Tell Me How It's Different

Dennis Prager, whose opinion I respect but do not always agree with, makes an excellent point in this column:

The first thing you have to do when hearing Hollywood stars make foolish comments is to avoid being surprised.

As a rule, over the last few centuries, artists have been more likely to be morally confused than members of almost any other profession (except academia).

Many, perhaps most, great artists are geniuses in one area and underdeveloped elsewhere in life. It seems that when God grants great artistic talent to an individual, that individual is given few other gifts, least of all moral clarity or wisdom.

I also get annoyed when artists speak out about political issues, as if their talent and competence in one area translates to universal virtue or ennoblement of perspective. There is however another, much more interesting question brought up by this. Does being smart and articulate and even persuasive give you any more authority to opine on politics and global issues? For instance, there are plenty of people who have an opinion about the military draft, or about the policy establishing democracies in place of oppressive theocratic societies that limit freedoms, but most of these people haven't been in the military or lived in a theocracy (or will be directly affected by policies aimed at eliminating them for that matter). So I would ask, what makes people who are smart and can construct convincing arguments who argue about how the country should conduct itself any different than artists who are socially prominent, and maybe even revered for their talent, pontificating about the right thing to do?

This is where the issue of credibility comes in. It certainly helps to be in the field of whatever issue you're addressing. But is there some kind of general moral credibility, and if so, how can one gain it? I suppose one philosophical answer would say that given any moral question, there is a correct answer that all humans would eventually reach if given the time and the ability to think it through sufficiently (perhaps this is Kantian). Following from this, it would be true that the more intelligent among us would be bestowed a natural moral advantage (or at least latent advantage). In this case, someone could through contemplation alone claim moral superiority even without having experienced anything. Or does someone need to have some kind of personal experience with the issue that they're dealing with to have a legitimate opinion? What does this say about the opinionists that litter our literary and journalistic landscape?

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