"Wow, you're an arrogant bastard," the complaint goes…. And yeah, I really am. I have no problems telling you how to run your love life, and I'd step before Congress in a moment to tell them how they're fucking up this country, and when a new book or movie comes out I'll tell them how good it was, what went wrong and how they could have fixed it.
But I won't hold forth on just anything. There are some topics that I am completely fucking clueless in, so I try to stay away from them because I know that I don't have the right (or experience) to debate intelligently on the subject. This is what makes me merely arrogant; otherwise, I'd be a total blowhard, which is an entirely different thing.
Just for the record, here are the biggest topics I won't ever pretend to know about.
Economics is what I'd consider a "soft science." Not only do I not understand it, but I'm not sure that anyone does. Therefore, I don't trust it one bit.
For a science to be truly valid as far as I'm concerned, you have to be able to run repeatable tests that isolate the core component as thoroughly as possible. You can do this in chemistry, taking a series of chemicals and heating them at 250 degrees and seeing what happens, then adding a new chemical to the mix and heating that blend to 250 degrees. If something changes, you can be pretty sure it's the chemical and the chemical alone.
But economics is little more than a mass of conflicting theories, with no real way of testing them. Sure, you can do small-scale experiments to see how people react to certain pressures… but for real rubber-hits-the-road economics, you need to work with countries.
Countries cannot be isolated. Before you could turn economics into a hard science, you'd need to take two countries with identical political leaders, identical populations, and identical resources, then have one run on pure capitalism and the other European socialism for twenty years. At the end, compare.
But even if you could do that — which you can't, obviously — that still doesn't prove anything. Other countries will affect your economy, and perhaps China will offer a contract to one country and not the other, and perhaps some other country will declare war on the evil socialists.
I'd think more of economics if they could agree on a couple of common principles…. but aside from the fact that mostly-free markets seem to be more efficient, they can't even agree on whether deregulation hurts or helps the economy. Hell, I've seen several arguments break out over how you should measure the GNP, and some people in the know have told me that different economists measure it according to whatever standard they please. (And that's not even talking about the alternate measures of GDP and Gross Value Added.)
Somehow, I think if physicists and engineers were still trying to debate whether Newton's First Law was correct or not, we'd still be riding horses.
Thus, I don't bother. I know nothing about it. This makes me feel guilty when people say, "Hey! There's a new report out that shows that Bush's tax cuts are working!" Because honestly, if the guy's economic policies are having an effect, I'd be celebrating that in my journal.
But honestly? I don't know whether we're going up or down. I can't tell whether the report is bullshit, though Democrats inevitably say it is and Republicans tell me it's not. That's a sad ignorance that bugs me, but I don't see an easy way to improve myself without possibly spewing bullshit myself.
My personal rule is that you cannot give advice on raising children until your own kids are thirty and happy.
Oh, you can say they're doing well now, and many do. But I've seen way too many parents crowing about their adorable, well-behaved six-year-old, who by eighteen has rebelled and is snorting cocaine off an underaged hooker's stomach. Or they're gushing over their beautiful college sophomore, who loves her classes.... but by thirty-five, she's going for her third Ph.D because the real world terrifies her, and they're wondering how the hell they can break her of this academic addiction.
Just because you have a kid who does what you say doesn't mean that you have a good kid; you have an obedient kid, or possibly a kid who's smart enough to hide all of his indiscretions from you. Just because you have an independent, intelligent child does not mean said child has any common sense or social skills.
But by thirty, you know where they are, and chances are good that they're not going to change significantly after that. They can either form stable, loving relationships or they can't; they can either hold down a good job, or they can't; they can be good parents, or they can't (or they've decided not to, of course). They're either living in a nice house, or chatting on AIM in your basement, mooching off your fridge.
By thirty, you know whether they're happy or not, and whether they've turned out in a way that both benefits society and makes you proud. If they have, then share your child-rearing secrets. But until then, you have to shut up.
And yet even if Erin hits thirty years of age and is doing spectacularly (as I suspect she will be), I still don't have room to talk. I wasn't there for her first thirteen years, and I've never raised a baby, and I know shit about making kids happy.
Therefore, I stay silent. Occasionally, I'll muse on how difficult or rewarding it is to be a parent, but you won't catch me giving advice unless specifically asked. Which, frankly, I hope you don't.
I've tried four times to read The Blind Watchmaker, and it's bored the living hell out of me every time. I have gone the piker route of reading Douglas Adams' essays on the topic, but really that's not much help.
And I need the help. Every time someone mentions evolution then creationism comes up, and the creationists inform me there are holes in evolutionary theory — which there are, but usually not as many as the creationists claim. It degenerates into a scientific bickering war, where both sides throw links at each other, leaving me none the wiser.
Unfortunately, my curiosity is only vague. I don't want to have to memorize fifteen volumes on the subject to debate it in public, and I hate speaking when I'm too fucking ignorant to contribute effectively, so I stay silent.
House Repair Or House Buying.
Here's all the advice I have: if you live in an area where you need to call repair people and they have a branch nearby, spend the $30 and get a year of Angie's List. You can find reviews of local repairmen and contractors, and they have good coupons, and they're nice people.
(And if you sign up, mention me by name because I get a bag of M&Ms if you do.)
That said, Gini has always sold the houses, and I just sort of looked on with dismay as she Did Stuff and I sat back and listened to her. She told me to paint things, and I did. She told me to clean things up, and I did (mostly).
She does all that. Ask her.
Oh, and if you want me to repair something? With my hands? Oh, ha ha. It is to laugh.
This is just pure brain-fry. I read a book a year on the subject, and I cannot wrap my head around superstring theory or quantum physics. It's counterintuitive, and I know that, but even so I don't get it.
This makes me feel dumb, especially when smarter people than I begin discussing it.
The Stock Market.
Like Quantum Physics, I've read books on it. Like Economics, there are a thousand theories on what works and what doesn't. And there are a lot of options available, each of which is so heavily debated I feel the urge to stick all my money in a sock and bury it in the garden.
But then I wouldn't get interest.
I have this vague feeling that if I understood the stock market I'd understand economics to a better extent, so I keep reading, but it confoozles me mightily. I feel like quite the fool.
I have a series I'm writing. I am now up to, I dunno, 190,000 words in an endless three-book fantasy series. That's what I've been doing for the past year or so.
But that doesn't mean they're good words.
There are people who've said they'd like to hear more about my novel - not an overwhelming tide, but enough to mention - but the truth is, either I can sell it or I can't. I think it's unseemly to bombard you with previews from a work-in-progress, since I should be putting my efforts into making the book better, not getting rubdowns from friendly folks on the Internet.
Until the day arrives when someone hands me a contract, I'm a failed author. There are a zillion other losers like me with a book in the drawer of their desk. The end goal is to get somebody to pay you to put it into print, and if you're asking me to tell you how to get there, I am eminently not qualified.
If I sell it, I'll probably start talking more about what makes good fiction…. But even then, there are people who are a lot better at it than I am. I'm never gonna be as good as J.K. Rowling or Stephen King or even [insert your favorite author here, as long as it's not Piers Anthony]. I am not worthy, and that's not my insecurity speaking; that's honesty.
When you see my fiction book on Amazon, talk to me. But before then, it would be a monstrous act of ego to tell you that I know what the hell I'm doing.
(That said, I'll put my nonfiction up against anyone. Unfortunately, nobody gives a rat's ass about nonfiction unless you're reading it on NPR.)
(That said to the that said, I also feel qualified to say how a series or movie should have been made, because as a fan I usually know where it disappointed me. But even then, I can be wrong; I was riotously wrong on the latest Harry Potter. Spoilers abound in the link, so do not click if you don't want to know.)