‘You DO NOT Have a Right To An Opinion On A Topic About Which You Know Little or Nothing’

I have tremendous regard for Dr. Matthew Raphael Johnson who presents a weekly podcast at Radio Albion.

Being a scholar of Russian Orthodox Church and philosophy and belonging to the Orthodox tradition himself, he brings a fresh perspective on things which one rarely comes across in the Anglophone world.

At the start of a podcast, which was broadcasted almost a decade ago, he said:

“Today is October 18th 2011. It is my 40th birthday today…As I get older there are a few things that are happening; I am losing patience with the pedestrian mentality in politics and history. This is a big problem largely because it’s not harmless. This sort of thing is not a hobby. This kind of thing is not something you should be doing because you need to prove to the world that you are smart. You could do a lot of damage. And if you go through the blogs and you see people some of whom have good intentions some of whom have very bad intentions spreading a lot of rumors and half-truths, not necessarily because they are deliberately manipulating people but they simply don’t know any better. And I tell you something. These forty years, forty years today and there is one thing about our social life that I have learnt and that really going to be on my tombstone one day. An epitaph. And that’s this simple phrase, and I want you to think about it in great detail and depth: ‘You DO NOT have a right to an opinion on a topic about which you know little or nothing.’ That statement in a lot very important ways summarizes the epistemology of Plato. It summarizes a lot of the semi-aristocratic approach to these disciplines. You know when I first got into this field 21 years ago, I haven’t taken a vacation; even when I do go away or do something that supposed to be fun, I bring all my books with me. I never stop thinking about these things which is a good thing and a terrible thing in many ways…In coming with even a tentative opinion on let’s say the political thought of James Madison, Napoleon, the French Revolution, you are talking about 10 solid full time years minimum in my opinion of going over the massive almost ridiculously massive amount of material out there. And then may be you can a very tentative opinion that you put forth with great trepidation. When somebody is talking about a topic, a very important topic, a very complicated topic, they think they know a few things; they have read a couple of books about it and they think they something. They have NO IDEA what they are missing. They have no idea the amount of material that you need to go through even for a tentative opinion. I am saying 10 years minimum and that’s as a full-time occupation. When I was in grad school and then afterwards at the Barnes Review and places like this, I lost a lot of sleep because I needed to solve certain problems. Who was right in the 19th century say the Russian Empire or Ukraine? What makes more sense form our point of view? An empire or a strong nation-state? These kind of questions. I lost sleep. And let me tell you I have lost friends and even family members over these issues. And the amount of material, the tens of thousands of pages whether it be in English or Russian or Ukrainian or Serbian that I poured through. And the amount of time I lost, the occupations I couldn’t do, the attacks that I have come under by the professional academics for even bringing up some of these topics in the way that we do and going through this ridiculously massive amount of material that the amateurs out there don’t even know exists, never mind, has ever been through. And 20 years of this non-stop, pretty much 365 days a year and that level of intensity; constant reading and constant writing and constant talking with professors and other experts and trying to ask the right questions and getting everything together and really developing almost an obsession, almost a pathological condition; going over this stuff for this many years in a relatively specialized field, YOU WILL PARDON ME IF I GET A LITTLE SNIPPY WHEN SOME PUNK WRITES ME WHO HAS READ A COUPLE OF BOOKS ON THIS…AND HE IS GONNA START LECTURING ME ON IT; SO ONE OF THE FEW TIMES YOU KNOW I AM GONNA CLOCK SOMEBODY IF THEY ARE IN FRONT OF ME. If you are not a bona fide expert on a topic; either you have the education; you have the publications; you have all the years you got to put in to even come up with a tentative opinion on these topics; especially topics like the British Empire, French Revolution, or Unification of Germany; the amount of material you couldn’t shoot through; you could build a house with just the English language material on this topic; PLEASE SHUT UP IF YOU HAVEN’T GONE THROUGH ALL OF IT OR MOST OF IT. YOU DON’T KNOW. YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU MIGHT BE MISSING; WHAT YOU HAVEN’T COME ACROSS. One if the things that I have learned in these…now 20 full time years. I have never had a normal job. This is what I have done FULL-TIME since I was 18. When you simply don’t know and you go out and you are on these stupid blogs and you are trying to say something and if you make an error; we all make silly errors, but I am talking about serious stuff where you are coming up with theories that are contradicted by facts you don’t know exists because you haven’t been through the material and the years it takes to get through it all and the SUFFERING that it takes; this is not something you used to read after dinner because it’s relaxing; this is something that you do and it’s painful sometimes. You are constantly suffering through these problems. I used to wake up at 2 in the morning; run to my desk and go through…because I have some inspiration on a particular topic. I mean this is how you live. This is a life style that you choose. It’s not a hobby. It’s not something you people decide to do because it makes you seem smart or because you think it is going to impress someone or you are going to change the world or you are gonna be a leader or you wanna make a couple of bucks. When you get on these blogs you see this crap; just pure factual absurdity…think of a young student going through this and they start believing some of this stuff is true; you are poisoning the atmosphere; you are poisoning the debate when you inject this kind of ignorance and extreme amateurism into these things. You could do a lot of damage and you could hurt a lot of people because if they believe some of this is true and they go spouting it, they are gonna sound like morons.”