One of the trickier elements of aspirational generalism is the lack of consistent authority structures in which you can invest your trust and time.
If you spend your life pursuing one professional or intellectual path, within a few years you’ll have a sturdy sense of which authorities are legitimate and which are only posturing (or worse, sources of tainted information).
But in the early stages of learning about anything, our annoying lack of reliable, demonstrably high-quality sources of information can distort our perception of whatever we’re pursuing, negatively influencing everything that comes after. And this becomes more of an issue when we begin to throw ourselves at new topics or undertakings on a regular basis: we’re more regularly in that seedling stage of growth, and thus, more vulnerable to inferior sources and information.
One way of dealing with this issue—which has worked pretty well for me over the years, albeit imperfectly—is to approach all new, neutral-seeming sources with what’s called “provisional trust.”
In other words: I approach new sources of information with the understanding that they could be flawed in some fundamental way, while recognizing I probably don’t have the data and understanding to assess whether that’s the case, yet.
So I take what they have to offer, but rather than using this initial source as a lens through which I view all future sources—judging them based on how well they align with the source I’ve decided to provisionally trust—I provisionally trust to those other sources, as well, giving them all the opportunity to prove themselves rather than focusing on just one.
So maybe I’m keen to learn about a particular historical conflict, and the first book I pick up on this subject is very focused on one side’s moral rightness and the other side’s immorality.
The next book I read, though, may tell me the opposite: it was actually the first side that was in the wrong, and the other side was the true victim/protagonist of that particular story.
It’s tempting to frame our understanding of something based on the information we consume about it early in our understanding of it.
This is why so many ideological groups are interested in shaping what’s taught in schools, because if you can get into people’s brains early, there’s a good chance those primary positions will never change, even if those former-kids are later exposed to compelling evidence that shows what they were taught is incomplete or incorrect.
This is also why holding back on committing to concretized positions and framings is typically more ideal: it allows us to taste-test more perspectives and achieve a better sense of the facts and opinions shaping a field, first, before we commit to our own positions. Positions which will ideally remain malleable enough to change in the future, but which will also stabilize enough that we can build upon them as we learn more.
Making sure our initial layer of understanding is well-rounded rather than polemical, then, is important if we want to attain a robust understanding and competence, rather than absorbing something like ideological dogma.