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Knowledge and Opinion, March 7, 1999 :: Ben Turner's Soapbox

 

the soapbox @ benturner.com
archived soapbox: March 7, 1999
"Knowledge and Opinion" [permalink]
    keywords: internet, opinion, elitism, education, knowledge
    soapbox #: 177
    written: March 7, 1999
    words: 1213

"Knowledge and Opinion", an Essay

(I feel like I've said this too many times...the repetition bores even me.)

Sometimes I have to agree with William Gibson -- e-mail is a waste of time:

Subject: Criticism (fact, not opinion

Your ego is too large, your understanding too small...live as long as you can my misguided liberal one.

...and...

Soapbox -- Some young guy who thinks he knows it all.

...still more...

Ben frequently explains that he might seem arrogant and boastful, yet....I don't want to seem patronizing, but it wasn't hard to guess that Ben is a 19-year-old college freshman.

I'm not going to dwell on the critic's mentality too much -- it's just a necessary evil one has to deal with whenever he makes his thoughts and works public. Sure, critics are the scum of the universe, bane to creativity and constructive development (name a critic who is actually constructive), and sure they make a living deconstructing things without balancing the bad with the good, but they're always going to be there. One just wonders about people who take the time to write an e-mail to you, telling you how much you suck. In many ways, that sort of behavior is dozens of times worse than anything I could possibly post here at benturner.com.

I want to clear up, briefly, a misconception about myself. Virtually any time someone brings up my name, it is something to the effect of: "So, he thinks he knows it all, does he...?" I don't understand this. I suppose it's most likely a reflexive, knee-jerk comment applied to anyone who has an actual opinion on things, but it could also be an honest criticism.

But how could it be legitimate? Anyone who has spent more than ten minutes here, looking at the words instead of the design, would know that I'm certainly honest about myself -- it is not all chest-thumping and proselytizing here. I've presented more weaknesses in my character than I probably should have exposed to anyone visiting. I try to qualify what I say by making it clear that I'm not an expert, but an enthusiast, or at least, someone who's curious about whatever the topic is.

I certainly do not know everything. In fact, I cannot name one thing that I know more about than most everyone else. Except, of course, myself. I don't have web design figured out, I don't have college figured out, I certainly don't have life or love figured out, and anything I know about music or computers or tennis or basketball or books or pop culture is miniscule in comparison to millions of other people who follow them too.

I am, after all, only a college student, taking introductory courses in different subjects. I've only been alive for twenty-one years, and I've only really begun to explore this world in perhaps the last five to ten years. Running into people who put me in my place in discourse is a daily thing for me. Bottom line? I don't know shit. I don't need people to tell me that. Who needs to hear that? Really? I've been guilty of the same, but I've grown out of it as of late.

The important distinction is between saying things as if you know it all, and saying things because you have an opinion on them. As much as I rant and rave, complain and nag, that is only my opinion. I remember someone complimenting me on not apologetically stating that what I was writing was opinion every paragraph -- it is assumed, she said, that what I was saying was my opinion. It's fluff to have to explain that.

I am cursed with the desire to express myself online, being young, and being combative. A nice recipe for lack of credibility. But I'm going to continue doing it because that's what I want to do, and I gain personal benefit from writing that way. What could help me more at this point is more understanding of what I actually do understand. I could also use more practice writing in other styles, for measure.

But what it all comes down to is that I'm not trumping myself up as an authority on anything -- obviously, we can agree, I am not. All I want to do is voice my opinion on things, because I feel that discussion and argument is crucial to development -- even the most bitter of debates should at least give each party a better understanding of the other's point of view. While I may not be one of the leading experts in, say, web design, I'm paying my dues and participating in the web phenomenon, and that gives me at least some perspective and knowledge to discuss the topic.

Yes, I am young, and yes, I make a lot of mistakes. I have a lot to learn, and you may find it easy to write me off as a know-nothing. I may not come close to your level of understanding right now. But, you see, the only way for me to improve is to test my theories and opinions by making them known. All the self-righteous critics have screamed people into silence, their meek traits getting the better of them. The saying goes, "It's better to stay quiet and be pondered a fool, than to speak up and remove all doubt", or something like that. The desire to attain intellect has long been a weapon of elitist fools, rather than a legitimate life path.

Feel free to write me and tell me that you disagree with what I say, or how stupid I am, but at least take the time to explain why you feel that way, and help me see the flaws in my own arguments. Otherwise, you're just trolling for attention, since there is no reason to hoard what you know if you find someone else who doesn't quite get it.

Like you're some sort of fucking authority, either.

That's really all I want to say about this. Only the best of critics are actually helping anyone when they publish their views -- the rest of the critics just write mean-spirited polemics. Fuck you. You have opinions too, but at least I try to explain why I feel that way. At least I try to help other people on this earth who want to be helped.

So if I hear anyone else saying shit like this about me, I can only conclude that they don't have any fucking clue what they're talking about. Is it worth it, slamming people one moment, and then being somewhere else the next, before you even remember any of it?

(These words of man, so foul and revolting from the fingers of some, beautiful and divine from those of others? Even animals, like cats, seem more noble and interesting at times.)


 
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