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The Age of Experts

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“In Holland, everyone is an expert in painting and in tulips.” ~ Albert Camus

Once upon a time – and a very good time it was – a man could brandish his doubt in public with a certain degree of dignity and honor. To be unsure was the mark of an inquiring mind, one open to further study, fresh evidence and new horizons. The thinking fellow, therefore, was one who weighed competing theories, who wrestled with the “facts,” such as they were, and who was ever ready to change his position. 

Alas, in this modern era of superabundance, stuffed with overfed problems and Great Causes galore, there is little room for good ol’ fashioned doubt. One must be certain of one’s position, especially if one knows nothing about it. Whatever the matter, man’s mind must be made up. 

He must be a virologist on Monday, a climatologist on Tuesday, an expert in Eastern European geopolitics on Wednesday, an economist on Thursday, a Critical Race Theorist on Friday, and still have enough energy left over to disappoint his wife and children on the weekend. 

Even as our globalized world economy becomes increasingly specialized, modern man must present a polymath’s comprehension of any and all questions posed to him. And woe to he who dares sidestep the debate du jour, who forgets to black out his Instagram profile or don a colored ribbon on his lapel or fly the flag of the week or remember what the “2S” stands for in the ever-expanding alphabet soup of sexual orientation. 

In this Age of Certainty, of 140-character zingers and bumper-sticker morality, silence is not merely a sign of humility or respect, or even an admission of ignorance. Silence is violence. Because… rhyming.  

With such a high value assigned to infallible certitude, to the point where flagrant overconfidence risks getting you elected to public office, one might be forgiven for thinking we were closer to objective truth than at any time in history, that mistakes were but a quaint anachronism, and that, as Francis Fukuyama opined back in the early ‘90s, we had finally reached the “end of history.”

In his earnest attempt to keep pace with the maelstrom of subject matter with which he must be au courant, modern man turns to the “Expert Class” for blind guidance. And blind guidance is what he gets. 

Indeed, on the Grand Subjects and Great Causes of our time, these lodestars of knowledge are rarely in doubt. 

When it comes to what the global temperature ought to be half a century from now, and what sacrifices people without private jets need to make to get us there.

Regarding when and where you must mask your children – “yes” in school… “no” in restaurants, provided they’re seated… but probably yes on the way to the lavatory.

When setting the exact price of credit, determining what precisely constitutes “full” employment, and deciding the hourly wage beneath which no human being should labor, even if the alternative is no work at all. 

Our oracles of omniscience are as confident as they are myopic. But what about “slippage”… retroactive edits, revisions, redacted emails, and fat finger fudges? Benevolent angels though they may be, even our betters in public service are entitled to the occasional blunder, right? 

After all, didn’t the President of the United States of America assure us that Covid-19 was a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” that “you’re ok, you’re not going to get Covid if you’ve had these vaccinations,” that the vaccinated “do not spread the disease to anybody else” and that, to shut up and get the jab was somehow part of your duty as an American… because, patriotism? 

“Freedom? What’s the big deal, man?”

Biden: “WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?” On Americans Giving Up Freedom

Oh yes, and didn’t Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell tell us not one year ago that inflation could be “quite low”… then “transitory”… before, just this past week, with “official” inflation at a 40-year high, suggesting the term transitory “has different meanings to different people” and may, after all, need to be retired?

And here’s White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki explaining that when it comes to ordinary folks feeling the pinch at the pump, “temporary” high prices mean anywhere from Spring 2021 to the end of 2022… and longer, if necessary. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki Doubles Down On Claim That Inflation Is “Temporary”

Of course, we hear from experts all the time, riffing on subjects we mental field mice could not possibly comprehend. Most folks don’t expect their unelected wonks to get things right all of the time, or even some of the time, but there is a basic expectation that they will at least give the public a straightforward, honest answer, at least to the best of their ability to do so. And yet…

Remember when Netflix’s favorite medical advisor, Anthony Fauci, quashed all chatter of The Covid potentially originating in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the very same lab his government institute just happened (purely by coincidence, mind you) to be funding? 

Until relatively recently, to so much as flirt with the much-maligned “lab leak” theory was tantamount to suggesting that the moon was made of gorgonzola or that only a woman could give birth. An imminently cancelable offense, in other words. 

But lo! Since-published emails (brought to light by various Freedom of Information requests) show that Fauci himself was not only made aware of the likelihood that the virus emerged from the Wuhan lab, but actively colluded with then-director of the NIH, Francis Collins, to discredit the theory before the public ever got wind of it. 

To be clear, and as unfashionable as this may seem, we do not claim to know that which we do not know… in this case, the origins of the Coronavirus. That said, it does appear that open scientific inquiry was here actively kneecapped in favor of “narrative-shaping.” 

Call it Plato’s “noble lie” if you must. Just don’t call it “truth.” 

But never mind all that, say the experts. Regular citizens need not concern themselves with such lofty matters anyway. Higher minds are on the case.

Speaking of St. Francis Collins… it was around this same time that he wrote to his mate, Tony “The Science” Fauci, to stifle another critical debate, this one regarding the questionable empirical basis for lockdowns, after three “fringe” epidemiologists (from those well-known, alt-right conspiracy cauldrons; Harvard, Stanford and Oxford Universities) dared voice an alternative viewpoint (in what became known as the Great Barrington Declaration.) 

Hush, peasant! The adults are sciencing…

Huh? What happened to open discussion, you ask? To free inquiry? To peer reviews and unbiased findings and transparency and objective truth-seeking? What happened to good ol’ fashioned doubt and skepticism?

Oh, you silly duffer! Why go to all that trouble when you could simply resort to “devastating takedowns” (known in medical academic circles as “devestatus takus downus.” Latin, yo.)

Pay no attention to the hundreds of billions of dollars of lost economic activity caused by the panicked lockdowns and lockouts… the disrupted education of tens of millions of schoolchildren… the hundreds of thousands of closed restaurants, bankrupt businesses, waylaid earnings… the missed weddings and funerals… the trillions of dollars in government handouts… the isolation and fear and loneliness and anxiety… the suicide, domestic violence, alcoholism and drug addictions… the army of finger-wagging tut-tutters with their endless fonts of do-nothing hand gel, prowling behind every store counter… the separated families… the surrendered civil liberties…

The experts are nothing if not certain about what (if anything) you should know and when (if ever) you should know it. And by all indications, that’s not likely to change anytime soon. In the profound words of the multi-talentless Kamala Harris, “It is time for us to do what we have been doing, and that time is every day.”

When it comes to the matters that have the rest of us scratching our heads – transitory myocarditis, patriotic inflation, two weeks to flatten Lia Thomas’s curve – you can rest assured, the experts have the situation well in hand. 

Republished from the author’s Substack

Author

  • Joel Bowman is a novelist and independent essayist, originally from Australia but living now in many parts of the world.


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