Confess your ignorance, honor doubt, and embrace uncertainty

Originally published at: Confess your ignorance, honor doubt, and embrace uncertainty | Boing Boing




Confess your ignorance, honor doubt, and embrace uncertainty

The mantra for the 21st century…


Being the person who knew just about everything was very important to me when I was a young adult. I certainly knew more than most of my age cadre, being a voracious and rapid reader. It was a revelation to me to discover that I did not have to be the (not so) secret master of all knowledge and I could still have friends.
The gatekeepers of many fandoms still think that knowledge of minutiae is the way to screen out “fake fans”.


The stages of mastery of a subject, demonstrated in response to a question you don’t know the answer to:

  1. I have no idea.
  2. Um, I think it’s …
  3. Pretty sure it’s something to do with …
  4. It’s this.
  5. It’s definitely this.
  6. It’s complicated.
  7. I have no idea.

How can we “honor doubt” by asking questions?

It’s rather paradoxical, because its (almost entirely) Conservatives — you know, the ones who fear/loathe uncertainty, hate questioning authority — who are at the center of QAnon / Antivaxxers / MAGA-heads. They who do nothing but “Just Ask Questions” and “Follow the Breadcrumbs” and “Question Authority” when they don’t like the answers they get from conventional, legitimate, authoritative, sources/institutions.

Conservatives only honor authority when they are the authority.


Does the book have any tactics or strategies to help engage OTHERS who are doing this? Or does it mostly focus on things you can do to engage your own curiosity?

I have some acquaintances who are 100% convinced they literally know everything and no amount of logical step-by-step walkthroughs demonstrating how they didn’t know something can prove otherwise. I’m curious if there are tactics that would help me here.


A large part of the “do your research” success is also based on seeding how to do the research. For instance, instead of telling people to research “top causes of global warming”, they might instead tell them to search for “electric cars powered by coal”. They intentionally seed the beginning of the search with a breadcrumb they know is sure to lead to the “correct” content that they want them to see.

The other side is that you’re primed to want/hope/expect a certain answer, you’re more likely only to seek out sources that confirm your prior beliefs.


“If we knew what we’re doing it wouldn’t be called research”
-Einstein quote which I have a sign of at work

“The more I learn, the less I pretend to know”
-lyric from the Blazing Arrow album, but I don’t know which track

Gladly accepting that my current ignorance and shortcomings mark the path to learning new things is a long, slow process. But then again, that might be bullshit


A practice this bbs needs.


I don’t know whether it’s still true, but having befriended several Disneyland “cast members” in the early 1990s, I learned that they are told not to answer a guest’s question with just “I don’t know.” If they don’t know, they are supposed to offer to find out.

Around the same time, my stepfather got into a debate with some of his co-workers about whether the whale in the Storybook Land Canal Boats attraction had teeth. To settle the debate, he called 411 and got some Disney switchboard number. He posited the question to the switchboard operator who offered to find someone who could answer the question. A moment later, he was transferred to a line inside the park, where a ride operator cheerfully informed him that, yes, the sculpture of Monstro did indeed include teeth.


Feel free to start us off.


Confess your passion, your secret fear
Prepare to meet the challenge of the new frontier


I often end a statement with “I could be wrong” because I could be. When someone asks me “How are you?” I sometimes say, “I think I’m OK” or “I haven’t decided yet.” I like uncertainty, doubt, and confusion. It keeps me on my toes.


Many years ago, I used the phrase “Deus Ex Machina” when describing the book “Beast”* by Peter Benchley, I pronounced Deus the way the French say deux. I was ribbed horribly, but I was quite accepting of it. In my defence, I had only ever seen the phrase written down. So, yeah, own your ignorance, it’ll teach you stuff.

*Don’t waste your money, it’s shit.


penguins madagascar GIF


Good advice in general, obviously, but beware those bad actors who would also twist it into an exhortation to give serious consideration or platforms to the positions of fascists, Xtianists, grifters, woo peddling charlatans, and snake oil salesmen.

For example, on this site we sometimes see commenters railing against “echo chambers” or “groupthink” in the community because most of us refuse to entertain in good faith the long-discredited arguments of movements like anti-choicers or the modern GOP. Some of these commenters mask their requests for appeasement in language like that of the FPP, or in mushy approaches like “non-violent communication” or “non-dualism”.

tl;dr: No-one is obliged to be “open-minded” about Nazis.


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