How wrong is one allowed to be?

Yesterday, I knocked off a from-the-heart blogpost complaining that Europeans (in particular) have a tendency to patronise Americans when said Americans are struggling with?really big issues like health care. To summarise, I said that Europeans often failed to understand American politics and American history, in particular the very different between individuals, states and the federal government.

It is fair to say I did not really know what I was talking about.

This is not to say I was wrong (although some people said I was), nor that I shouldn’t have said anything. It is just to point out that here, on my blog, under my domain, I do rather reserve the right to sound off on subjects of my own choosing and my own interest.

As it happens, I’d just finished reading James M McPherson’s magisterial?Battle Cry of Freedom, a history of the American Civil War. What had struck me in that volume in particular was the astounding literacy of the letters sent by soldiers back to their families. What had also struck me was the passion and intelligence with which all the participants – politicians, soldiers, newspaper editors, writers and wives – had engaged in a debate about the relationship between the individual and the state.

Thus, when people started satirising those Americans who held a different view on them about Obamacare, I simply pointed out that their assumption that Americans were somehow stupid about this stuff was very wrong.

In other words, a little reading is a dangerous thing.

My point in writing this, though, is to ask: when does one have permission to write about something, particularly in a blog? How much knowledge is assumed and/or necessary to fire off a from-the-hip remark about space travel, nuclear fusion, Japanese pop music and all the other stuff we talk endlessly about in pubs and at dinner parties? Is a blogpost somewhere between a hand-wavy assertion over drinks and a newspaper column? Where, exactly, is it in that continuum? Is it OK to fly kites, or should one only land facts? Should I pretend to be more sure than I am? Or should I constantly reassert my lack of knowledge about anything and everything?

Should I just, at the end of the day,?shut the hell up?

Possibly. Probably. But this space, it seems to me, is primarily for my enjoyment. And the enjoyment stems from me saying something, and other people arguing with me – better-informed people, for the most part (like, for instance, on yesterday’s post about Americans, people who are actually, you know, American). So I’ll keep on being wrong, and other people will correct me, and thus we shall advance the sum of human knowledge and move forward together into a glorious future.

And with that, on to nuclear fusion, about which I have some?very strong thoughts.

4 thoughts on “How wrong is one allowed to be?

  1. Say what you like. It’s your blog, your space, your prerogative. The fact that you easily welcome debate, counter argument and opposing opinion just makes things more interesting. Spirited cut and thrust is what it’s all about. How boring life would be if everyone caveated their thoughts so conclusively that it banished their bottoms to the fence for evermore.

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  2. The amount of evidence you need to back up your assertions is inversely proportional to the number of people likely to read what you have to say. I can say whatever the hell I like because nearly nobody reads my blog. You probably have to be more careful (but only if you care about being corrected or argued with. If you don’t, you can also say whatever the hell you like).

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  3. Say what you like. Blogs can be anything from places where people publish their journalism/essays through to tweets and tumblr links, or just photos, or corporate PR-led stuff. I like the fact that personal blogs often read like ‘this thought crossed my mind right now’ with an optional ‘what does everyone else think?’ You don’t expect peer-reviewed argument. Perhaps if you were with the person at the time they had that thought you’d be discussing it rather than posting it. By enabling comments or posting on Facebook or Twitter you’re allowing feedback. So the gates are open for you to speak your brains, read what other people have to say on it, and that’s what can make for a good read. Perhaps there should be some sort of ‘caveat emptor’ for reading and commenting online.

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