The discovery, beginning about 15 years ago, that I’m not anywhere near as smart as I think I am, and that I’m a world away from knowing as much as I think I know, has been unsettling and somewhat disruptive. That realization, along with the concurrent observation that an overwhelming piece of what I do know is wrong, hasn’t been as easy to incorporate into something useful in my life as you might think.
Before my smarts and knowings all started to unravel I was a fairly impressive person. I could explain, without you even asking me to do it, just about anything you might be wondering about. I knew what you ought to do with your life, how your life became the lousy, empty mess it appears to me to be, and what the government ought to do about anything it had the power to do. I knew what men ought to do about women and other men, and I knew what women ought to do about men and other women.
I began to get screwed out of that when out of the corner of my eye I noticed some aspects of my own life that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. It crept into my consciousness that I’d made a lot of choices and given a plethora of advice to others that simply didn’t have a lot of merit.
This didn’t come all at once. It started as a trickle with a lot of seemingly small matters I couldn’t help noticing, which I tried to compartmentalize and ignore, same as everyone else does. But eventually I couldn’t keep them inside the fences I’d built for them. They were forever sneaking over mingling with others I’d locked up in file drawers I’d clearly marked, “TOP SECRET – DO NOT OPEN”.
This forced me to try to herd them back where they belonged, but in doing so the others tagged along, dancing and clowning and shamelessly demanding I recognize they existed, wanting me to scratch them behind the ears and pay some attention to them.
I figured the easiest approach would be to have a look at their blood lines and shoot the mongrels and mutts, but keep the purebreds. This required an examination of how I came by all that knowing of every description.
It rocked me to my boot heels to find almost every one of those certainties came from something someone else said, and I believed it, hugged it tight, and called it my own. That wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t then asked myself where the people I’d heard it from came to own it. Imagine my surprise when it dawned on me they’d also heard it from someone else, who heard it from someone else.
Gradually, I realized I hadn’t done much thinking for myself. In fact, I hadn’t based much of anything on the evidence of my own eyes and observations. Strangers with the voice of authority told me many things other strangers had told them and I frequently accepted it as gospel. I often abdicated my intelligence in favor of those strangers many times removed. Without consciously deciding to do so, I treated truth as though it relied on a vote-count of humans to decide its own nature.
I hate it, discovering something like that. The last 15 years of dismantling a system of giving strangers default authority to control my mind and my life hasn’t even been entirely successful. I still constantly find the opinions of strangers creeping in, waving their arms around, trying to grab control so I won’t be stupid anymore.
But I’m determined to keep at it. All those strangers saying things back and forth to one another and believing it over time hasn’t done much good for the people who believe it now.
And it never did me a damned bit of good, even though I was smarter when I believed it, too.