Knowing nothing after having read something

When little or nothing is known about a subject, it becomes difficult to write about. If it’s something we nevertheless wish to comment on in an essay or column, it can be embarrassing if nothing is known about what is written.

However, there are those who maintain that, if you concentrate while writing — though knowing nothing of what it is you’re concentrating on — you can convey sufficient understanding by using catchy words or phrases. Words like, “amazing,” “tremendous,” “incredible,” phrases like, “fake news” or “believe me,” come to mind. It makes no difference that those catchy words and phrases imply facts not found there.

Some writers have a strong aptitude for the factless approach, but not me — I get tripped up by a lack of them. Those skilled in factless compositions only get tripped up by a lack of verbosity, and that’s seldom a problem for those who know less and tend to write more.

When I have written about something I knew nothing about, it has not gone well. I’ve found my writing is much-improved if I know something about what it is I’m writing, even if it’s not a lot — as it often is.

As a reader, you have to be careful. It goes without saying that, if you’re reading a writer who knows nothing of what he or she is writing, your understanding will not be enhanced. You will have wasted your time, even if left with the impression you learned something.

Factless writers who successfully leave impressions when no factual basis for them exists are at the top of their game — especially if they can convince a reader to repeat what they’ve written. I’ve known cases where readers believed something had been said, when, in fact, nothing was. In such situations, readers who knew nothing before reading know less after having read.

How is that possible? Because getting faulty information when you know nothing is worse than knowing nothing at all. Unfortunately, folks who learn from writings where nothing is said often go on to repeat the nothings they’ve learned.

It has been my experience that most catchy-word-and-phrase writing is opinion. Opinions aren’t facts — they’re opinions. Opinions people want you to think are factual are often referred to as, “Opinions Done Right,” or, “Real, Honest Opinions.” Opposed to, I suppose, “Opinions Done Wrong,” or, “Dishonest Opinions.” Honest opinions, dishonest opinions, real, honest opinions, and opinions done right can be — and often are — wrong.

Such confusion can be avoided by reading people who have done the necessary research and verification before they write. That’s key.

That approach was recently discussed by our newspaper’s managing editor, Justin Hinkley, in his commentary:

“Accuracy is the bedrock of journalism and we strive for it every day. Any assertion of fact — especially when the fact is a sensitive one — must come from a primary, firsthand source and/or be verified by multiple other sources with knowledge of the facts at hand. If we can’t get that, we don’t print it.”

A good example of this verification technique was Kaitlin Ryan’s recent article in the LifeStyles section of The News. There, she reported on the proliferation of microplastics in our environment. The stuff is everywhere — in us, our children — even our beer. It’s a real invasion, with a real threat we don’t yet fully understand.

What’s being done? Not much.

Which brings me to another category of not knowing stuff — ignoring knowledge not liked. If we don’t look at it, hear nothing of it, and don’t speak to it, we can pretend it’s gone – or that it never was.

Recently, a bill introduced by state Sen. Jim Stamas became law. The law preempts local governments from imposing any restrictions on the use of plastic grocery bags, plastic bottles, or other plastic packaging.

It appears Sen. Stamas wants to ensure the continuation of our not doing much. To that end, he wrapped some political garbage in a thought-proof plastic bag, threw in a plastic bottle, tied a knot, then passed it — to us.

So, now we know this: We’ll keep eating plastic.

Doug Pugh’s “Vignettes” runs biweekly on Tuesdays. He can be reached at pughda@gmail.com.