The Power of Admitting You Don’t Know

Great exploration by Tim Kreider of our media culture and the reluctance of many of its participants to shut up and admit they don’t know what they’re talking about.

I think about this a lot, how most of us don’t acknowledge the limits of our knowledge when we write and talk. Tim’s article begins with possible origins of the impulse (think grade school thesis statements) and concludes with current examples and the implications of not letting on when we don’t know.

An excerpt:

This is another reason so many writers feel the need to impersonate someone wise or in possession of some marketable truth: it’s a function of insecurity, of fear. If we don’t assume some sort of expertise, why, exactly, should anyone bother reading us, let alone buy our books or invite us to appear on “Fresh Air”? The one thing no editorialist or commentator in any media is ever supposed to say is I don’t know: that they’re too ignorant about the science of climate change to have an informed opinion; that they frankly have no idea what to do about gun violence in this country; or that they’ve just never quite understood the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in all honesty they’re sick of hearing about it. To admit to ignorance, uncertainty or ambivalence is to cede your place on the masthead, your slot on the program, and allow all the coveted eyeballs to turn instead to the next hack who’s more than happy to sell them all the answers.

From “The Power of ‘I Don’t Know'” {new york times}.