Knowing It All

Reading about the Trump administration underscores once again the traditional American contradiction of, love of, but mostly hatred toward, experts. When you’re lying on that operating table, you stake your life that an expert is going to perform the surgery. When you buy that airline ticket, you’re banking that the pilot will be an expert. If you’re electing the most powerful individual in the world, you’ll excoriate experts and defer to the guy with the weird hair that says whatever he pleases and has never been a public servant a day in his life. This observation isn’t original with me, of course. I’m only an editor. Nevertheless, the same dilemma comes down to my little world of academic publishing as well. Most academics don’t understand this business—I was an academic at one time and I certainly didn’t—and yet don’t like to bow to the expertise of those who do.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m making no grand claims to understanding this industry into which I unwittingly stumbled. I have been involved in it for over a decade now and I’m still learning. One of the things I’m learning is that many academics don’t trust experts. In part it’s academic culture. A doctoral program, if it’s a good one, will make you question everything. Sometimes even experts forget when to engage the brakes. When dealing with the experts at a publishing company, many academics doubt the expertise of those who do this day in and day out for a living. Books, however, have measurable sales records. There’s hard data for analysis. Not that it’s foolproof (but what is?), such metrics are time-tested and based on reasonable data sets. Often that’s not enough to convince an expert that other experts know more than they’re revealing. A personal philosophy, but one which I pursue with appropriate skepticism, is that other people should be left to do their jobs. As I frequently note, those who talk to the bus driver, freely giving advice, often make the situation worse for everyone.

The case of religion, however, is a special can of worms. There are no experts in this field, even among those of us who are experts. Had I realized this when I was younger, I’m not sure it would’ve made much of a difference in what I ended up doing with my life. You see, religion is all about ultimates. The big questions. The sine qua non of every single thing. When I read about things like politics, or entrepreneurship, I think to myself, “That’s all fine and good, but at the end of the day, is it what really matters?” If life is a search for meaning, why not grab it by both hands and try to become an expert at it? Some would say that’s the job of the philosopher, but let’s face it, religionists and philosophers deal in the same currency. One is more abstract than the other, to be sure. Still, don’t take my word for it. Please consult an expert.

2 thoughts on “Knowing It All

  1. Jeremiah Andrews

    Hey Steve,
    When I was a religion undergrad, there were some Christians out there, who told me that as a “gay” whatever i was studying was in congruent with scripture. well, when I got those 2 final pieces of paper, one in Religion and the other Theology, I at least knew something. And probably more than my detractors knew. Since then, I read, A LOT, like you do. I am always trying to find the next thing I need to know. Right now, I am in A Course in Miracles, and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. There are those, poor unfortunates out there, who like to believe they know definitively, all the answers, and speak for God. Because they read their bibles. I don’t know many who know their bibles like You and I, know our bibles. There are things you know, that others don’t. There are things I know, that others don’t either. Before I speak or write on a subject, I make damned sure, I know what I am talking about. Today, I don’t get pitchforks like I used to. Nonetheless, I cover my ass, when I am venturing into hostile territory. I may not know “everything” there is to know about anything particular, but I know a lot of little things, about a number of Big Things, to the degree, I can form a cogent opinion and speak to it. I know, today, that I am teachable and that I enjoy, still the process of education, by way of reading everything I can get my hands on. And that puts us in a league by ourselves. You, Steve, know a great many things, about certain subjects, that not many know. What you know is important. Nobody really need know, how educated you are, until it needs to be said … Like in the office, or with a perspective writer of something they want published. Your history, education wise, and job wise, gives you particular insight, even if people don’t want to hear what you have to say, because they might believe you have not Mastered the medium to the degree they think, you need to have mastered.

    It’s all good. What we know. Because we do the work required to know what we know. With some certainty.



    • Thanks, Jeremy. It’s always good to hear encouraging words. I agree that we both know quite a lot about topics that others feel free to shoot their mouths off about without any real understanding. That’s one of the biggest challenges of this field, I think.

      It’s important to be comfortable we who we are. Too bad many people use the Bible as a bludgeon to harm those they don’t understand. It does nobody any good.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments!


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