I had an interesting conversation with someone recently that started when they commented that they wouldn’t argue with someone who they thought was “too smart for them.” This is not the only incarnation I have seen of people with a lack of confidence in their own intelligence so, fully aware of the inherent irony of this post (it is like the old joke, “Get confident, stupid”), I thought I would have a go at tackling this type of thinking.
Being able to think for yourself and decide your own opinions is one of the privileges of being alive and in Australian society we are lucky enough to also have the right to publicly express that opinion (but not to hypocritically expect others not to challenge us). It would be a shame to waste such a gift by slavishly conforming to the opinions of those we think of as more intelligent, knowledgeable or educated (as Tony Abbott’s Rhodes Scholarship proves, there is a big difference between intelligence and education). There is no shortage of people out there actively trying to dictate your opinion according to their own agenda (as I am doing right now), so it is pretty important you think carefully about things that are important to you, so that you aren’t manipulated by others (hello, News Corp).
Supposedly intelligent people are wrong all the time about all manner of things. The evidence is all around us in the failures of scientific studies, expert predictions and government policy. So if you hold a different opinion don’t be afraid to say so. It is possible you are wrong, in which case hopefully you realise this and you have learnt something. That is nothing to be embarrassed about.
But it is also quite possible you are right. Then hopefully, assuming you explain yourself well enough, you may be able to help someone else learn something and refine their own assumptions. Of course you may also be talking to someone who refuses to concede that they are wrong- which is just a different form of ignorance.
Of course, I’m not in any way trying to dissuade you from changing your mind when presented with convincing arguments and evidence. But regardless of how much you respect someone’s intelligence or expertise, make them convince you with logical arguments before you change your mind. I should put in a caveat for anti-vaccers and climate sceptics as you have been given more than enough evidence, so don’t quote this article as any kind of endorsement of your continued belligerent ignorance. There is a difference between asking people to justify their opinion and maintaining your preconceived opinion regardless of any evidence or refutations presented to you.
The only people I don’t want to argue with are those who are too proud or stupid to change their preconceived opinion, regardless of what information is presented to them (hello again, anti-vaccers, this time I’m talking about you). But if you are willing to listen to someone else’s opinion and think about it, don’t be afraid to challenge it in response. At least one of the two of you will probably benefit from it.