False Expertise, Ignorance, and Arrogance

My friend posted the following on facebook the other day, and I think that it’s something that everyone should be aware of:

Thing I wish everyone magically understood from birth #9082904832: Every task has a potential depth of expertise, regardless of how simple it might seem. This means that: 1) someone who repeatedly does the task for any length of time will have gained at least some of that expertise, 2) they usually become increasingly efficient and skilled at carrying out that task over time, 3) they deserve to be compensated for their expertise, and 4) anyone who has not done that task for a length of time not only lacks expertise, but also lacks awareness of what they don’t know.

I am posting this because there’s a cult of over-individuality in this country, where people think that because they know a little about something, they are an expert. Stop it.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. It makes you think that you are an expert when you are not. It inflates your ego until you are unaware of what you don’t know. It’s part of the fetishization of ignorance, but more troublesome.

When I say fetishization of ignorance, I mean that many people seem to be proud of their lack of knowledge. They claim instead that because they didn’t pay attention in school or go to school altogether, that they are closer to the real world and thus know everything there is about everything. “Screw those elitists in their ivory towers. They don’t know what the real world is like.” It’s bullshit on the highest level, that somehow your lack of knowledge makes you superior.

Getting back to college, I can tell you that there is no ivory tower. Everyone I know that went to college also worked full or part time while doing so. I worked 35 hours a week in a crap job while taking 15 hours a week in classes. It’s simple math. Unless your job has you working more than 50 hours a week, you can’t say that you are a “real working person” and I was not. College exposes you to different points of view. It teaches you comprehension skills, analytic skills, communication skill (both written and spoken) and financial management from the ton of loans you have to take out (not to mention budgeting room, board, and obscenely expensive books) all the while you are working hard in “the real world.”

I’m not saying that you have to go to college (it’s very expensive) but don’t pretend that your high school diploma means that you work harder or are somehow superior or more valid. You might know a little bit about something, but you are not an expert on what you don’t know. Remember, the more you know, the more that you are aware of how little you know. The ones that know a little think that they know a lot, that they surpass people with actual knowledge and experience.

I hope that you can see the stupidity in this belief.

I am not an expert in anything. Yes, I’ve been a professional writer for almost 20 years, beginning with journalism and lit magazines and moving on to full novels. I am not an expert. Yes, I have 15 years of experience and a Master’s degree in Special Education. I am not an expert. Yes, I teach Creative Writing and edit on the side. I am not an expert. Yes, I have studied New York history extensively and probably know more than most about it. I am not an expert.

If I am sick, I go to a doctor. I don’t pretend that I know more than him. If my sink is leaking, I call in a plumber. I don’t pretend that I know more than him. If my car is busted, I go to a mechanic. I don’t pretend that I know more than him.  I don’t pretend that I understand your life, your skills, or your knowledge. Though I know that you are not an expert (no one reaches that level) I also know that you are more knowledgeable in that field than I am. To do otherwise is the heart of ignorance.

So when do you become an expert? Never. There is competency, but not expertise. There is always more to learn.

I realize that I am not an expert because though have experience in a field, I also am wise enough to know how far I have to go. It would also crush me if I reached some level where I could learn no more about a subject. Thank goodness for that impossibility.

Be humble. Stop rolling around in your ignorance like a pig in mud. Stop disparaging knowledge as weakness. Keep trying to reach expertise, but understand that you will never reach it. There is always someone that can do better, but that doesn’t mean that you should stop trying.

doge in space card redux


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