Doing the homework makes a difference

Jeff Fox
Headed for trouble
Jeff Fox

The scourge of jargon and cute-speak is the greatest foe of clear thought and low blood pressure. 

Didn’t get that memo? We can circle back later and conference about it. 

In somewhat the same vein come the inflated phrases that pass without challenge. Some need to be challenged. 

It’s no longer original or funny to point out that the claim “I did my own research” invariably means “I didn’t in fact do any research whatsoever but poked around the swamp of distortion and disinformation known as the internet until I found something that said what I wanted. It feels – feels – right to me and therefore it is objective truth.” 

This is no way for an informed electorate to order its own affairs along the lines of reason, freedom and justice, but the nation’s founders never envisioned the Fifth and Sixth Horsemen of the Apocalypse, namely Facebook and YouTube. 

At one time, the vernacular covered some of this ground. For instance, “Hey, did you hear …” could be met with a range of responses: 

• “Yeah, I saw that” meant I scanned that headline and read a few paragraphs. I think they mentioned it for 15 seconds on the news last night. I am in no position to make an informed comment on that subject. 

• “Yeah, I’m not so sure” meant I’m no expert, but I know enough to know your whole level of crazy when I hear it. 

• “Yeah, I looked into that” meant I was curious or perhaps that subject intersected with work or a hobby, so I had cause to ask questions of others – others who might know more than I – and learn more. I might have read a second or third newspaper article. Perhaps a book. I can share what I know, for what it’s worth. 

• “Yeah, I checked that out” meant that sounded a little off and I was curious. I made a couple of calls – phone calls to trusted humans – and some of this stuff checked out and some didn’t. Some was counterintuitive and yet somehow true. There’s more to the story – because that’s how Earth works. And, let’s be clear, I am no expert. 

• “I did my own research” meant (A) I have a lab, tools and training, and I use the scientific method to test hypotheses and uncover new information, the full nature and meaning of which will probably require yet more inquiry. It’s called progress.  

Or (B) I have spent years in the dungeon of a library poring over previous data, literature, cave drawings – whatever – to rigorously pursue knowledge and, in practical terms, surface new information for the benefit of the species. I also have a title before my name and several letters after my name, denoting that I’m an actual expert and could comment credibly on a topic or two, but in a time of bone-deep, self-serving cynicism I have no standing to speak at all.  

It’s a fine mess we’re in. Someone should look into it. 

Perhaps start with the need for a wee bit of humility in the face of a complex world peopled by inscrutable humans. 

Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Follow him on Twitter at @FoxEJC.