Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Breadth & Depth of Ignorance

The older I get (mid seventies) the more aware I am of the breadth and depth of my own ignorance.  As Country Parson, I write on politics, economics, and theology (Christian), because they’re the only three things I know much about, which I gained through academic learning and a lifetime of work.  But in truth, I know very little about any of them, and even less about the rest of the the world of knowledge and experience.  What I can be is curious about all of it, interested in learning at least a bit more, and open to new experiences.  I can think, reflect, ask questions, engage in conversation, and check facts.  I can also be honest about the things I’m unlikely to read up on or try to do, and that list is getting longer.  Backpacking through Nepal is not high on my list, but a nice three star hotel might work, four or five would be better.

I’ve been thinking about that for a while, partly because I write articles intended to be value oriented and well informed on subjects of topical interest that I hope will be of interest to others.  At the same time I’ve been distressed by the abundance of material published on the internet that appears to have little or no foundation in verifiable evidence, and often expresses nothing but unreflective, uninformed, strongly held opinion.  Even some sites favoring political views I endorse use irresponsible hyperbole, and unsupported assertions, in the cheapest from of tabloid journalism.  In the midst of it, a few acquaintances have wondered what degree of hubris it must take for me to put my own opinions out there as if they had superior value to others, especially theirs.  It’s one of those “Who do you think you are?” things.   Good question.

Close friends with advanced degrees in philosophy, theology, sociology, mathematics, and medicine have probed the depth of disciplines in which I have gleaned only a smattering of knowledge over the years.  Each of them has achieved far deeper knowledge of their disciplines than I ever did in mine.  And what are mine?  They are the proverbial “Duke’s Mixture,” a miscellany of subjects orbiting around politics, economics, and theology, permitting me to be a “Jack of each and master of none,” which, as it turns out, is an pejorative aphorism existing in almost every language and culture.  By the way, did you know that a long time ago a guy named Duke sold pouches of mixed Virginia tobacco?  It was OK but not great.  Being a Jack of all trades was once said about Shakespeare by someone who thought him too much of a tinhorn know-it-all.  So what’s a tinhorn?  But I digress.


Thankfully, among well educated friends in my age group (the sixty to eighty gang), I hear a similar lament.  It’s good to have company.  As gifted and experienced as they are in their fields, most admit their lack of knowledge about others, and their willingness to be informed because they are curious about the world around them.  What they bring to their curiosity is years of training and experience in evidence based thinking, and an openness to a variety of views.  A world of unknowns yet to be explored, and a willingness to act with courage on provisional truth, opens for them a future as pregnant with possibility as it appeared to be when they were eighteen.  So here we go.  Let the adventure begin – in a reasonable degree of decadent comfort. 


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