Human Exceptionalism

The Trouble With Experts

As I write these words, the stock markets around the world are tanking in the wake of a nearly trillion dollar bailout that the experts designed to prevent this very collapse. Oops.

Financial issues are not what we do here, but I think there is an aspect of the financial crisis unfolding–potential catastrophe, actually–that is germane to some of our conversations. It is the failure of expertise to wisely guide society, and our concomitant over-reliance on “the experts” to tell us what to do–a condition I call “expertitis.”

This is what I mean by the term: It seems to me that if one looks deeply at almost every major problem we face today, we will find that “experts” are behind it. Why is that? Such a conclusion requires some deep reflection. But initially, I think it comes from a collapse of self confidence among the people to deal with the issues of society leading to our delegating authority to our perceived betters who have, alas, rejected venerable traditions and time-tested principles that I still think governs the lives of most people.

And here is the problem with expertitis: Too often, the advise or decisions made by the ruling and consulting elites are not founded in the pursuit of principle. And that leaves analysis and decision making more vulnerable to the imposition of ideology, the pursuit of self interest, a lack of common sense, and increasingly, sheer snobbery. As a consequence, rather than following a consistent and clear through line, we grow erratic and lurch from crisis to crisis to crisis. Meanwhile, in a bitter irony, as our problems mount, real people are told they are just not equipped to deal with these important and difficult issues. That we have to leave it all “to the experts” who were main contributors to the problems we face in the first place.

Well, look around. We can see quite clearly how well that has worked out. The bailout is a clear case in point.

Please don’t misunderstand: I am not anti-intellectual. I am not saying that expertise does not have its place. Clearly, it does. We need clear-headed advise based on depth of knowledge. So I say, by all means let’s listen to what experts have to say, but do not blindly follow or cede control. They clearly have not earned it. Besides, the times are growing far too dire for that kind of passivity.