Aug 29, 2011

Knowing Enough To Know I Know Nothing

It takes every fiber of my being to resist arguing with folks on the usual suspects: religion and politics. And it's not for the reason you might think. Sure, I hold very controversial positions (read: atheist libertarian) on each subject, so I'm bound to disagree with just about anyone I talk to. But that's not why I resist the urge, generally speaking.

I read a lot. I try to keep up with the basics in news, particularly politics, science, and other geeky things related to my career in software. It takes a lot of my time. I imagine many folks choose other things instead. Or choose to read different topics than I do. That's fine, of course.

But if all of this absorption of knowledge so far in my short life has taught me anything it is that things are always more complicated than they seem.

What makes me take pause before engaging in a potentially fiery and lengthy debate is the certainty with which most people hold their convictions. Such certainty usually does not lead to an open mind ready to hear and consider opposing views.

I've previously explored the idea of strong opinions weakly held. If you take a humbler approach to topics, then certainty is usually dismissed of pretty easily. And it's okay to not be certain; after all, we're rarely experts in more than one topic, if any.

But most people seem so sure of their most likely wrong opinions. I include myself, albeit my assurance is in how wrong I probably am rather than the opposite.

Most computer users have no idea what kind of work goes into making even simple seeming applications. Even if you ignore all of the software best practices, which often add a lot to development time (I'm talking proper multi-threading, UX design, localization support, you name it), it can still be a lot to just get a window to display with some text and buttons on it. And if you need to pull data from a file, web service, or database? Well. But to the user, it's just a button. Why can't you just add a button here for me?

I try to at least explore enough of a topic to know how much there is I don't know. At first everything seems not so difficult, but even freshman-level introductions are often enough to expose you to a multitude of finer points that extend and branch out infinitely beyond your grasp. Yikes!

So it is with things like economics and health care. I read enough to know that when people throw out argument-bait like “we need to limit how much these stupid football players can get paid — it's ridiculous!” or “that's why we need government health care!” that they have no idea what they are talking about and, worse, what these "solutions" really involve. Problems generally aren't that simple to solve, and boiling them down into easily memorized phrases like “universal health care” doesn't somehow make the problem easy to solve.

Even a solution as awful as universal health care would be nightmarishly difficult to implement and set up even if we gave the liberals free reign to design it however they want tomorrow. But the easy sound bite doesn't suggest that, does it? And most of my friends who are universal health care supporters wouldn't know where to begin, I'm sure, and even if they started talking about something they'd most likely be wrong. And you know how I know that with such certainty? Because none of them are fucking health care economy experts. (Hell, who is?)

I've found that my default assumption on most things these days is “I don't know,” and I rarely seem sure of much. But that's just me being honest.

No comments:

Post a Comment