowledge, we don’t find out if they actually got it. We just know there were consequences to the pursuit. Among many things, the Adam and Eve story is a failed quest for certainty. We tried to attain the certainty we were told we couldn’t have, and we ended up paying the price for it. 

We find cautionary tales about our certainty obsession in pagan tales as well. In one of the speeches about love in Plato’s dialogue, Symposium, the comic poet Aristophanes tells a fantastical story about the origin of romantic love. Originally, he says, humans were two people conjoined but then became surprisingly strong “and so lofty in their notions” (Symposium 190b) that they foolishly tried to become god-like. As a result, Zeus cut them in half each one showing “like a flat-fish the traces of having been sliced in two; and each is ever searching for the tally that will fit him.” Our striving for Love is the desire we have to roam the earth searching for our original other half in order to become whole again.

Interestingly, it’s not just striving for certainty that yields punishment; questioning certainty can be equally perilous. The Inquisition, for example, is largely a lesson about what happened to those who questioned the orthodoxies of the Catholic Church. In 1633, Galileo Galilei, who dared to suggest heliocentrism — the view that the earth revolves around the sun (and not the sun around the earth) — was tried, found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” and was sentenced to house arrest where he remained until his death in 1642, all because the view that we now treat as absolutely certain was then deemed to be unacceptable. 

What are the lessons from these certainty stories? Why do they resonate? 

One lesson is that they are cautionary tales. They caution us about what happens when you try to attain certainty yourself, or you question the certainty of others. But certainty, history tells us, is often a grand illusion and usually a risky endeavour. Even when functioning in unison (as our most revered social institutions do), humans are not obviously capable of it. And, if you want to face censure or total self-destruction (as Adam and Eve, and many of the tragic Greek heroes did), being obsessed with certainty is a good way to do it.

When immersed in a crisis, it is easy to feel that our circumstances are unique, that no one has ever suffered as we do, that society has never been so unstable. But I wonder, is this true? Are we now really more certainty-obsessed than ever before? Is there something about the 21st century, with all its technological advances, the exponential growth of AI, and its shifting boundaries between the public and the private that make us more interested in certainty? Or do we cycle through waves of certainty and uncertainty as other scientific, economic, and sociocultural factors change? 

Story and Science

One way to answer these questions is to think about story, which might seem like an odd way to begin to answer these questions.

Story developed largely as a way to make sense of the chaotic world around us: our existence and death, how the world was created, and natural phenomena. The ancient Greeks imagined Poseidon striking his trident on the ground to explain earthquakes, and the Hindus envisioned our world as a hemispherical earth supported by elephants standing on the back of a large turtle.

Unknown author – “How the Earth was Regarded in Old times,” The Popular Science Monthly, Volume 10, part dated March 1877, p. 544.

Creating stories helps us to manage a complex world that sometimes seems to be spinning out of control, using us as its playthings. Forming beliefs about what underlies these complexities helps to bring some order to our experiences, and an ordered world is a safe world (or so we think). 

Religion is one way to do this. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell said, “Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly on fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes.” As a religious person, there is something offensively presumptuous in Russell’s statement but I take his general point that religion is at least in part a way of developing narratives with characters and reasons and purposes to help to explain our fears about a world that we struggle to understand. 

Science, often prescribed as an antidote to religion, is another way of managing our fears. And this management style is hardly new. The ancient Greeks were obsessed, I think I can fairly say, with the idea that technology (“technê”) could offer some control over the chaos of the natural world. The chorus in Sophocles’ Antigone sings: “Master of cunning he: the savage bull, and the hart, who roams the mountain free, are tamed by his infinite art;” (Ant. 1). And in Prometheus Bound we are told that navigation tames seas (467-8) and writing allows men to “hold all in memory” (460-61). 

Science and technology (including carpentry, warfare, medicine, and navigation), and even art and literature, are all attempts to exert a little control over our vast and complicated world. And some attempts at this are more successful than others. Overall, navigation has made us capable of exploring and transporting people and goods to the farthest corners of our world but even it has its missteps, as the recent Titan submersible implosion reminds us.

Our certainty obsession piqued with the rise of radical skepticism during the Enlightenment (the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe). The most famous doubter of them all, philosopher and mathematician René Descartes, sought to “tear everything down completely and begin again” to find the certain principles with which to build a new system of knowledge. Even for the later Enlightenment thinker and empiricist David Hume, who trusted the senses more than most, certainty is a fool’s errand since “all knowledge degenerates into probability” (Treatise,


Though not new, our certainty obsession has culminated in a more recent shift in Canadian values. The authors of Searching for Certainty: Inside the New Canadian Mindset write that the experience of rapid change during the 1990s — economic uncertainty, constitutional battles, and the emergence of new interest groups — made us more self-reliant and more questioning of authority. We became more uncertain, in other words, more discerning, more demanding, and less willing to place our trust in any institution — public or private — that had not earned it.

We were reassured not by promises, but by performance and transparency. We went through what University of Toronto political scientist Neil Nevitte called a ”decline of deference.” And, though not directly connected to certainty, our certainty obsession now seems buoyed up by the fact that we claim certainty for ourselves by referring or, more accurately, deferring to experts.

Writing these words gives me chills. Who were these Canadians and what happened to them? This is the Canada I remember. This is the one that felt like home. The one with Block Parent signs in every third window. The one with citizens and neighbours in the truest senses of the words.

So I ask, why has deference risen its ugly head once again?

If the 90s’ search for certainty was coupled by a trend away from deference, the certainty search of the 21st century seems to depend on it. We are certain not because of our misplaced trust in our own skills but because we outsource our thinking to the experts. And we outsource, it seems, because we are insecure and unconfident in our abilities to navigate our way through complex situations. In addition to this, we hold an oddly unquestioned set of beliefs: government is fundamentally good, the media would never lie to us, and pharmaceutical companies are, first and foremost, philanthropic. Or, perhaps we just believe that enough consistency in the narrative produced by this triad of beliefs makes us able to be reasonably certain about them.

Scientifically Certain

Let’s return for a moment to the issue of the infallibility of science from the last essay. 

“Trust the science,” we are told. What the science supposedly indubitably shows is that there is a climate crisis, that gender is an illusion, and that the Covid response was perfectly “safe and effective.” But, nestled in the folds of these deep commitments, is the idea that the mark of an intelligent person, and probably a mature society, is a demonstrated commitment to the certainty of these ideas.

Science, we seem to think, has a unique, and maybe infallible, kind of precision. Charitably, this makes a certain kind of sense. It takes time and effort, collectively, to reach a level of scientific certainty. And, those who question what are deemed to be scientific truths after all that collective work are seen as the knuckle-dragging, wet-blanket-throwers who drag society down, keeping us from the progress and the perfection of which we are capable.

We are told, “The science is settled” on all these issues. But is it? “Trust the science.” Can we? “Follow the science.” Should we? 

It isn’t even clear to me what we mean by “science” in these oft-repeated mantras. Is the science we are supposed to trust the institution of science (whatever that is), or particular scientists who have been anointed credible representatives of it? Dr. Fauci conflated the two in November 2021 when he tried to defend himself against critics: “They’re really criticising science because I represent the science.” I’m not so sure.

Essential Uncertainty

Though science now has the reputation of being infallible, it is actually the most unlikely of scapegoats for our certainty obsession since, for scientific progress to be possible, certainty must be the exception, not the rule. 

One of the basic principles of the scientific method, famously articulated by 20th century philosopher of science Karl Popper, is that any hypothesis must be inherently falsifiable, i.e. potentially disprovable. Some scientific principles make uncertainty explicit, such as Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle,” which acknowledges the fundamental limits to accuracy in quantum mechanics, or Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, which are concerned with the limits of provability in mathematics. 

The evolutionary biologist Heather Heying says that science is precisely about uncertainty: 

Embracing uncertainty, knowing that you do not know, and that what you think you do know may be wrong—this is foundational to a scientific approach to the world. Over the last decade, and especially since Covid, we have seen an increasing focus on certainty, and on single static solutions to complex problems. Perhaps most alarming of all, those appeals to authority, and to silencing those who disagree, has arrived under the banner of science. #FollowTheScience, we are told, when that has never been how science worked.

American astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan likewise cautions against seeing science as certain: 

Humans may crave absolute certainty; they may aspire to it; they may pretend, as partisans of certain religions do, to have attained it. But the history of science — by far the most successful claim to knowledge accessible to humans — teaches that the most we can hope for is successive improvement in our understanding, learning from our mistakes, an asymptotic approach to the Universe, but with the proviso that absolute certainty will always elude us.

For Sagan, science is marked not by conviction and arrogance but by humanity and humility, the scientist’s true virtues. Science always stands at the brink of what is known; we learn from our mistakes, we resist incuriosity, we feel forward for what is possible. And we try always to keep certainty and arrogance in check since they handicap us in science as they do in life.

I have little doubt that humanity’s certainty obsession is at the epicentre of the chaos in which we find ourselves. But if science, itself, isn’t responsible for it, where does our certainty conviction come from? Part of me wonders if it is due in part to the very simple fact that different people have different ways of thinking about the world, and that these different people dominate at different moments in history. 

Foxes and Hedgehogs

The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin starts his 1953 essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” with this perplexing proverb attributed to the Greek poet Archilochus. Berlin goes on to explain that there are two types of thinkers: hedgehogs, who see the world through the lens of a “single central vision,” and foxes, who pursue many different ideas, seizing upon a variety of experiences and explanations simultaneously. 

Hedgehogs reduce all phenomena to a single organising principle, explaining away messy, inconvenient details. Foxes, on the other hand, have different strategies for different problems; they are more comfortable with diversity, nuance, contradictions, and the grey areas of life. Plato, Dante, and Nietzsche are hedgehogs; Herodotus, Aristotle, and Molière are foxes.  

Who are the hedgehogs of our time? And why do we seem to be so outnumbered by them? Are hedgehogs naturally more common or does our education system somehow train the foxes out of us? Is there something about the culture of this historical moment that favours them? Are there any foxes left and, if so, how did they survive? How will they survive?

I hope you aren’t expecting answers to these questions. I hope you have also figured out by now that I’m not afraid to ask questions for which I don’t have answers. But I do have the sense that the way we fundamentally think about the world, whether we approach it with an open or a closed mind, a willingness to question and entertain uncertainty, or a revulsion towards these things, is key to understanding how we have allowed certainty to cripple us.

Swerving to Avoid Doubt

If we cling so tightly to certainty, we must do it for a reason. Perhaps we don’t feel like we have the luxury of ambivalence. Perhaps doubt, even just the appearance of it, is too risky in our current environment. Perhaps we fear that giving up the appearance of certainty will expose us to those who will ‘pounce’ at the first sign of weakness. (In truth, they probably will.)

The easy neurological, and evolutionary biological, answer to why we fear uncertainty is that it threatens our survival. An uncertain environment poses a huge threat. And this isn’t just in terms of biological survival (though many are worried, of course, that Covid, or the next novel virus, does pose a serious virological threat). Uncertainties, and acting wrongly on them, could mean the end of financial, relational, and social survival as well. 

Uncertainty makes our vulnerability palpable, to ourselves and to others, and so we try to escape it in any way we can. In The Art of Scientific Investigation, William Beveridge writes, “Many people will not tolerate a state of doubt, either because they will not endure the mental discomfort of it or because they regard it as evidence of inferiority.” We constantly look for the next step, the next rung on the ladder; we reach out desperately for the next swinging rope before letting go of the one we have. 

Clearly, a state of doubt imposes a burden. It means there is work to be done, questions to identify, data to sift through. Doubt also means enduring the discomfort of appearing unsure of oneself and, in a social media culture that puts all eyes on us, that may be too great a cost. Certainty gets one off some very burdensome epistemological and social hooks.

But there are costs to this way of living too:

  • Arrogance or excessive pride: The ancient Greeks called it hubris and crafted tragedy after tragedy to warn us of its consequences. We all know what happened to Oedipus when his arrogance propelled him towards his fateful end or Ajax who thought he could proceed without the help of Zeus. Arrogance, the tragedians teach us, is a short walk from certainty. 
  • Inattention: As soon as we become certain about a belief, we tend to be inattentive to the details that confirm or deny it. We become disinterested in accountability and potentially even deaf to suffering. Trish Wood, who moderated the recent Citizens’ Hearing on Canada’s Covid-19 response, emphasises the damage done by experts in public health: “Their blinkered approach was inhumane.” She says the testimonies of the vaccine-injured were harrowing but predictable but no one was held accountable. All of our institutions, including the media who should be watchdogging them, “have been captured and are complicit.” If you are certain you have the answers, then why would you bother attending to details as though you were still on the hunt for answers?
  • Intellectual atrophy: As soon as we become certain, we no longer need to think of the right questions to ask, or figure out how to work our way out of a problem. We should be unrelenting in our attempt to uncover the origin of Covid-19. But instead, we suppress unwelcome facts and are happy to trade incuriosity for ineptitude. “[T]ruth will come to light,” Shakespeare wrote. Well, not if the people don’t crave it, and have no interest in searching for it.
  • Reductionism: When we pursue a single narrative, as the hedgehog does, we ignore whatever doesn’t neatly fit it. This happens any time people are reduced to numbers (as they were at Auschwitz), or to their skin colour (as they were in the antebellum South), or to their vaccination status (as we all are now). Dehumanization and ignoring complex features of a person go hand in hand, though which comes first isn’t always clear. 
  • Dampening our spirit: This is the certainty cost I worry about most. The most interesting people I know are talking about meaning. We are a society, they say, without meaning, without a sense of who we are or what we are doing. We have lost our spirit and our sense of wonder. With all his apparent advantages, the hedgehog is missing one big thing: he has no wonder in his life. He has trained himself away from it. And without wonder, without a healthy dose of “I don’t know,” what does life feel like? Where does that leave our spirit? How optimistic or excited or invigorated are we able to be?

It is quite possible that certainty has stepped in as a surrogate for something more meaningful that we have lost, some sense of purpose that could fill out our lives more naturally and more fully. Uncertainty makes possible so many beautiful things in life: suspense and wonder and curiosity. Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote in the preface to his recent book of poems, “I did not ask for success; I asked for wonder.” Finding meaning and a sense of identity once they have been lost is no easy task, but identifying them as the real source of our certainty obsession is the first step, I believe, in curing ourselves of it.

It Flies on Mighty Wings

I dont know.

This little phrase expresses at once our deepest fears and our greatest powers. As the poet Wislawa Szymborska said in her Nobel acceptance speech, “It’s small, but it flies on mighty wings.” 

I don’t know. And that’s okay. 

In fact, it’s unavoidable. 

It’s imminently scientific. 

And it’s deeply human.

Today, it’s hard not to see uncertainty as a threat and to capitulate, instead, to certainty. Our culture craves instant gratification, simple answers, and obvious (and, ideally, easy) pathways to success. We think uncertainty will put us into an intellectual free fall. But the fact that so many of us have become certainty-obsessed has cost us a lot, especially over the last three years: best practices in medicine and research, accountability in government, transparency in journalism, and civility in relationships. But what it has arguably cost us most is the loss of our own humility and wisdom. As the Greek philosopher Socrates famously quipped in Plato’s Apology, “I seem, then, in just this little thing to be wiser than this man at any rate, that what I do not know I do not think I know either.”

What if we shelved certainty for a while? What if we stopped working so hard to build fortresses around our beliefs and, instead, got comfortable “living the questions?” What if debate in the House of Commons saw more curiosity than declarations? What if our politicians thought to ask us questions from time to time, about what matters most in our lives or what makes us most worried about the future? What if we asked those closest to us about what has happened over the last few years, what it’s doing to our children, and what sacrifices we are going to make to take hold of our future?

In times of great uncertainty, the natural instinct is to retreat, to seek the comfortable, the certain, and the anonymity of a crowd. Courage is not the default for most of us. As sociologist Allan Horwitz says, our innate disposition toward self-preservation means that “cowardice is the natural response to danger because humans are instinctively prone to flee from situations that threaten their well-being.” Our brains are hardwired to perceive uncertainty as a threat, and so we experience uncertainty as a stress that we need to manage rather than lean into.

Embracing uncertainty in a certainty-obsessed culture will take courage, and courage takes intention and endurance and patience and many other skills that don’t offer obvious or immediate payoffs. But the benefits are there. 

Psychological studies of humility have surged in the last two decades showing its fascinating link with both cognition and the capacity for prosocial behaviour. Studies show, in particular, that humility is a stronger predictor of performance even than IQ, and that it creates better, more flexible, and empathetic leaders. 

Humility also encourages a cluster of moral virtues that bind society together, supporting various social functions and bonds, and opening us up to meaningful connection with others. It helps us to be more tolerant and more empathetic, acknowledging and respecting others at a deeper level. Humility and uncertainty both transcend limitations. They expand our minds by creating spaces that don’t need immediate filling, and they lay the groundwork for innovation and progress.

None of this is particularly surprising. To circle back to the topic of meaning, those who are less certain, more open, and more humble find it easier to see their place in relation to something larger, to feel connected to structures bigger than themselves: couples, families, communities, nations, the human race. Humility reminds us that we are members of a species that is far from perfect and that we each have a role to play in how we develop, or regress, together.

So what can we do, here and now, to embrace uncertainty?

First, please don’t let your doubts and the urge to question make you feel small and inferior to those with more apparent confidence. The confidence they emit is likely not their own anyway but rather bought by compliance with a system that demands it. Embracing the uncertainty you naturally have is actually a sign of self-awareness and maturity.

Second, accept that the fox’s path is likely to be a lonely one. There won’t be many who will applaud your questioning, doubting, and resisting ways. You might lose employment opportunities and important relationships, you might be excluded from social activities, and you might be harassed, online and off. Our current culture is inhospitable to foxes. So if you choose to be one, you need to know the costs. But the freedom it affords will bring you more peace than anything you could achieve by falsely adopting the certainty of the group. 

Third, accustom yourself to feeling comfortable with not knowing. Embracing uncertainty is a habit, and it takes intention and time to form positive habits (research suggests somewhere between 18 and 254 days). And remember that it is the skills of the fox, and not the hedgehog, that will be invaluable as our world grows increasingly complex. 

If the last three years have taught us anything, it’s that the ability to navigate change, to imagine more than one solution to a problem, and to empathise with multiple viewpoints is invaluable. Even if we avoid future pandemics, we won’t avoid a world growing ever more complex. And even if science could perfect us in certain ways, by extending our lives and expediting our exploration of the natural world, it wouldn’t thereby also make the world a morally simpler place. In fact, it might do the opposite. Crises and disorder create chaos and stress, but they also create opportunities. The question is how to best prepare ourselves to embrace them.

Who will be best equipped for the future? The hedgehog, who sees only one solution to every problem? Or the fox who sees many different solutions? Who will be the most ingenious and adaptive and, ultimately, the most useful and content? 

Each of us has a fundamental choice to make moving forward: we can choose to be a hedgehog or we can choose to be a fox.

If we are to save ourselves and our civilization, I believe we need the pendulum to swing in the direction of the foxes.

But it’s up to you. What will you choose?

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  • Julie Ponesse

    Dr. Julie Ponesse, 2023 Brownstone Fellow, is a professor of ethics who has taught at Ontario’s Huron University College for 20 years. She was placed on leave and banned from accessing her campus due to the vaccine mandate. She presented at the The Faith and Democracy Series on 22, 2021. Dr. Ponesse has now taken on a new role with The Democracy Fund, a registered Canadian charity aimed at advancing civil liberties, where she serves as the pandemic ethics scholar.

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