Nothing is more annoying than advice. It’s not so bad when it comes from an unreliable source like one of your relatives, because you can dismiss it out of hand. Just to take one example: all through my childhood I was told by my mother and my numerous aunts that, if I got wet, I would catch a cold. Well, I got wet almost every day on my way to school, and I had a cold for years. It seemed like an open and shut case of cause and effect. Years later I read that research had proved conclusively that nobody can catch a cold just by getting wet. My colds came from school, where we had so many viruses on the loose that it was virtually a biological warfare establishment. My mother refused all her life to believe this, and always tried to prevent me from getting wet.

Everybody likes to give advice but nobody wants to take it, including me. Whenever I am given a piece of good advice I immediately pass it on to somebody else who will benefit from it more, and I suggest that you do the same. Giving advice is satisfying to the giver, and there have been thousands of advice books published since ancient times. George Washington himself wrote one on etiquette. But we seem to be living in an age when nothing can be done without first seeking advice, and it has gone way beyond books.  It comes at us day and night like a horizontal hailstorm, driven by search engines, websites and You Tube Videos that claim to tell us everything we don’t need to know about money, health, cooking, childcare, cat care, car maintenance, gardening, Tai Chi, extreme knitting, rock climbing, how to turn your rifle into a machine gun, what to eat, what to wear, what to think.  There seems to be nothing we can do without advice, nothing we must decide for ourselves, nothing we need to think about.

The impulse to give advice might be a heartwarming example of human generosity and unselfishness, except that the advice often leads, directly or indirectly, to buying some product or embracing some idea. Disinterested advice is hard to find

What troubles me is the question of who is giving all this advice, and why. The purveyors of public information are generically referred to as “they,” as in “They say that sunflower seeds will help you to live longer”, so we all rush out to the local bird food store to buy sunflower seeds. But a next week a different pundit will undoubtedly claim that sunflower seeds are deadly, and will be just as sure about it.

We’ve all wondered about this anonymous “they,” the invisible, (unchallengeable) advice-givers who seem to know everything. We know nothing about them. If they were certified and qualified experts they would tell us, but they don’t. They are free to generate any quantity of bad and sometimes dangerous advice, fake news, fantastical theories…it’s a democracy of ignorance). If we accept everyone who offers free advice as an “expert” we are in deep trouble, and in danger of believing anything. Our dependence on irresponsible, unreliable sources will be complete. Insidious reliance on self-proclaimed experts.

The danger of this is that, in the swirling fog of contradictory advice there’s no chance to worry about nuances of meaning, let alone evidence. This falls straight into the trap of human nature. We can just choose the information we like best, which I suspect is what everyone else on the planet, including me, does. If “they” say that spinach is good for me I dismiss it on the grounds that the research is inadequate, and probably funded by the Spinach Growers’ Council. If “they” say that red wine is good for me, I assume, without further investigation, that the research is one hundred percent reliable.

One of the many things that annoys me about all this advice is that nobody ever asks me for mine. I have plenty to give, on almost every subject including those I know nothing about. But on the rare occasions when I suggest a beneficial lifestyle change to someone I know my proposals are greeted with incredulity, or amusement, or both. It seems that anonymous characters on You Tube are more to be trusted than a real, non-electronic person standing right in front of you. My advice, for what it’s worth, is to beware of advice and, if you think you have any advice to give, keep it to yourself.