The Need for Humility in Politics – Misconceptions

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Politics is a layman’s game. Regarding subjects like nutrition, engineering, or astronomy, the average person will typically defer to an expert. Instead of intense emotional disagreements, there is often a general understanding that a certain level of temperance is required before denouncing an opponent as not just wrong, but corrupt or disingenuous.

Politics is different. The layman is far more confident in his political views than his apolitical views. His political opponents are not only wrong, but intentionally malicious and evil of the worst kind. They are not other laymen, but rather neo-Nazis, or haters of everything American.

To the arrogant political layman, opponents of the Green New Deal are merely science deniers paid by big corporations that desire nothing more than to pollute every bit of the world. Since the correct political views are so obvious, any and all opponents have likely sold their soul to either George Soros or the Koch Brothers (or both).

Of course, the political layman isn’t entirely off the mark. There are far more corrupt politicians than there are corrupt astronomers. And people are far more united around a specific goal in other subjects. In politics, we can only say that most people want a “better world,” but anything more specific than that leads to severe differences.

What is needed (now more than ever) is greater emphasis on humility among those with an interest in politics.

We often forget that politics is an incredibly complicated subject. To declare, whether as a conservative, liberal, or libertarian, that the solution to all of society’s problems is “obvious” is to put on full display one’s level of understanding of these issues.

A significant way to figure out the right answers to political problems is not just to read a few books by a few thinkers, but to read the works of many different thinkers, their critiques of other thinkers, and the critiques in response. Far too many people are reading a few books or listening to a few shows or podcasts that reinforce their own beliefs. That in itself isn’t such a terrible thing. What is terrible is to then infer that they have everything figured out.

Granted, these things take time. And with the terrible state of public schools in many countries, people are growing up with a significant disadvantage. But we often forget that it’s okay to not have all the answers. It’s fine to not have complete knowledge of Kiribati’s geography, but it’s not fine to go about claiming you do. We should be recalling Jordan Peterson’s 9th rule:

“Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.”

With a humble approach, we get promising political discussions and a genuine understanding of other viewpoints. With an arrogant approach, we get people denouncing David Stockman as a leftist and leading protests against people they’ve never heard of.

This call for humility should be seen as a denunciation of arrogance, not of confidence. To be confident is a good thing, so long as it is backed up with knowledge and experience. Without any backing, this becomes arrogance.

For those who want to go beyond the political layman, more is needed from all sides. Political activists (for lack of a better term) need to have an interest in ideologies other than their own, and need to have a more than superficial interest in their own.

Everyone interested in politics, whether liberal, conservative, or progressive, should be reading both Karl Marx and Murray Rothbard, both Thomas Paine and Russell Kirk. As soon as one does this, it becomes clear how little most ideological camps know about their opponents’ beliefs, and why it is so important to understand them.

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Nathan A. Kreider is the host of The Conversation, a podcast about ideas and how to spread them. He also publishes a blog and video content, including short book reviews, which can be found on his website nkreider.com. He can be contacted by email via [email protected]

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