We All Know About the Same: Nothing

I’m a fraud and so are you. We run around pretending we know a thing or two about a thing or two. And we’re surround by all of these experts on subjects from economics to science to sociology to religion and the Big Question. Everyone’s such a smartypants.

I sometimes post advice on this blog from an expert’s perspective even though:

  • I’ve worked for one employer for 90% of my professional career (I’m institutionalized, and I’ve come to love my captors)
  • That employer is a speciality mattress retailer that is unlike almost all other businesses
  • I’ve only worked in one department at said employer

Here are just a few more limits of my expertise:

  • There are about 6,900 know languages in the world. I know 0.0001% of them.
  • 129,000,000 books have been published so far. I’ve read about 0.0000004% of them.
  • There are over 2,600 accredited colleges and universities in the United States. I studied at and graduated from 0.0008% of them.

If we could quantify all human knowledge and then calculate the amount that I know, the number would be about 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000001% – and that might be generous.

So, dear reader, you may be smarter than I am or not quite as smart as I am, but we both essentially know the same, plus or minus a few orders of magnitude. And even if you were 1,000 times smarter than I, you would only know 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000001% of all human knowledge, or, in other words, just about nothing.

That’s the bad news. The good news is we both now know this, and we also know that everyone else is blindly paddling around in the same boat up the same creek that we are.

Here are some people that you may have thought were smart, but also know just about nothing:

  • Your boss, including me, and his or her bosses all the way up the chain
  • Your parents and their parents all the way back to the beginning of time
  • Politicians, Generals, Policemen, Doctors, Lawyers, Judges, Authors, etc.

I think I’ve always known this which might be why I’ve always had a healthy disdain for almost all authority figures. Anyone I’ve met has had to earn my respect, and I’ve never given my respect to anyone because they have a big title or a prestigious position. In fact I find that I respect many more people who don’t hold prestigious social positions than those who do.

I was the kid who argued with teachers, the cocky young professional who went to war with everyone at work, and the teenager who made my mother say, “Someday I hope you grow up and have a son just like you.”

I’ve calmed down a bit with age, but I still think it’s important that we don’t just blindly follow leaders and authority figures because they’re just as dumb as we are. Here’s what some smarter people that I have had to say on the topic:

  • Oscar Wilde said, “Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion.”
  • Thomas Jefferson said, “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”

This is my de facto blog disclaimer. I’m going to keep on writing this smartypants blog for now. My advice for you is to judge the content using your own experience, values, and intuition, and to never just blindly follow anyone until they earn your respect.

Thomas Jefferson - Founding father of disobedience.
Thomas Jefferson – Founding Father of disobedience.
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