Tom Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and at the Harvard Extension School, is an expert and believes his information should have merit. However, as he writes, he says he expects his opinion should be respected as it comes from someone who has studied and is an expert on certain topics.
But that is not happening today. He is finding that expert opinion is not respected and that any assertion of such causes “an explosion of anger from certain quarters of the American public.” In fact, people complain that anything that appeals to authority is nothing but elitism and just wants to tamp down democracy.
To be clear, democracy is a form of government not a system of equality. In a perfect world it means we all have equal rights. But, equal rights do not mean we are all the same and share talent, abilities or knowledge.
We are different and this brings me to my question: When did we stop respecting the knowledge and expertise in our society?
I’m not a physician, attorney or airline pilot. I’m not a science professor or state senator. I’ve never studied astronomy. I’m not an expert in these and many other areas of expertise.
However, I respect the knowledge these people have acquired. I respect their expertise.
Let me explain
With the convenience of Google and Wikipedia, blogs, everyone is now an expert on everything. However, what is taken for fact may be nothing more than opinion, and agenda-driven opinion at that. We are seeing the destruction of accomplishment over lack of knowledge and respect thereof.
People are entitled to their opinion. However, they are not entitled to their own facts.
Nichols writes, “What has died is any acknowledgment of expertise as anything that should alter our thoughts or change the way we live.” If what you say disagrees with what I want to believe, then you are wrong even if what you say is true.
This is not to say people don’t make mistakes. Yet, there are experts and facts are facts.
To reject the experts, such as your physician and supplant it with wishful thinking is not only unwise, it’s dangerous.
Whatever you think of Western civilization as a racist ethnocentric and paternalistic entryway to expertise, remember it invented the nuclear bomb and Vitamin Water as well as asthma medicine that keeps children alive.
What we are seeing today is the devolvement of respectable discourse. Anyone can go online to any publication and spew animosity about anything with no consequences and never have to prove their point with fact or verify their opinion or so-called facts. More often the disagreeable rampage is more opinion and anger for real or perceived slights.
The guy from France
Even Alexis de Tocqueville, the famous French writer who penned Democracy in America, wrote about the distrust of intellectuals in the 19th century. Doubt grew more intense with political and social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s. Ever since, global growth and the expansion of technology has advanced the gulf between the different populations and society. Some have just enough knowledge and education to cope with these changes, but others feel threatened and left behind in the new world of the 21st century.
The problem has reached immense proportions. Political debates no longer differentiate the difference if faced with “you’re wrong” from the phrase “you’re stupid.” To challenge what someone has said is to insult the person. If you try to correct someone then you are a hater. At the same time, if you refuse to acknowledge alternative views, no matter how fantastic or inane, is to be closed-minded.
It feels like no matter how we choose to discuss issues of the day unless the parties subscribe to having a civil discourse, we are doomed to shooting darts at each other and nothing is learned.