Who needs an expert, anyway?

So the headlines tell us we are living in a post-fact world. And the expert is declared — DEAD.

We are witnessing, what I like to call, the ‘argument from conspiracy’ rapidly shift from the domain of crackpots and closet bigots to the dominant (i.e., loudest) mainstream position. This argument assumes that a conspiracy — some clandestine, usually nefarious, ulterior motive — underlies claims of fact, especially those facts that undermine the assumed conspiracy, or oppose claims consistent with it. It follows that no such fact is to be trusted, nor the source of that fact trustworthy.

At its most extreme, no fact is indeed fact. ‘It’s all a cover up!’ Hence, we are now post-fact, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

The basic argument from conspiracy is: Continue reading

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I don’t know anything about … but I know what I like

We’ve all heard it said, probably confidently announced it ourselves. It usually crops up when we are talking about things like art, music, wine. That definitive proclamation

‘I don’t know anything about [insert particular thing] but I know what I like!’

Often followed by an emphatic ‘And I know I don’t like that!’ Typically whilst aggressively pointing at some divisive piece of contemporary art, avant-garde music, or expensive wine. Continue reading

Yeah, but I’m not smart enough

As we learnt last time, Socrates was the greatest know-nothing; and importantly, he knew it. Still, despite his genuine protestations, Socrates was actually brilliant. ‘The wisest of them all’ the Oracle of Delphi said; and everybody knew it.

Now it might occur to you that it is actually Socrates’ brilliance that affords him his philosophical ignorance. He had the right kind of smarts to come to grips with, and flourish from, knowing he knows nothing — the extraordinary natural talent to be a philosopher. He’s marked by the divine sign, for goodness sakes! Whereas, like those everyday thinkers who Socrates relentlessly questioned, someone like me (you think) does not have his sort of philosophical mind, just an ordinary mind confined to the usual ignorant.

Perhaps, resigning you to declare: ‘Yeah, it’s alright for Socrates, but I’m just not smart enough to be a philosopher.’ Continue reading

The Rights and Wrongs of Ignorance: First the Wrong.

You may be surprised to learn I am pretty ignorant. (If you aren’t surprised, just for me, pretend.)

For all my 12 years of state schooling I was left largely to my own devices. No memorable educator to admire and emulate, no intellectual guidance, no challenge. Still my precociousness drew attention, revered and ridiculed in equal measure, yet, unhelpfully, left uncultivated. I had taught myself everything I knew. This meant by time I reached university I was starkly ignorant of perhaps the most important thing — learning. Ignorant of how to learn. Ignorant of why to learn. Ignorant of what there was to learn. Ignorant of all the goings on in the world of learning.

One main reason for my ignorance regarding learning is that I come from place where there is a certain pride in being ignorant in this way. I grew up amongst who I call the wilfully ignorant. Those who purposefully disengage from formal education, scholarship, anything intellectual. And consequently, they are deeply wary of those who do pursue it, acting as if the learned are somehow tainted, or defective, and are out to infect you with their taint or defect. The wilfully ignorant’s whole position is resolutely summed up with their go-to rhetorical response: ‘What the bloody hell do you want to do that for?’ Continue reading