Universities describe themselves as great centers of knowledge. That may be true, but I would argue that they’re even greater centers of pretending-you-have-knowledge.
I’m not the only one here who has ever felt compelled to pretend to know . . .
- What constructivism is
- What the tendu combination is
- More than two songs by that cool/obscure indi band someone just name-dropped
- The difference between fancy and non-fancy wine
- Enough about international political conflicts to have a decisive opinion
- Whatever was in the last chapter of the assigned reading
. . . among other things. With practice, you figure out how to pull together a (sometimes) convincing act of omniscience based on your vague impressions, social referencing, and cool head nodding, all while feeling as clueless as ever.
So how do we get out of this trap? For inspiration, lets turn to one of the pioneers of Western Philosophy:
“I know one thing: that I know nothing.” -Socrates
Nah, just kidding. I’m pretty sure that Soc was just trying to humblebrag about his self-awareness here. Because he sure seems to act like he knows he knows a lot.
What we actually should acknowledge, though, is that we don’t know everything. No one does. No matter who you are, you inevitably know more than average about some things, an average amount about some things, and embarrassingly little about some things.
So why don’t we just stop pretending that we’re all experts on every subject and ask someone who actually knows?
Let’s be real, there are people who will find it absolutely ridiculous that you don’t know what they consider to be “common knowledge.” Sometimes I find myself surprised by some people’s lack of basic knowledge about modern dance or feminism. But then I remember that they might be appalled by how little I know about basketball, Indian politics, or EDM. And more importantly, I answer the question anyway.
Because here’s the thing about “common knowledge:” at some point, whether you remember or not, it was learned. And if something is really that important to know, it’s much more productive to be encouraging of someone currently learning it than to be angry that they didn’t learn it in the past.
We might claim to detest ignorance, but pretend-knowledge-culture (yup, I just labeled yet another thing a “culture”) is just collective ignorance held in place with extra layer of pretentiousness. So it’s time to drop the act and ask the questions: we might not all seem so effortlessly cool, competent, and educated, but hey, we can actually start learning stuff.