Food, fun and friends! That’s what Facebook is for, click Like if you agree! No religion talk, no political debates – just food, fun, and friends. I saw this on a friend’s Facebook recently, and hit like. To be fair, I actually do hate food-sharers on social media, so that part didn’t really apply. And if I’m being honest, I typically go on Facebook out of bored habit, not because it’s any fun. Friends are cool, though, no complaints there.
Oh and one more thing – sometimes I do sucker myself into political discussion. I know, I know, it’s a fruitless venture, trying to convince others to change their political alignments, even in the slightest. This isn’t like changing your mind on what you feel like eating for dinner – this is your sense of pride, values, beliefs. This is how people define themselves. It’s far too important to have a sense of fluidity in this matter, so for god’s sake keep strong! Because of course, being open to change is a sign of weakness.
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Recently, my mom and I were hanging out, watching Ancient Aliens. She’s a devout Christian woman, so she thinks the show is absurd on principle. I find it endlessly amusing. Not only do I get to learn about longstanding mysteries, I get to witness people attribute every single one of them, in all seriousness, to alien activity. Their stubbornness is inspiring. Though I don’t invest much into the possibility that aliens have been visiting Earth and sowing confusion for future generations, I don’t dismiss it. Of course, being the asshole I am, around my mom I become a staunch Ancient Astronaut Theorist, quipping how she’ll be sorry when Jesus returns and explains to everyone that he’s taking us all back to Kepler-186f. Teasing my mom may be the only more entertaining way to spend an hour than watching Ancient Aliens – the day you learn how to push your parents’ buttons is akin to the day you’re finally taller than them. You’ll never catch up in age or experience, so you take what you get. I remember my angst-ridden teenage years, when my mom would ask where I was going, I combatted her sound parenting with the perfect cocktail of horrifying answers: my boyfriend Spike was picking me up to go get a face tattoo…ON A MOTORCYCLE. Don’t ask me if we’re wearing helmets, mom, I don’t think you want to know.
When Ancient Aliens ended, she felt compelled to remind me that she was older, wiser, and smarter than me. That’s why she doesn’t believe in ridiculous things like humankind being the product of alien conjugality with apes. The irony to me, of course, is that the idea of God coming to Earth and creating humans is patently no more absurd than the sacrilegious substitution of an alien species in His stead. My response: being old doesn’t make you smart. It just makes you old. Not to diminish the correlation between age, experience and intelligence, but there is no causal relationship; there are young idiots and old idiots alike.
Nobody likes a know-it-all. That’s what they say, at least, though I don’t think we have enough information to justify such a statement, because to my knowledge nobody has ever met someone who knows it all. It’s an unsettling idea, to think that someone we can actually interact with, in person, can know everything. Up until now, humans have reproduced at a fantastic rate, and we’ve pumped out some real intellectual thoroughbreds, but to my knowledge, we’ve still failed at coming close to producing a genuine know-it-all. This experience has allowed us to operate under a shared (correct) assumption that nobody knows everything. That’s why we don’t like people who come off in a way that expresses that, finally, after all these years of human existence, they might be the one who does know it ALL.
Now, I’ve been called a know-it-all. I’ve been called a blowhard, a pretentious piece of shit, you name it. I have a big mouth, so I’ve been called close to everything in the book imaginable (including a “shit ass”). Really though, I’m mostly a contrarian with a penchant for provocation and an insatiable curiosity. I’m no expert on anything. I’m all too aware that I’m deeply entrenched on the opposite side of the spectrum from a true Know-It-All. It’s frustrating, but also exciting – it means I have a lot of work to do. So that’s exactly what I do.
I spend a lot of time reading, often at the expense of my immediate obligations. I recently finished graduate school where I studied special education. During these past 3 grad school years, I learned as much, if not more, physics, neurology, economics and finance as I did in the field in which I was enrolled. I took free online courses in these subjects as well, often disregarding the classes I was paying for simply out of a stronger sense of intrigue. For better and for worse, I painstakingly went about dissecting as much information as I could, forming my ideas and opinions along the way. When new information arose, so did new opinions. That was my ultimate goal: read various differing ideas on subjects and determine which was most compelling, often cherrypicking pieces from different sides that were compatible and offered more comprehensive explanations. Although it’s easy to simply say aliens account for everything we don’t know, I tend to believe there are better explanations.
Does this make me a genius? Or an expert? A know-it-all? Not at all. But it does make me an earnest learner, impatient towards people who I suspect have not put in the amount of hours that I have, or have not done so with as much honest investigation in challenging the ideas that sit most comfortably. These meanderings of the mind have revealed a not-so-secret secret. Sssh, quiet down, listen. You’re not a genius or expert, either. In fact, very few fields of study even allow for monolithic, authoritative expertise. Of the areas I’ve been delving into, even the most advanced minds relent to the stupefying extent of what we (as a species) don’t know. That, or they feign an unmatched ability and knowledge in their field, excepting those who agree with them, of course.
But see, I don’t get why these smarty-pants “experts” are so bewildered all the time – have they been on Facebook? If you’re reading this, and you’re a conceptual physicist, neurological researcher, or tenured economist, get ready for the biggest break of your life: I will give you my username and password for Facebook, and you will be privy to the greatest rolodex of expertise known to man. Just scroll down my newsfeed and get ready to solve everything in the simplest terms possible, so long as you don’t question anything in the sacrosanct halls of Facebook statuses. Through them I’ve learned that highways are not considered infrastructure, economic systems are not man-made, and that the sun isn’t a star – “it’s a fucking sun you idiot.” That’s a direct quote, by the way.
The problem is, we confuse the right to believe in whatever we want with believing that whatever we want is actually right. If you want to say the Holocaust didn’t happen, that’s perfectly fine. But you’re wrong. And you know what, it’s perfectly fine to be wrong, too! Being wrong is often the greatest source of learning in any of our lives, and as we all already know, every single person is wrong in some way for their entire lives. It’s a defense mechanism, this charade of authority. That’s why the language used is often “I don’t believe something” or “I believe in something.” I find it sadly comical to hear that someone doesn’t “believe” in abortion. It sounds like they don’t believe it exists, like it’s a conspiracy to get people to dance sensually and dress provocatively (I blame Elvis). More accurately, they don’t like the idea of abortion, which is a much more palatable opposition than not believing in it. It’s a subtle difference, but I think it makes a huge impact in the way we go about learning and discussing.
Instead of thinking of these issues as mere ideas, they become our beliefs, the very fibers that compose our identities. Most people don’t have a problem changing an idea. If you don’t think you’re going to like BBQ sauce on pizza, you can try some, and change that idea. But if you believe that you will not like BBQ sauce on pizza, all of a sudden it becomes an insurmountable pillar of your character, and you can easily refuse to even try it. This is why Facebook discussions always devolve into name-calling or capitulation: “it’s clear that neither of us will change our mind, let’s agree to disagree.” I don’t agree to that. People should be willing to change their minds, and I think they are. But we have to start thinking of our “beliefs” as that – changing what we think, not changing who we are. And that starts with discussing, actually listening to people, in real life or on Facebook. Don’t just use it for food, fun, and friends, unlock the internet’s potential. Talk with people, challenge them. Challenge yourself.
While studying, and pursuantly teaching physics, I became intimately engaged in what I consider to be one of mankind’s greatest philosophical achievements. The scientific method. It was a monumental shift in how we approached learning. Instead of sitting around pondering and discussing, we added what is now considered intuitive in most arguments – the necessity of proof. You say trickle-down economics works? Prove it. You say the planet is changing because of man’s activity? Prove it. The framework for how we approach new information has never been the same since the introduction of evidenced-based practices, the implementation of experimentation. My mom’s reasoning for being smarter than me fits within this zeitgeist; being older, she has more life experience and consequently more evidence for her ideas. It’s the most universally agreeable ideal, simplified into a single process that can be generalized across all oceans of knowledge. Somehow, as always, the human ego interrupts and distorts this process. Conclusions are assembled before evidence is discovered, and people weave their preconceived ideologies into the patchwork of their identity, picking up information that works for them and discarding information that sits uncomfortably. We all do it, but how many of us are willing to take a step back, shut up, and listen? Those are the necessary ingredients for re-evaluation. Together, this is the order of operation for learning, improving, and growing. We all know we will change, and we know nobody knows everything – so why are we so resistant to applying these ideas into action? I don’t know. But I’m going to try to find out.
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I’m hopeful for the future, truly. We’re living in a time where technology is shaping the very foundations of our collective existence. Information disseminates faster than we could possibly imagine decades ago, and can be accessed readily by anyone in the world at any plot point of this planet’s fated revolutions. The shaper shaped a tool that shaped the shaper in return. The impossible becomes the inevitable. Eventually technology – the abundance of communication, the friction of differing ideas, the willingness to try them, all of it – is going to erode the noise and the bullshit and reveal what actually matters, what is true and meaningful information and what isn’t. I’ll be there, hoping I’ve been right this whole time, and if I’m not, I’ll be ready and willing to change. I’m so much more of a know-nothing than a know-it-all, but if there’s one virtue I possess, it’s a tireless ethic of honest reflection and self-awareness, which makes it easier to achieve fluidity when confronted with new information. It’s hard to recognize when you’re wrong, but when you do, it opens up so much more. That’s when the fun begins.