Pseudoknowledge

Years ago, when Clinton picked Gore as his running mate, I was at work in downtown Seattle. In the morning, after the pick was announced, people in my office were all scratching their heads and asking “Who’s Al Gore?” Lunch came, and people grabbed a Seattle Times (the internet barely existed) and read the editorial, instructing them what to think about Al Gore. By that afternoon, people were discoursing as though they were experts, “Al Gore looks like a pretty good guy!” What did they actually know about Gore? Jack. But they had all read the same editorial and had acquired by pseudoknowledge a *feeling* that knew something about Gore.

Yesterday, the election of Francis completely blindsided the world, especially the English-speaking world of Americans, who don’t in for all the polylingual stuff and who largely don’t pay attention to things in Spanish-speaking media. Most people in the US went, “Wait. What? Who?” after the announcement and then scrambled to find out who the heck he was.

Yet, within an *hour* I was receiving combox message from people who, on the basis of a Wikipedia article, were speaking with absolute assurance that they knew everything there is to know about Argentinian history, Francis, his role in the Dirty War, and the complexities of his relationship with Church and State there. Above all, they knew with adamantine certainty that he was overwhelmingly guilty of “support” for torture and murder. And they knew that I knew all about this and was covering it all up.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know very much about Argentina. I also don’t know very much about Bergoglio. Indeed, everything I know about him is information I have acquired in the past day. I don’t know much about the Dirty War. I don’t know the complexities of how Catholics engaged the junta. I don’t know the complexities of how Bergoglio engaged the junta or a Church heirarchy compromised by the junta. I don’t anything about the people accusing him.

And I am morally certain that the people who showed up in my comboxes to denounce him don’t know jack about this either.

All they did was go to their approved tribal affirmation site, download talking points scraped together in haste via Google a couple of minutes after the announcement and then spit them out in a tone of lofty superiority described by Dave Barry in his immortal essay “How to Win an Argument“:

* Make things up.

Suppose, in the Peruvian economy argument, you are trying to prove Peruvians are underpaid, a position you base solely on the fact that YOU are underpaid, and you’re damned if you’re going to let a bunch of Peruvians be better off. DON’T say: “I think Peruvians are underpaid.” Say: “The average Peruvian’s salary in 1981 dollars adjusted for the revised tax base is $1,452.81 per annum, which is $836.07 before the mean gross poverty level.”

NOTE: Always make up exact figures.

If an opponent asks you where you got your information, make THAT up, too. Say: “This information comes from Dr. Hovel T. Moon’s study for the Buford Commission published May 9, 1982. Didn’t you read it?” Say this in the same tone of voice you would use to say “You left your soiled underwear in my bath house.

It’s the “you left your soiled underwear in my bath house” tone that’s the giveaway. “It’s all there on Wikipedia. Haven’t you *read* it?” say my Star Chamber comboxers. As though their accusations are the fruit of years of careful scholarship and not Barryesque BS of the first water. Dude: I’m just learning to pronounce the guy’s name. Only here’s the difference: so are you, but you lie and pretend you are an expert with damning knowledge, when the reality is you have no knowledge, just pseudoknowledge. I’ll wait until I have actual knowledge and not pseudoknowledge, thanks.

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