Turns Out Knowingness Is a Word, and a Useful Word at That

A ginger cat on a cushion
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Knowingness is, “a posture of always ‘already knowing’, of purporting to know the answers even before the question arises.” According to Jonathan Malesic, knowingness is a bigger problem than misinformation and echo chambers. I’m inclined to agree. Malesic makes an argument that I’ve been trying to articulate for a while now. I think I struggled for so long because I lacked the vocabulary.

The bare-bones version of the argument is that, because of knowingness, we don’t listen to each other. Misinformation doesn’t matter when all of us already know what’s what. Knowingness has become pervasive in contemporary discourse, especially political discourse.

I’ve tried to articulate this point before, but I don’t know how successful I was. I was calling the phenomenon “epistemic confidence“. Knowingness works better. Partly because confidence doesn’t sound like a bad thing (maybe I should have called it hubris). Partly because epistemic is too technical a word. And partly because knowingness captures a certain je ne sais quoi. There’s an ephemeral quality to it that I like. It’s not knowledge, it’s unjustified belief, but we treat it like knowledge. It is illusory.

The problem with knowingness, aside from the fact that the knowledge isn’t knowledge, is that it leads to hostility. If something is so obvious that you know the answer before hearing the question, it’s certainly too obvious for someone to disagree with. Yet people do disagree. That makes, in the eyes of the person who suffers from knowingness, the person who disagrees almost impossibly, unbelievably stupid. It’s the unbelievability of the stupidity that leads to hostility. If no one can be that stupid, it makes the person who disagrees, again, in the eyes of the person suffering from knowingness, disingenuous, to put it politely. No one likes to be lied to. It makes people angry. And then, voila, hostility.

None of this is to say that people can’t, or won’t, disagree even without knowingness. I’m trying to say that the disagreements will be a lot more civil without knowingness. And now that we have a word for it, it will be easier to recognize it and fight it. All it really takes is a little introspection and humility. Those are traits that we could all use more of anyway.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.