I have a really deep interest in politics, as you could probably tell. I read many articles from all sides of the spectrum every day, I watch C-SPAN when something important is happening, and I try to read books that give me perspective on issues big and small. Humble-brag aside, I will admit that there are many political topics that I don’t really have an opinion on. The biggest of these issues is probably the healthcare debate. During President Trump and Paul Ryan’s botched attempt at repealing and replacing Obamacare, I tried my best to keep my head down in arguments. Why? Because I’ll admit that I don’t know a lot about healthcare. Instead of throwing my less-than-2-cents into debates, I stayed on the sidelines and listened.
We live in an age where you’re expected to have an opinion on any and all topics in the world at all times. No matter how breaking the issue is, you need to have your opinion heard, lest you look uninformed. Suddenly, everyone with an internet connection and a Twitter account is as qualified to speak on topics like defense, the economy, and healthcare as an expert in that field. I found it amusing that following President Trump’s missile strike in Syria, everyone on Twitter became an expert in the situation on the ground in Syria, and could predict the geopolitical consequences of the attack before the dust settled. We like to pull our opinions from headlines designed to grab our attention, Tweets that are more snark than information, and short, easy-to-digest explanations that may only give one side of the issue.
Whenever I do voice my opinions on policy matters on here, I always make sure that I am prepared to hear that I am flat wrong by someone who is much more well versed in that field than I am. In my recent post regarding the prospect of war with North Korea, a post that was essentially pure speculation, I made sure to include a disclaimer in the introduction that my opinions on that topic could be simply dismissed, because I am not an expert on the North Korean military.
Because of my lack of opinions on some topics, and my general instinct for moderation between two extremes, I’ve gotten called things like apathetic, uninformed, wishy-washy, unprincipled, etc. From those I am reminded of a few variations of a quote attributed to John Maynard Keynes (despite there being no evidence of him saying any of it):
“When events change, I change my mind. What do you do?”
“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
“When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?”
“When someone persuades me that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?”
Before I go and throw my opinions out into the world, I’d like to make sure they won’t be humiliatingly smacked down by someone far more knowledgeable on a topic than I am.
I recently read the book The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College. The book is about how in an age of easily accessible information, people are starting to value expertise on a topic less and less, to the point where the term “expert” is almost a slur. It goes in depth about this problem, examining the causes, from college campuses that try to offer a 4-year vacation rather than an education, to the ease of accessing almost infinite knowledge, to experts abusing the public’s trust, to good old-fashioned hubris. As a soon-to-be college student, this book was an awakening that knocked me off the high horse that this age usually puts me on. I am only 18, so the chances of me being as well-read energy policy as someone with multiple degrees and a career in that field are essentially zero. Thus it is often better for me, and others my age, to listen, rather than to speak. Of course, that does not mean we have to always sit down and shut up, we should exercise our judgement.
The book also explains that just because someone is well-versed on a topic, that does not mean that they are always going to be right, or that their knowledge carries over to other topics. If you are an expert on energy policy, I’m probably not going to take your opinion on healthcare as strongly as someone in that field. No one is right on everything. A combination of skepticism and humility are needed.
In his book, Nichols quotes Bertrand Russell’s rules for skeptics, saying:
“1. When the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain.
2. When they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert.
3. When they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.”
I’m still young, so I have ample time to read up on the healthcare, and once I consider all of the facts and weigh them with my own principles, I’ll come up with a solid opinion. But until then, I’m going to offer my non-expert advice: Before you make a judgement on something and accept it to yourself as fact, check to see what the experts in that field have to say, and think before you open your mouth. It might just save you from embarrassing yourself on Twitter.