I’m getting much more mellow and much less feisty the older I get, but, well, I still have my moments. I’ve always loved a good argument and for most of my life I could get pretty intense when having one – even when it was about something that really was quite immaterial. These days, though, I pretty much have a live and let live attitude. In part I imagine that’s because I realize that all of us are probably wrong about lots of things (most?) and usually it doesn’t much really matter, as long as being wrong doesn’t do anyone much harm. Let the one without error be the first to cast a stone.
But I’ve had a couple of bad experiences in the past month on podcasts I’ve done, when I wasn’t my usual affable self and I’ve been trying to figure out what set me off, making me rather hyper-confrontational and – can you believe it? – possibly (probably) pretty rude.
As I’ve thought about it I’ve come to realize (or at least to think) that there are still a couple of things that really get under my skin and that bring out the beast in me. They involve two aspects of things I think about a lot: expertise and suffering. What really sets me off as a rule – and certainly in these encounters — is ignorance posing as expertise and (relatedlybut with respect to a particular topic) confident but completely pat answers to why so many people endure lives of misery.
I’ll say at the outset that I have NO objection at all, in principle, to people who are not experts or who think things that — from what I know from experts – simply are not right. As I said, I too am ignorant about most fields of study. What I object to is people using their ignorance in ways that hurt others (or themselves) and/or who try to convince others that they’ve made a huge breakthrough in some area of human knowledge when it becomes clear they don’t even understand the view they claim to be reforming.
As to pat answers to the question of suffering, I pretty much expect most people to find answers that work for them, either to help them throughout their own suffering or to try to explain the world to themselves. But I really, really don’t like “experts” setting out pat answers as if they’ve thought them up and want to introduce the world to them, when in fact their “solutions” are things I heard repeatedly when I was a teenager and after some serious thought realized are simply not adequate.
I had a podcast recently with a Muslim author who wanted to explain to me why
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