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The Death Of Expertise

Hold on, hold on, hold on! Before you get the wrong idea, I have not changed my skepticism for the almighty “expert,” in any given field. For example, just because a doctor has a diploma from medical school doesn’t mean he’s a good physician. A lawyer with a degree doesn’t mean he didn’t graduate at the bottom of his class and/or that he or she has no idea how to write a brief or make an eloquent argument. We should all, always, question what we’re told and seek a variety of opinions on important issues and life decisions.

However, there’s a huge difference between questioning and challenging. Inquiring and trying to learn are vastly different than telling and ordering (especially if such is being done out of blatant ignorance).
If you’re a regular reader of this space, it should not surprise you at all to read the following observations and opinions:

                The United States is now a country obsessed with the worship of its own ignorance. It’s not that people don’t know a lot…the bigger problem is that we’re proud of not knowing things. Americans have reached a point where ignorance is an actual virtue. It is a new Declaration of Independence: no longer do we hold these truths to be self-evident, we hold all truths to be self-evident, even the ones that aren’t true.

                The foundational knowledge of the average American is now so low that that it has crashed through the floor of “uninformed (or) “misinformed…”people don’t just believe dumb things; they actively resist further learning rather than let go of those beliefs.

                Never had so many people had so much access to so much knowledge and yet have been so resistant to learning anything. Not only do increasing numbers of people lack basic knowledge, they reject fundamental rules of evidence and refuse to learn how to make a logical argument.

I wish I could take credit for any of the three above paragraphs, but I cannot, despite my fervent agreement with them. Rather, those experts come from just the first 7 pages of text of a new book called “The Death of Expertise,” written by Tom Nichols.

When I first saw him interviewed and heard the title of his book I was skeptical to say the least as I believed he was just another egghead telling us all to know our place and bow down to the almighty learned expert on any and every topic. His book, however, is far from that. It is a spot-on indictment of what I have long called our arrogant, ignorant, entitled culture which has now been further flushed down the toilet by our access to Social Media and all of the misinformation that comes with it.

While he at times, in my opinion, leans a little too heavily on the credentials of experts, his overarching theme is not just brilliant but beyond reproach in terms of its’ credulity and factualness.
For example, just this Saturday (11/4/17) I had my annual blood draw for lab testing; while there, a maggot who shall remain nameless to protect her  (my personal blood nurse) was recounting story after story of patient after patient who tell her how to do her job. Not helpful things like “I prefer my right arm over my left,” or “I have tiny veins that can be problematic,” or “I have been known to get lighthearted while having blood drawn.” All of those things are perfectly acceptable to convey to your phlebotomist. Her stories were of simple laypeople (no medical background whatsoever) sitting down and telling her the size needle she’ll need, what angle to take when she pierces the skin, how long the draw should last and on and on and on it goes.

Everyone’s an expert at everything, yet no one trusts anyone who is trained or experienced at anything. We know everything and believe nothing. We are shriveling as a society. As with all great cultures, we will be the end of ourselves. It won’t be Trump, or North Korea, or Russia, or Climate Warming Global Change, or any other natural disaster. It will be us, and we’ll deserve every bit of it.

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