Experts and Know It All’s, or why you are stupid and dumb and they know everything!

argumentsThere is a saying that goes “The young know everything, the middle aged suspect everything and the elderly believe everything.”  I really can’t say I find much truth in this saying.  I find far too many people young, middle aged and old people alike, who still know everything.   They aggravate the hell out of me.  They correct you on history, dates, politics, philosophy, truth, knowledge, weather forecasts, directions, word spellings and word pronunciations.  They lecture you about things you might know more than them about, but they are oblivious to your opinions.  To add insult to injury, they are right every time.  They are like Mr. Science on PBS; “they know more than you do.”  They may have a degree, TV or some friends who told them everything they believe.  More likely they are relying on some “expert” who they passionately believe in and no amount of expertise on your part or expert witnesses you can muster will put even a small dent in their beliefs.  They remain adamant that you are wrong and they are right.  Their experts trump your experts.  Their degrees trump your degrees.  Their experience trumps your experience.

Karen and I always enjoyed going to Hmong and Vietnamese restaurants and there were many in St. Paul on University Avenue.  One of our favorite winter dishes was a large bowl of soup named Pho.  It came in many different varieties.  We loved this soup.  Now I can’t honestly tell you that I can pronounce the word Pho as my Hmong friends did.  Nevertheless, they generally figured out what I was talking about when I pointed to the menu and said “Number 37 with squid please.”  It came to pass that some friends of ours went to visit a family in Vietnam.  Shortly after they came back from Vietnam, we all went to a Vietnamese restaurant for some Pho.  Of course, now that the wife had been in Vietnam, she was an expert on pronouncing Vietnamese words.  She told us how to correctly pronounce Pho.  I would have been all right with this except that it did not sound like the same word any of the waiters in the restaurant were using.  I guess they just forgot how to pronounce their own language.  I hate it when people correct my word pronunciations!  Why, because I have found that there are often many different ways to pronounce a word.  Some are undoubtedly wrong, but who knows?  Of course, the “expert” knows the right pronunciation.

People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.”  — Isaac Asimov

Do I have a big character quirk?  Why do these people annoy me so much?  I love Socrates because he did not know everything.  I am agitated by people who correct me.  I don’t mind it if you have your opinions.  I don’t mind it if you have your experts.  I also don’t mind it if you read it in a book someplace.  However, has it ever occurred to you that I might have a different opinion?  I might have read a different book?  I might have heard a different expert?  Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill or is this problem getting worse?  It seems to me there are more know-it-alls on the web and internet and TV then there were before.  It sometimes seems like there are more experts out there than there are people on the face of the earth.  Every day we are bombarded with experts telling us what to eat, how to exercise, what to invest in, what to believe, what not to believe.  I sometimes feel that we need a “War on Experts.”

We must be so careful of setting ourselves up as people who set others straight. There is a fine line of encouraging and being a know it all.  — Unknown quote

To make it worse, you cannot escape this war online.  Every day there are arguments on different chat groups and websites where it is clear that each side is totally ignoring what the other side is saying.  Here is one example from Facebook, I recently experienced.  I will refrain from using the actual names of the parties concerned.  It involves a disagreement over the use of Electroshock Therapy for patients in a mental health facility.  A friend posted his comments noting a wide range of experts who thought that such treatments were abusive and no longer useful.  He was immediately “jumped” on by an “expert” who disagreed and cited their extensive history and experience in a facility where Electroshock Therapy was used.  Apparently in his perspective, the patients needed it and loved it.  When asked to produce some evidence as to his experience or expertise, he fell back on the old “Trust Me” I know argument.  No amount of persuasion could convince the “expert” that other “experts” might not agree with him.

Never become so much of an expert that you stop gaining expertise. View life as a continuous learning experience.  — Denis Waitley

Here is a verbatim discussion from another Facebook group online that is for “Intellectual Discussions.”  I have left the names out.  The discussion started with the posting of a picture that appeared to some as “offensive.”  The picture dealt with slavery.

  • Disgusting part of our history that we should never forget.
  • Can we move away from posting statements and more towards questions which will foster discussion?
  • I’m sure we all know of the atrocities that happened to those poor people, but there isn’t much more we can say on this point other than having a circle jerk to see who can be the most apologetic and remorseful for the ways of whitey.
  • Can we just post whatever we want? Otherwise bring it up with admin for a questions
  • I don’t see a problem with this, although it will probably fall to the bottom of the page pretty quickly. The nature of debate is someone offers a stance, and then people will either agree or offer an opposing stance. There is nothing wrong with debating your point of view. I can’t see how somebody would disagree with the above in this case, but the nature of racism is certainly a valid topic.
  • My only point was this offers very little to discuss, which one would assume is the point of the group. i have nothing against discussing this topic, but this is just a depressing statement with a depressing pic, it’s not really a topic or point of contention which will inspire any discussion.
  • Yeah I agree this won’t generate much of a discussion. I don’t think any of the admins here would want to ban this however, seems a bit draconian to me. You don’t want to create an environment where people are hesitant to post things because of a police like environment.
  • I found that this fact brought up many, many issues to discuss, intellectually.
  • Linking articles in this manner is lazy and attributes to spam.
  • Shuvit,
  • Who’s lazy now?
  • Be cool, man, you don’t have to be like that .
  • Spam = selling something.
  • No one, who is intelligent, in the group Intellectual Discussion is going to stand for unwarranted aggression or name calling. Be careful with your words, they are very powerful, “You just might write a check, you can’t cash….Anywhere.”
  •  Nobody here has been name calling. Chill out people . . . everyone please.
  • THIS IS WHY WE CAN”T HAVE NICE THINGS
  • That was good!
  • Shuv-it I don’t understand why you would disrespect my name, and in the same breath condone name calling.
  •  And to this white guilt shame stirring understand it has zero effect on me – for a couple of reasons; first is relevance. Law which doesn’t exist.

arguments 2This same story repeats itself endlessly on the web and elsewhere.  You post something.  Some body disagrees with it.  Someone takes offense at it.  Some expert rebuts it.  Someone does not think you should have said it.  It is not much different elsewhere.  You say something in a coffee shop.  Some expert rebuts it.  You are at a party and make a comment.  Some expert rebuts it.  Where are all the Socrates?  Where are all the truly wise people who know that they know nothing?  Why are we surrounded by experts?  What if more of us were like Socrates and at least not so sure of what we know?

“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”  — Socrates

I find myself wondering about the old rules of rhetoric and debate.  The rules we learned in school.  Was anyone ever convinced of anything by facts, experts and argument?  I see little evidence of this online or anywhere else.  Perhaps it works in court where people come without a bias to begin with.  Perhaps not!  Of one thing, I am fairly certain; I have experienced few if any arguments where I was a witness to a change of mind.  Thus, most arguments go around in a circle and the victor is often the most obtuse or the one with the most stomach for hyperbole, rigmarole, obfuscation, pedantry and insults.  You win when the other side quits.  Is there a solution?  I think there might be.

What about a set of rules for disagreeing with other people?   What if we agreed on certain principles that were more designed to illicit the truth then to prove ourselves right and the other side wrong?  It would be more like win-win bargaining then win-lose bargaining.  Both sides would try to find the truth or at least the Golden Mean.  This would probably never work in court, but it might work in arguments between people or at least between friends.  Thus, I propose the following rules:

  1. Start with admitting that you do not know everything.
  2. Admit that you might not have all the facts and that what facts you have are not necessarily true.
  3. Agree that the truth between your side and the other side might be in-between.
  4. Do not insult, slander, belittle or ridicule the other side.
  5. Ask questions and seek facts together?  Ask what is missing in the evidence that would make the truth more obvious?
  6. Celebrate finding the truth and not a victory over the other side.

What do you think?  Would these rules make discourse more civil? Am I being naïve? 

As an experiment, I posted these rules and a short prologue to them on a few websites (Five websites dealing with discussion and debate). I waited a few days to update this article and to include any insights I received from this experiment.  Here are some interesting comments that people left in response to my posting:

  • I was convinced, through logical debate alone, that I live in a permanently determined universe even though my direct experience will never reflect that fact. This was one of a few MAJOR shifts in perception/worldview I have had in my life, which had an impact on every part of my life. It literally turned my entire belief system on its head at the time. It happened while having a conversation on a forum online. The (logical) truth alone can be transformative if you honor it over your emotional preferences and attachments. It’s not easy to let go of false beliefs and ideas, so most of us choose instead to desperately cling to them out of fear, and that becomes the hidden driver for various dishonest techniques like information filtering and distortion, that destroy our capacity to be moved by logic and by truth. Logic and truth are not to blame – human dishonesty and unclear motive is to blame. You need to become the kind of person who has thought about everything so much, that you delight in the idea of someone proving you wrong, you seek it out and look for it because you are bored to death with having figured everything out.
  •  You are describing having an open mind – it takes discipline and practice- and maybe a referee. People find it hard not to either take comments personally, or to make personal attacks.
  •  All 6 points mentioned above sound logical and reasonable. The problem is for one to transfer them from the theoretical stage to the practical one. If one can adopt and apply in his daily communication the outlined 6 points then in my opinion he is a “man of enormous wisdom”.
  •  Yes. And like all people that hold various perceptions of various paradigms (i.e., religion, government, etc.,), they come in all levels of perception. Some are easier than others to converse with. We ALL have different learning curves, molded by different experiences, histories, etc.  There are those, out there, that ENDEAVOR to have an open mind and question.
  •  What you are proposing is dialogue instead of debate. When you want to find the truth, dialogue is the way to go. Sometimes judgments have to be made in absence of absolute certainty, debate is useful in these situations (and yes pathos is huge in debates), but should ideally be avoided by finding the truth.
  • I was warned against the fallacy of moderation (or the mean) when I learnt rhetoric and that the truth rarely lies between two opposite positions.

argument-against-argumentsConclusions:

Karen asked me when the “experiment” was over whether people agreed with me or not.  Well, like most of life, there was no black and white answer to this question.  Most people agree we need civility but most did not seem to think it likely that people could control their emotional responses in respect to an argument or concept that they felt strongly about.  Rules or no rules, I am constrained to accept the possibility that:

  1. There often may be no middle ground for compromise
  2. Conflict is inevitable in some circumstances
  3. People are emotional and bring emotional baggage to many discussions
  4. People can change their minds but it will not be an easy task to break anyone out of their pre-existing frameworks
  5. We need to make more of an effort to find the “Golden Mean”
  6. We need to show more respect for opinions we disagree with

Time for Questions:

 Are there too many experts in the world?  Why have the amount of “talking heads” proliferated?  Are you tired of hearing experts tell you what you should know and think?  How can we have more agreeable conversations?  Is it possible to avoid conflict and look for the truth rather than try to prove ourselves right?  Are you a “know it all”?  What do we have to do to be more open minded?

Life is just beginning

 

 

 

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. bgalbreath
    Apr 08, 2014 @ 17:10:14

    Let’s look at you proposed rules. I think they are quite good, but I’ll make some pedantic (or know-it-all) comments nevertheless:

    1) Admitting that you do not know everything.
    2) Admit that you might not have all the facts and that what facts you have are not necessarily true.
    3) Agree that the truth between your side and the other side might be in-between.
    Do not insults, slander, belittle or ridicule the other side.
    4) Ask questions and seek facts together? Ask what is missing in the evidence that would make the truth more obvious?
    5) Celebrate finding the truth and not a victory over the other side.

    1) is unproblematic among peers, but suppose you really are an expert, with hard won empirically based information that your interlocutor lacks. Of course you still do not know everything, but there is much that you do know that is quite reliable, even if counter-intutive to the non-expert. For example, you have fixed cars for years and are faced with an earnest car-owner who believes problems in the car’s electrical system are causing those clunking noises in his suspension. You know that, on his car at least, the two systems have no way to affect each other. He is wrong, you are right. There is no middle ground, but it may not be worth the trouble to try to educate your customer as opposed to placating him.

    2) is fine, except for misuse of the word “fact” in the second clause. Facts ARE necessarily true, each and every one of them. A fact is simply a state of affairs in the world. It is exactly as it is. A proposition that accurately describes that arrangement in the world expresses the fact and it is true. That’s why the old National Lampoon had an ongoing feature called “True Facts”. It’s funny because the idea of a non-true fact is nonsensical. I would phrase your sensible suggestion this way: Admit that you might not have all the facts and that some of the things you believe to be facts are actually falsehoods.

    3) and 4) are fine. The two causes of 3 are actually completely separate principles. Of course the truth may lay in the middle. It may lay anywhere. That’s what we are trying to find out, and should make no pre-judgment of the matter. The second clause is about decorum, which is almost always desirable in a discussion (although resorting to ‘tough rhetoric’ may be fully appropriate as self-defense against really being harmed in ways that extend outside the current discussion. 4) is just the scientific method, the best fact finding strategy we have as yet hit upon.

    5) Celebrating having found the truth is a good thing, but I think even more valuable is having found out one’s own error. If a person or circumstance forces me to give up a “fact” that I had been relying upon, then I am in a better position than I was before in terms of my ability to interact with the world around me. The best thing my “opponent” in a debate or controversy can do is get me to see where I have been wrong. However, the worst thing that person can do is undercut my reliance on what is, in fact, truth, i.e. to get me to “see” where I am wrong, when I am not wrong. If we do undergo a change, the problem is figuring out whether we have moved to the truth or unwittingly away from it.

    Reply

  2. johnpersico
    Apr 08, 2014 @ 21:42:18

    Bruce, as usual, you make many good points proving that “Truth” is flexible and lies maybe along a bell shaped curve or some other curve. We both agree that civility is always nice. But I still wonder if it is possible when many people are more emotional than rationale or if the subject is highly charged like racism, genocide or even abortion discussions. I wonder if I might be being too naive?

    I like the idea of finding the “truth” but I personally am not sure what the “truth” is. Are facts true? I would disagree here. I think facts are whatever the majority decides to accept as true. Did Columbus really discover America in 1492 or is that “fact” just a date we all agree on. History is full of “facts” that later on appeared to be “False facts.” So we can have true facts, false facts, lies and truths. Mix-em all up and what do we have? Experts. 🙂

    Thanks for your ideas and insights. I am sure (is it a fact?) that readers often learn more from comments following a discussion then they do from the discussion. Maybe I should not be too sure though.

    Reply

  3. Trackback: WHY DOES EVERYONE FEEL COMPELLED TO DELIVER LECTURES AND ADVICE AT ANY TIME? | Bonnie McCune, author

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