Why do people feel compelled to offer advice when they’re clearly not qualified to do so? Daniel Patrick Moynihan said “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” And yet we’re surrounded by people who seem unable to differentiate between the two.
We have reality show stars that feel qualified to lecture us on the evils of vaccinations. We have used car salesmen who believe they’re experts on US-Iranian diplomacy. And you can’t look at your phone without seeing a bunch of career bureaucrats peddle health advice as though they’re infectious disease experts. And none of that even begins to cover my own in-laws.
There’s no shortage of people willing to provide their unsolicited (and unwanted) advice to anyone that’s unfortunate enough to be within listening range. And while branching into new areas is a worthwhile pursuit, presenting a position with no supporting evidence isn’t helpful — it’s irresponsible.
Einstein supposedly said that “The only thing more dangerous than ignorance is arrogance,” but I’d argue that with this group, the combination of the two is even more damaging. The problem comes from a lack of humility. As people begin to believe that their opinion takes precedence over reality, they feel justified to disregard evidence. Why bother with facts, their opinion is all the justification they need. As Stephen Colbert ranted on truthiness,
“Anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right.”
While it would be convenient to blame this on our current alternative fact and post-truth nightmares, our willingness to confuse opinion and fact isn’t new. The Greek orator Demosthenes recognized this behavior over 2300 years ago when he said, “The easiest thing of all is to deceive oneself; for we believe whatever we…