Gongol.com Archives: June 2023

Brian Gongol

June 24, 2023

News Vulgarians at the gate

If the most popular pursuit on social media is engaging in wild speculation, then the second is criticizing wild speculation. For nearly every opinion, there is a countering response seeking grounds to declare the opinion invalid. Both pursuits went into overdrive as organized mercenaries threatened to take Moscow. and the world watched in immeasurable suspense to see what course would result. ■ It is, of course, of no use for anyone to engage in wild but confident speculation about events well outside their own expertise. There are only so many authorities to go around on any subject. Yet at the same time, it's not surprising that people would feel the itch to weigh in on the outcome of uncertain events, especially when the events are far outside the boundaries of past experience. It's been a while since anyone tried to invade Moscow. ■ Only a couple of generations ago, an eighth-grade education was considered enough not just to get by in the world as a citizen, but to function with some level of expertise in a career field as well. High school graduation was an anomaly just a century ago, and it wasn't until almost 1940 that the United States had more than a million high-school graduates a year. That level of education was indeed quite secondary. ■ And while they didn't have social media tools on which to post their speculations, those earlier generations were still expected to develop thoughtful opinions about current affairs. Public opinion about the Russian Revolution in our history books was formed and held mainly by people without even high-school diplomas. ■ There is some room for gatekeeping about contemporary affairs; there is a good chance that any one of us will miss relevant fine details about issues like the copyright implications of large-language models in artificial intelligence or the certification options appropriate for deep-sea submersibles carrying paying passengers. But even the would-be gatekeepers need to hold fast to some modesty about just what it is they are expected to be the experts. Experts are shown to be wrong not infrequently, and few subjects worth debating confine themselves neatly to just one area of knowledge. ■ We should seek an (admittedly) elusive standard of agreement about how much knowledge is enough to begin forming opinions. Some gatekeepers are so over-eager to protect their own turf that even a bachelor's degree-holder is considered a novice (economists, for instance, are notoriously status-obsessed, prone to withholding the title from anyone short of a Ph.D.). That surely is going too far. ■ But what is the appropriate minimum requirement for a person to weigh in on a subject? Is it a bachelor's degree? An associate's degree? A high-school diploma? In a democracy, everyone gets to weigh in at the ballot box and there's no knowledge test holding them back -- not even a test of 8th-grade knowledge. Perhaps we should bear that in mind before engaging in too ready and harsh a critique about people airing their thoughts without holding the right credentials. We're all ignoramuses about something, but even ignoramuses get a vote.

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