Ahhh, Friday. Just as with Mondays, even retirees still look forward to them. No, it doesn’t make sense. Does it need to?
Have a few squibs before I sit down to compose the main event for today.
Gerard Van der Leun has done so much good stuff for so long that we who know him have been conditioned to expect his level of quality. Even so, now and then he reaches a new zenith:
In the past, you became an expert within a specific domain. For men, that meant farming, war, or governance. You spent most of your waking hours perfecting your skill in those fields, and trusted other experts for matters which you did not know. Today, the experts are liars. They will say anything the oligarchs want to keep their jobs and maintain a pleasurable lifestyle. We don’t have experts anymore, only shills, marketers, and traitors to mankind. The “experts” have declared this additive to be safe in food, but they lie for profit, and I must search online for the real story.
The old joke about an expert is that he’s “a person who knows more and more about less and less.” There was some substance to that jibe. Yet in times not all that far behind us, we could expect an expert to know something about his chosen domain, even if it were so narrow that 99% of us would be amazed to learn that it was an actual field of study. No longer.
Expertise has been ousted by credentialism – and the State awards the credentials.
More on “Experts”
Pace the preceding segment, I’ve often wondered if the principal function of the broadcast media is to promote ersatz “experts.” Their commentators seem to do little else, though there remain a couple of exceptions. Whatever the case, comparing the emissions of broadcast-media figures with those of truly intelligent and thoughtful persons, like Eliot’s “Streets that follow like a tedious argument / Of insidious intent,” leads me to an overwhelming question:
Whoops! Excuse me, Gentle Reader. I have my moments, both good and bad. I’ll leave it to you to decide in which category the above belongs. But I do have an example for you:
Have you ever seen a brain so completely programmed with slanders and insults? So thoroughly cleansed of anything resembling rational thought? Yet this man went to the verge of hysterics when he saw that Donald Trump would win the presidency. Told us to “brace for impact,” as I recall. Of course, he had plenty of hysterical company.
Still More on “Experts”
Everybody’s got to have a thing. Some like pizza, others masturbation. I like complicated puns, Steven Seagal movies, and Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry. But today this matter of “experts” and expertise is on my mind, and it must be purged before I can get down to serious work. You, Gentle Reader, are the, ah, beneficiary.
Time was, the title of “expert” was conferred upon a man by others after he’d repeatedly demonstrated his knowledge or competence in some field. Credentials had little or nothing to do with it. Those others had recognized that he’d acquired knowledge or competence and could bring it forth at need. Nothing else mattered.
This has given rise to a few jokes. One of the standards is that “he who last made a two-sided copy successfully shall be deemed the expert on the office copier.” Quite a few copier repairmen have dined out on that one. Yet it hearkened back to the older conception of the expert: he who has demonstrated knowledge or competence.
Given the plague of ersatz experts, and the increasingly urgent need among ordinary Americans to detect fake expertise and dismiss its purveyors, I’d like to suggest a handy discriminant. It’s served me well over the years, and I hope it will do the same for you:
A genuine expert is aware of how often his predecessors and colleagues have been proved wrong. He expects no better record of accuracy for himself. He doesn’t present his opinions on carven stone tablets. Rather, he will allow that “this is what I’ve deduced from the available data.” When he’s revealed to have been in error, he admits it without resistance or rancor.
By contrast, a man who proclaims his conclusions in stentorian tones, with the implication that anyone who differs must be either an idiot or a villain, is ninety-nine-to-one a fake expert. Any shibboleths he invokes provide additional giveaways: “science,” “experts agree,” “the consensus,” and so forth. He never willingly admits to uncertainty error. When he’s shown to have been wrong, he does his best to avert any discredit. Nor will he apologize for misleading you.
Keep that one handy.
You Too Can Be An “Expert!”
Just yesterday a dear friend called me with a question. The call was unexpected, but the question was even more so:
It got me laughing so hard that I did an unprecedented thing: despite being in the middle of writing a complex, critically important passage of dialogue, I answered the phone. We had a nice conversation, to which the thing about infinitives was a mere grace note, made nearly irrelevant by the end of the chat. But my friend’s call and his choice of subject have stayed with me.
People still choose their own experts. They note demonstrations of knowledge or skill and remember them. At subsequent times of uncertainty, they will recur to the man who has shown them “how it’s done” and solicit his opinion. And if he remains reliable in that field, they’ll hang on to him, praise him, and recommend him to others. After all, isn’t that how we choose and treat our favored vendors of services?
That, too, is one to keep handy.
I hope to be back later with “Fraying Part 3.” Until then, be well.
PS: Feel free to split infinitives. Compound verbs too. Just because it’s impossible in Latin doesn’t mean it’s forbidden to you. You’re a mature, taxpaying American, for God’s sake, so go out there and act like it! 😁
“Never refer to yourself as an expert! An “ex” is a has-been and a “spert” is a drip under pressure!”
(Career advice from a British forensic scientist regarding humility.)