Be Suspicious of People Who Don’t Know They’re Fools
A few months ago I wrote a short piece called You’re Not as Informed as You Think You Are. It’s about how we think we know the whole world, when in fact, we just know our own extremely tiny corner.
Let’s say you’re a subject matter expert on solid waste disposal here in the United States. Even if you know tons about how that system works, it’s doubtful you have any knowledge about how they collect and process trash in Egypt, or Taiwan, or Ukraine.
And unless you speak French, Swahili, Mandarin (and every other large language on the planet), there’s a whole small world of information and nuanced language about your domain that you have zero access to.
So even when we know a lot about a topic, there’s always more to learn. And as the whole Dunning-Kruger movement has illustrated, the more you know about something, the more you realize you don’t know.
“Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.” - Albert Einstein
Which brings us to people who have a great deal of certainty. People who don’t know, or who pretend not to be fools.
Humans tend to trust people who speak with strength and conviction. Unfortunately, these are the same people who tend to be the biggest fools. Drawn into taking a strong position on something, these confident folks are now disincentivized to accept any information which might disprove or weaken their absolutist argument.
Meanwhile, people who deal in nuance, complexity, and intelligent solutions are marginalized by those who can repeat themselves verbatim again and again and again.
Which is to say, be extremely wary of those who speak with certainty. They are invested in what they say, to the detriment of truth and progress. If it doesn’t fit their beliefs, they just ignore it.
When deciding who to listen to, you’re much better of ignoring the louder voices, and instead listening to those who are conflicted. They’re the ones actually grappling with what they know and what they don’t, and they’re far more likely to come up with a broadly useful solution.
Humility, compassion, and evidence of forethought are the only legitimate authority.
End of rant.
I write about the unconscious at occultedordinary.com.