In his speech, Milos Forman uses the concepts of irony and ambiguity to demonstrate the importance of critical thinking and unbiased analysis of the ongoing processes. He sharply criticizes people who fail (or are reluctant) to see different sides of a problem. There is no black and white — one is forced to meddle with ambiguities and uncertainties before he or she is able to arrive on a balanced judgment concerning certain issue. In order to illustrate this, Milos Forman brings an example of Oscar Schindler, who was a very controversial figure indeed.
Forman refers to irony as a device of exposing hypocrisy and double standards. The power and potential of irony is evident from the example of a comedian in Communist Czechoslovakia who went to prison for making an exposing joke about those in power.
Forman contrast irony and ambiguity with ‘comfortable certainties’ which are, to his mind, a manifestation of ‘ignorance or over-security.’ As he rightly points out, it is easier to believe everything the government is saying and act in line with what public morals and traditions dictate. To operate a set of stereotypes costs less effort than to approach every issue critically and independently.
In my life, I prefer ambiguities rather than comfortable certainties. I dare question and challenge well-established opinions and assumptions if they seem wrong or groundless. It should not be regarded as a non-conformism syndrome: it is equally important not to object for the sake of objecting. However, it is necessary to see both sides of an issue (even if debating this issue might seem provocative or unethical) before voicing an opinion about it. Every nation and every individual should, in Milos’s words, ‘rise to its best when challenged by its worst.’
Forman, Milos. ‘Speech before the National Press Club in Washington.’ January 31, 1997. October 2, 2007. <http://www.mit.edu/activities/safe/writings/people-v-flynt>