Let’s do better
Hello, Arkansas. My name is Glen Hooks and I know next to nothing about auto repair.
I also know very little about plumbing, neonatal nursing, farming or being an electrician.
When I have questions in any of these areas, I consult trusted mechanics, plumbers, nurses, farmers, and electricians. These are people who have spent a fair amount of time studying and practicing in their respective fields. They know more about their craft than I do about their craft. That’s nothing for me to be ashamed of – I probably know more about the ins and outs of my chosen career than she does.
In short, it is natural for skilled members of a particular field to be respected for their knowledge, especially by those of us who have no training in that field. That seems so obvious that I’m almost ashamed to say it.
But apparently it has to be said.
There is a growing, malicious distrust of expertise in our country, rooted largely in one’s political identity, and it harms each of us in very real ways.
This distrust is reflected in several current themes. A significant number of Americans reject the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists about the causes and risks of climate change, despite having no training in climate science themselves. A large number of our fellow citizens scoff at warnings from infectious disease experts about the dangers of Covid-19, question the efficacy of vaccines, and scorn recommendations from public health experts to wear face masks, even without any background in medicine.
And despite near-universal agreement from trained judges and lawyers across the country and without even any hard evidence, an alarming number of our non-lawyer friends and neighbors believe the 2020 presidential election has been stolen — and that President Trump will be reinstated soon.
Folks, there really was a time when we listened to experts and respected their opinion on things. Education and training used to be important. Expertise was not mocked as the bastion of pointed academics and fancy book learning. Now, however, many tend to mock experts as “inauthentic” people who don’t live in the real world.
If your car breaks down, and 100 trained mechanics tell you it’s the transmission, and then I say – untrained – it’s probably just the tires, who are you going to believe?
If your child is sick and 100 doctors tell you it’s whooping cough and I – untrained – tell you it’s just a cold, who are you going to believe?
The same goes for butchers, construction workers, computer repair technicians and airline pilots. Should we listen to them on topics that fall within their field, or should we dismiss them outright and believe a YouTube video instead?
Far too many of us seem to have developed a desire to be proud, willfully ignorant, as if we were somehow made smarter by not believing what the experts tell us. We’ll ignore the consensus opinion of people with years in the field in favor of something we saw in a Facebook meme.
Folks, this is harmful to us. It is harmful to our community and it is harmful to our country. We have to do better.
We can start by admitting to ourselves two real truths.
The first of these truths is that we, individually, cannot and cannot know everything. The second of these truths is that “not knowing” is nothing to be ashamed of.
“Not knowing” is not a weakness. The real weakness is that you don’t know, pretend you do, and then refuse to change your position when you get real facts and evidence.
Can I make an undisputed proposal? Let’s give ourselves permission to learn. Permission to ask questions. Permission to change our position on an issue when we learn something we didn’t know without being accused of being a floppy flip-flopper.
Denying ourselves and our neighbors the right to further education on an issue is counterproductive to progress, not to mention just plain stupid.
In the bottom of my heart, I believe that the vast majority of us really care about the truth and about finding the best solutions to our problems. We want progress. We want to develop ways to help our fellow citizens live their best possible lives.
How do we get there? I think a big part of the answer lies in shaking off the attitude of willful ignorance, embracing the messy reality of seeking the truth, and respecting the deserved expertise of people who know more than we do about everything from air pollution to forestry to electrical transmission lines .
It starts with us. You and me. What if we decide not to let our political affiliations dictate our search for knowledge or encourage us to scorn science for disbelief? I think we have it in us.
We are Arkansans and we care about our little beautiful state. Let’s be the unabashed truth seekers and problem solvers – not the obstacles that prevent our state and nation from being a better place to live.
Glen Hooks is from Arkansan and lives in North Little Rock, where he obsessively creates perfect playlists and tries to be the person his dog thinks he is.