Quite often in the realm of debate, you’ll find those that participate that seemingly lack even fundamental knowledge on the topics being discussed. Whether in the form of a lack of knowledge on the topic itself, or on how to properly debate, there are many that wish to have their voice heard even if they aren’t fully cognizant of what is being discussed or the proper ways to discuss it. While this is common there is a far more troubling trend; dismissing these people simply because they don’t know enough.
Intellectuals (or pseudo-intellectuals more often) will see this lack of knowledge or a lack of accreditation on the part of their opponents as an excuse to write them off and ignore their cases, even if they are valid. These people will view their opponents as simply uneducated or incapable of having a fruitful conversation because they don’t know enough, ironically missing the point of open dialog in the process. The purpose of dialog, even if not especially with those that seem uninformed, is to allow for an exchange of ideas and for those ideas to be challenged and brought to higher standards. To better explain this I will turn to two key examples.
Firstly, let us look at Socrates. Best known from his depictions in the works of Plato, Socrates invented (though Diogenes claimed that it was Pythagoras that created it) the Socratic Method. A form of dialectic that works both for disproving a stance held by an opponent, and as a teaching method to help students reach conclusions on their own. Its basic form is to ask simple questions you believe your opposition would agree with, and lead them towards seeing that the agreeance with these basic stances disproves their initial claim. This leads your opposition to believe that you are some form of simpleton needing to ask these questions, and yet these very questions are what inevitably disproves them in the end at the point of reversal. On the teaching side, this method is effective as it allows students that don’t know enough about the topic to reach the correct answers logically and through their own efforts rather than having the answer handed to them. I bring this up to showcase that someone that seems to be a simpleton isn’t necessarily, and that even if they are there are still ways to teach the willing.
I also would like to bring up the touching story of one Lorenzo Odone. For those that are unaware, Lorenzo was a gifted child fluent in three languages with a bright future until he started to decline. It started with heavy mood swings, loss of hearing, and motor skills. It turned out that he had the rare condition known as adrenoleukodystrophy or ALD for short. It’s a neurological disease associated with the X chromosome that leads to a build-up of fatty acids that damage the nerves and eventually death in a short matter of years. His parents, however, would not be deterred.
They spent countless hours as relative laymen diving into medical research papers, journals, and trying to contact people around the world to find some form of cure for their child. The fact that they every expert they dealt with told them they don’t know enough did nothing to impede them. For years their efforts led nowhere until they finally discovered a breakthrough in a special oil that required a master chemist to distill. The result, Lorenzo’s oil, became a dietary supplement that worked to reduce the build ups that caused the nerve damage, and drastically slows the development of the disease. Their discovery, which was considered impossible and baffled the medical community, has improved thousands of lives. They discovered this with practically no knowledge of the disease, biochemistry, or any of the multitude of fields that people would normally need knowledge in to reach the kind of breakthrough they did. The doctor originally gave them about two years back in 1984. He passed away from pneumonia in may of 2008 shortly after his 30th birthday.
Simply because they don’t know enough now isn’t cause to write them off. If they have a willingness to learn and engage in the material or discussion even people that you perceive to be some form of simpleton on a matter can be transformed into an intellectual powerhouse on a given topic. Quite often we forget that we were once as uninformed on the very topics we now lay claim to mastery of. If we cannot educate and engage with the information we have, why have it at all?
You can read more from Killian Hobbs on Think Liberty here.