People who assume they know everything are annoying to those of us who do!
Thus spake a friend of mine (in jest I think) during a conversation about smarmy politicians who claim to have solutions to the ills that plague our society. All we have to do is vote them into office and our worries will be over. Or so they promise.
I confess I, too, become annoyed whenever someone presents as a know-it-all—not, as my friend joked, because I think I know everything, but because I think no one does. Whenever I hear someone bloviating loudly on any subject, I remember a character from the Saturday morning cartoon shows of my childhood, Foghorn J. Leghorn. I still picture him as a blustering, southern senator, speaking a mile a minute, pausing only intermittently to check with his listeners.
“Pay attention to me, boy! I’m not jus’ talkin’ to hear my head roar!”
“I keep pitchin’ ‘em, son, an’ you keep missin’ ‘em!”
“Any o’ this gettin’ through to you, son?”
The theory, I suppose, is that no one can contradict you if you won’t allow them a chance to speak.
The problem is, the world is a complex place where almost any issue has more than one truth attached to it. Draining a swamp, for example, might be considered a fine idea by a developer who wants to convert it to a new mobile home community, but not such a good thing for the alligators, herons, and muskrats who already make it their home. One’s perspective always plays a part.
If the swamp denizens are afforded no chance to speak on their own behalf, if they’re out-shouted and overwhelmed by those who know everything, by those who have the financial and political wherewithal to dominate the conversation, they are doomed. In such cases, although both sides of the argument may have merit, only one side gets heard. And that side usually prevails.
My experience with know-it-alls is that they seldom want to be confronted with facts or evidence that might support a view contrary to their own. The flat-earth society comes to mind. When presented with the famous ‘blue marble’ photograph of our planet, shot from an Apollo spacecraft, the society’s response was, “It’s easy to see how a photograph like that could fool the untrained eye.”
There are numerous other situations where those claiming to know everything reject scientifically-based information in favour of pre-determined positions: holocaust deniers, global-warming skeptics, and tobacco users are but a few. The staunch refusal of these deniers to entertain an opposing point of view effectively cuts off any possibility of meaningful discussion, and imposes their peculiar world-view on everyone. In the words of the Borg, from the Star Trek television series, “Resistance is futile.”
It is instructive to reference Susan Glaspell, a Pulitzer Prize journalist and novelist, who wrote: One never denies so hotly as in denying to one’s self what one fears is true…
I don’t know the ‘honest truth’ (if there is one) about any of these controversial issues. But I instinctively doubt those who claim to know it, especially in the face of possibly-contradictory evidence. Surely both sides of any argument (or however many sides there may be) should be weighed and assessed before conclusions are reached.
And in cases where such rigorous debate has occurred, the resultant conclusions should still remain open to further examination and challenge as new information comes to light. But certainty is the enemy of an open mind, and an open mind is the enemy of those who claim to know everything.
I’m reminded of a snatch of dialogue from a long-ago film that illustrates the point. While arguing about something, one character states his opinion in no uncertain terms, clearly brooking no challenge.
“You really think so?” his companion asks.
“I don’t think,” the first one declares. “I know!”
After a meaningful pause, the second character says, “Good, ‘cause I don’t think you know, either.”