I loathe the observation that begins, "There are two kinds of people in the world." Rarely does anything good come out of it. The resulting observation is almost always so obvious that it doesn't bear mentioning ("Those with money and those without"), or pointless ("Those who can and those who can't"), or wrong ("Those who like Obama and those who hate him").
But a two-camp approach has been gaining currency with me for awhile now: There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who think they know and those who don't think they know.
I have squarely landed myself in the latter camp, and I find great solace in my company there: Pyrrho, Heraclitus, Montaigne, Peirce, Hayek. Aquinas toward the end of his life. Even Christ. He, of course, knew, but He was murky with us on the details. All those parables and paradoxes.
So, you might ask, know what? That doesn't matter. If you think you have a grasp on anything except the "immediately obvious," you're in the other camp.
Years ago, I would occasionally take offense at emails. There is something inflammatory about the electronic print medium by itself, but there's a larger problem with it: I was only receiving a fraction of the sender's communication. I couldn't see his smile (or snarl). And the sender was hamstrung by the medium: he couldn't convey all the nuances of his message, even the annoying nuances contained in a stupid vocalized pause. Consequently, whenever I received an email, I was receiving, maybe, 40% of the total message that I would've received in a face-to-face conversation. I knew 40% of the message, but then I copped an attitude that would be justified only if I had at least, say, 92% of the message.
That's a simple example, but it's instructive for two reasons. First, we're talking about an email message. How much more complicated are issues of theology, culture, history, and politics. If I could botch the interpretation of a simple email, imagine what I could do to a big subject.
Second, I would adopt a disposition to the email, based on my incomplete knowledge. Such an attitude is nothing but arrogance (a lack of humility). It takes a proud person to take incomplete knowledge and respond as though he has a complete grasp of the facts. It takes the blindness of arrogance to cause a person to think he has complete knowledge.
And it's this blindness of arrogance that is the most disconcerting. The humble person recognizes severe limitations to his knowledge. The proud person doesn't. The humble person is inclined to do nothing in response to the data, since he realizes that he doesn't have all the data (and never will) and couldn't know what to do with the data. The proud person has no such self-imposed limitations. He gets data: sifts it, thinks about it, then acts, with the implicit assumption: "I am the man."
It's troublesome. The proud man also tends to be the emotional man: pride spawns passion. But since the proud man is also the man of action, the proud and passionate people in the "I Understand It" camp tend to be the policymakers. They then implement grand plans and schemes that have no more prayer of success than a bet on a roulette wheel.
Fortunately, there seems to be an increasing number of persons who recognize our inherent ignorance. Most recently, I saw this nice little essay about Hayek's 1974 Nobel Prize speech, "The Pretence of Knowledge." I highly recommend it. It directly torpedoes Bernanke and his predecessors and what we're seeing in the economy today. It indirectly torpedoes the efforts of politicians generally.