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Let's do better

Willful ignorance is no virtue July 5, 2021 at 2:00 a.m.

Hello, Arkansas. My name is Glen Hooks, and I know almost nothing about car repair.

I also know very little about plumbing, neonatal nursing, farming, or being an electrician.

When I find myself facing questions in any of these fields, I consult trusted mechanics, plumbers, nurses, farmers and electricians. These are folks who have spent a decent amount of time studying and practicing in their respective fields. They know more about their craft than I know about their craft. That's nothing for me to be ashamed of--I likely know more about the ins and outs of my chosen career than they do.

In short, it's the most natural thing in the world for skilled members of a particular field to be respected for their knowledge, especially by those of us with no training in that field. That seems so obvious that I'm almost embarrassed to have to say it.

But, apparently, it needs to be said.

There is a growing, malignant distrust for expertise in our country, largely rooted in one's political identity, and it's harming each of us in very real ways.

One can see this distrust in multiple issues of the day. Significant numbers of Americans dismiss the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists about the causes and risks of climate change, despite having zero training in climate science themselves. A large plurality of our fellow citizens jeer at warnings from infectious-disease experts about the dangers of covid-19, doubt the efficacy of vaccines, and disdain recommendations from public-health experts to wear face masks, even while lacking any background in medicine whatsoever.

And, despite near-universal agreement from trained judges and lawyers across the country and even with no hard evidence whatsoever, an alarming amount of our non-lawyer friends and neighbors believe that the 2020 presidential election was stolen--and that President Trump will be reinstated soon.

Folks, there really was a time when we listened to experts and respected their take on things. Education and training used to matter. Expertise was not sneered at as the bastion of pointy-headed academics and fancy book-learnin'. Now, however, many tend to deride experts as "unauthentic" folks who don't reside in the real world.

If your car breaks down, and 100 trained mechanics tell you it's the transmission, and then I--untrained--tell you it's probably just the tires, who are you going to believe?

If your child is sick, and 100 doctors tell you it's the 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 within their realm of expertise, or should we dismiss them out of hand and believe a YouTube video instead?

Far too many of us seem to have developed a desire to be proudly, willfully ignorant, as if we are somehow made smarter by not believing what the experts tell us. We will ignore the consensus opinion from those with years in the field in favor of something we saw in a Facebook meme.

Folks, this is harmful to us. It's harmful to our community, and it's 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, do not and cannot know everything. The second of these truths is that "not knowing" is nothing for which we should be ashamed.

"Not knowing" is not a weakness. The real weakness is in not knowing, pretending that you do know, and then refusing to change your position when presented with actual facts and evidence.

May I make an uncontroversial 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 weak-kneed flip-flopper.

Denying ourselves and our neighbors the right to become further educated on an issue is counter-productive to progress, not to mention just plain silly.

In my heart of hearts, I believe that the vast majority of us actually care about truth and about finding the best solutions for 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 us shedding the pose of willful ignorance, embracing the messy reality of seeking truth, and respecting the earned expertise of folks who know more than we do about everything from air pollution to forestry to electrical transmission lines.

It starts with us. You and me. How about we decide to not let our political preferences dictate our quest for knowledge or encourage us to disdain science for disbelief? I think we have it in us.

We are Arkansans and we care about our small, wonderful state. Let's be the unembarrassed truth-seekers and problem-solvers--not the obstacles that prevent our state and nation from being a better place in which to live.

Glen Hooks is a native Arkansan who lives in North Little Rock, where he obsessively makes perfect playlists and tries to be the person his dog thinks he is.

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