In Defense of Holding Fewer Strong Opinions

I started this blog with the belief that I had a lot to say. Now that I’ve been doing it a while, I am much more comfortable with how little I have to say about most things.

As Thoreau once said, “a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” I suspect that most people interpret this in the context of materialism, but to me it also applies to the world of public debate. The number of grievous and tragic problems in the world is nearly infinite, but our time and attention resources are not.

To me, that means it makes sense to be parsimonious about the rabbit holes we let consume our time and attention. And moreover, to have some humility about the number of subjects where we might develop more than a surface level of sophistication.

I used to think that I had to have a unique, informed opinion of deep conviction about every subject in social debate. As if I had some sort of social duty to develop an opinion about every issue the world over. But it’s beyond foolish to think that I can know more about health care policy than health care experts. That I can know more about foreign policy than foreign policy experts. That I have some unique insight into the problem of global warming or social inequality.

Now, when people try to engage me in debate about most topics, I find it easier to simply bow out. If pressed, I might say that I read a book about the topic once, and it said some such thing. But it’s unlikely I know anything more than the author of the book. It’s unlikely I have some unique insight.

If I haven’t dedicated years to the problem, then I’m almost certainly not an expert. It’s ok to know that I don’t know more than I do know. And to let go of the need to feign some sort of command of all topics of social relevance.

I never had that level of sophistication; the only thing that’s new is that I’m finally mature enough to admit it.