OK, so, that is a really long title for the post, but there it is. I and others have tackled this topic, ad naseum, and I wish it would go away, but it will not. Michael Kinsley put it best in his article Intellectual Free Lunch when he attacked the idea that our opinions are the equal to facts. I read that for the first time over fifteen years ago. That was a defining moment in my life, and the point where my mission, such as it is, became obvious.
Despite what some say of me, I do not claim to have all the answers. I do have plenty of questions, and some good ideas how to respond to them, but I know I do not know everything. I can make some educated guesses, based on the hard work of others who have studied these questions. For instance, when the vast majority of climate scientists tell me that human spurred climate change is real, I am willing to accept that answer. When well-respected economists look at half a century of empirical evidence, as opposed to the random, self-interested wailing of a few pundits and tell me Keynsian economics works, then I am likely to believe them as well.
Of course Kinsley was not just attacking folks’ propensity for ignoring evidence, he was mostly going after our habit of creating evidence whole clothe. We answer polls about how much of our budget is spent on welfare, how many real dollars that equals and form our views around that rather than, say, investigate what the actual answer is. The answer, for 2011 at least, was 9.6 billion dollars, or less than one percent of the entire budget. That demands an entire post of its own, but that is not what this is about.
Just wanting something to be true does not make it so. Wanting to believe racism is over, so you are off the hook for white privilege, does not make it so. Wanting another country to be stock piling weapons of mass destruction, so you can feel pride when we invade them, does not make it so. Wanting there to be a connection between abortion and mental health issues in women does not make it so. Yes, I realize I am beating up on the right here, but I reap from fertile ground.
I can hear the complaints now. “Who do you think you are?” “Why can’t you just leave people to their beliefs?” I am no one special, just someone smart enough to know I don’t know everything. Someone smart enough to question what those with power tell me. As to leaving people to their beliefs, if those beliefs had zero effect on other people’s lives, I would be all for it, but when you want to change policy based on willful ignorance I am going to stand between you and the people hurt by it.
I am often accused of being arrogant. I suppose the label is not entirely without merit, but if I truly believed I was soooo much more intelligent than other folks I would not care. If I believed that vast horde of humanity were idiots I would shrug my shoulders and say there is nothing for it. They are not stupid however. What they are is intellectually lazy, and the rest of us are not insulated from their lack of effort. Stop living in your echo chambers, start digging through that information overload, and really work to make the world a better place. That, or clam up and stay out of our way.