You Can't Possibly Understand
Social and political commentator Ben Shapiro was being criticized by a college student. The gist of his argument was that since Shapiro didn’t have a degree in economics, sociology or political science, he had no right to speak on such matters. Ben exposed the flaw in his elitist, pseudo-academic reasoning which, taken to the extreme, means that no one can have a valid thought about anything unless he or she has an advanced degree in the field.
This is a defense mechanism, mere sophistry that seeks escape the force of an opposing argument. It is an ad hominem attack against one’s opponent to neutralize him rather than refute his position. This is a favorite ploy of feminists, LGBTQ advocates, abortionists, racial agitators and others who wish to silence critics not in their subgroup.
This argument is effective is because, like most false positions, it contains an element of truth. It is partially true that one gains peculiar insight by academic study or personal experience. For example, those who have suffered a tragedy can understand similar situations on a deeper level than those who haven’t. But it is untrue that no one outside of a certain field can formulate a valid opinion about it or find a flaw in it.
One reason this is so is that life often follows common patterns and principles.
Analogy #1: A business executive who understands the complex interrelations of management, finances, employee morale, innovation, etc. might effectively lead a company whose product he does not fully understand.
Analogy #2: A marital counselor who has not personally experienced divorce can still gain enough insight into human behavior to effectively advise others on improving their relationships. Thus, real life demonstrates that some arbitrary mark of expertise (viz., a college degree) is not always necessary to understanding complex, detailed issues.
Back to Ben Shapiro, what qualified the questioner to declare that Ben Shapiro’s observations on American society were invalid? Nothing but his opinion, which he smugly felt entitled to while asserting that Mr. Shapiro had no right to his. To be consistent, such an elitist view would preclude voting without a degree in political science, parenting without a Ph.D in child psychology, driving without rigorous training or feeding a family without being a certified nutritionist. While higher knowledge can be valuable, we should not think that we are so unique that only “an expert” can relate to or help us. Life is more than narrow bands of highly specialized knowledge which are unrelated to and disconnected from other aspects.
Of course, underlying the human experience and developing both a valid worldview as well as detailed observations about life is familiarity with God’s word: “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day; You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts” (Ps 119:97-100). This was written regarding revelations of God under the Mosaic age. Though addressed to the Israelite community in an elementary way relative to the gradual development of mankind, it is a timeless truth: God is man’s designer and creator and knows how we think and feel; what our tendencies and limitations are; what we need psychologically, spiritually and emotionally. His laws reflect this understanding, and we benefit when we follow His dictates whether or not we can connect obedience with the outcome.
A corresponding fallacy is that human knowledge is being perfected over time so that we can ignore the past in favor of our current perspective. This effectively sweeps away the advice of our elders and the accumulated experience of previous generations. Consider the naïve, idealistic clamor for socialism primarily, but not exclusively, among the young in our society. When one responds that history consistently exposes the dismal failure of socialistic ideology, this is often dismissed with something like, “True socialism hasn’t been effectively implemented. Done differently it can work.” This is a naïve, stop the ears immaturity that refuses to listen to reason and historical evidence.
True wisdom is the ability to look at life’s mistakes (ours or others’) and learn from them – what works and what doesn’t, what is true and what is false, what accords with God’s principles and what doesn’t. Temptations are common to man (1 Cor 10:13) as are tragedy, disease, guilt, humiliation and a host of other human emotions and experiences. Entrenching ourselves in a subgroup in the notion that no one can understand us except fellow group members will erode a broader perspective upon life.