Whatever happened to the people who knew everything?
There's an interesting species of human whose sole function appears to be to have superior knowledge on any subject. Some of these people even start their careers in preschool, and progress in some epic fashion to college, government and management levels.
If you're one of the people who like me doesn't happen to believe that behaviorism is necessarily the last word in anything, these people are an interesting study. They appear to need their status in any social group as an intellectually superior member of that group.
Most psychologists would say that this is a typical inferiority complex, played out to a level of predictability which is almost unforgivable. While that may be true, the actual development of this mentality is quite a study in itself, and one may wonder why anyone thought plaster ducks were necessary, when this other source of decoration was so readily available.
A typical assumer of superior knowledge has a range of social skills which instantly endear them to anyone who doesn't know better:
- Subjects of conversation and discussion are instantly diverted to an area of expertise.
- The person will hold forth extensively, usually using a large number of quotes and references to prove their infallibility.
- Argument and contradiction are invariably met with skepticism and in some cases a large amount of pomposity.
In primary school, the people who know everything are also usually the people trying to get on everyone's good side. Apparently infallibility doesn't extend to any level of social confidence, except when in a safe environment where they feel unassailable.
In fairness, most people do have a series of social behaviors which are basically designed to achieve the same effect. It is not absolutely necessary to be infallible to be a compulsively ingratiating little jerk. The average career idiot or sycophant does exactly the same thing, arguably less annoyingly, but in substance exactly the same.
The process of becoming the resident holder of superior knowledge of all things, however, has a few drawbacks. There is always the risk of encountering someone who actually has superior knowledge, or who knows how to ask the right questions.
This is a source of constant terror, and a series of equally advanced evasive maneuvers usually comes with the skill set:
- Retreat to a safe position based on irrefutable, accepted wisdom, like "the cat sat on the mat".
- Digression into areas of safe facts or conjecture, in which infallibility can pass itself off as an opinion.
- Denial, standing on one's dignity as an accepted authority, however absurdly.
- Going off in a huff, or the "Prima Donna Defence".
The question is what happens to these people? Is there some sort of self worshipping Valhalla for them? Do they join cults and become members of the "Illuminati"? (If they do join the illuminati, it would explain why the current level of illumination is so dim, banal and ineffectual.)
The great mystery is that these people seem to disappear off the face of the Earth after a while. They occasionally emerge in management meetings and dire discussions of social catastrophes in which they apparently attempt to fill the entire volume of the universe with verbiage, provoked or otherwise. One of their more obvious habitats is on committees, where they fill the very necessary roles of local pedants and bureaucrats.
These roles, however, are a sort of annihilation, like flinging oneself under a juggernaut or trying to have a career on game shows. Is this where infallibility leads? Shouldn't these people be floating cherub-like in some wonderful insular place? Doesn't intellectual pretension and insufferability count for anything any more? Should self-serving social superficiality and self-aggrandizement be an endangered species?
Obviously, what is really needed are special reserves for these people. Places where the vacuous, vain and venal may frolic safely. Positive reinforcement will also clearly be necessary, and large numbers of admiring imbeciles will have to be recruited from somewhere to provide this service. Full employment for the population of the Earth may be only a breath away.
Self-proclaimed intellectual elites comprise an undetermined, but obviously very necessary part of human social ecology. How humanity could stagger on for another moment without their invaluable input is inconceivable. The terrible risk of anyone else ever getting a word in is too horrible to contemplate.
More by this Author
Jerome K Jerome is famous for the classic Three Men in a Boat and the play/movie Passing of the Third Floor Back. What’s not generally recognized is that his style clearly influenced a lot of later writers. Jerome...
In the recruitment industry, the current thing is cultural fit. This has become a cause celebre among recruitment experts, and is also very popular among employers, judging from the amount of space the idea is getting...
From my book, The Good Manager, published on lulu.com Paul Wallis The Good Manager Who do you think you are? The management culture, and how to avoid it Respect is a verb Business intelligence networks Ad hoc...