There are misconceptions everywhere. You’d have to be willfully blind not to realize this. We don’t know as much as we think we do. But that’s not the danger. The danger is that very few like to admit that there are gaps in their knowledge and understanding. It makes us feel small, stupid, inadequate . . .
But such admissions also provide a healthy and much-needed dose of humility. But in a world where we carefully cultivate our images, such admissions are anathema.
And so we live in a time when everybody is an expert on everything, we are governed by our feelings (which, let’s be honest, has been the case for most of human history), and so few want to ask difficult questions or think difficult thoughts.
How did we get this way?
I don’t know. I suppose it’s some combination of classism on the part of the ruling elites, resentment on the part of the rest of us, the system being proven not to work as advertised, and nobody interested in bridging the gaps between us.
What’s that, you say? I’m being hyperbolic about the system?
Au contraire. If you look at the post-World War II neo-liberal world order, it is collapsing in spectacular fashion, and it really only took half a generation to do so.
But I digress. The problem as I see it is that there are thorny issues that need resolving, very careful resolving, but nobody trusts each other.
Ah! Trust! That’s the big one.
Think about some of the contentious, hot-button topics floating around the American zeitgeist in recent decades:
- The climate
- Drug policy
- Foreign policy
How many reading this can honestly say that you are an expert on any of these? If you actually are, my apologies. But let me tell you, I sure as hell am not. I have my opinions based on what I can observe, and try to modify them according to new information, but I have not devoted enough time to achieve true expertise.
I’ll tell you what I have developed expertise in, though: My job. As I’m sure you have in yours. We get good at what we do every day. And if what you do every day does involve drug policy or immigration or the climate, then the chances are we should listen to you.
But unfortunately for us all, our institutions have become corrupted–nearly every single one–and most of us don’t know who to trust anymore. This is a huge problem, and goes to explain why “experts” has become somewhat of a dirty word. The experts are not helping themselves either, though, by doubling down on failed policies, incorrect explanations, and predictions that have little to no basis in reality.
Let’s talk about the ideal for a moment. In the face of misconceptions and a lack of understanding, we hear a lot of talk about “education.” Educating the populace. Educating the voters. Educating ourselves when able.
Suppose there is a huge push to educate people about, say, economics, so that when the time comes to pull the lever every four years, we better understand the issues. That’s a good thing, right?
It depends on who you ask, of course.
Experts may be tasked to educate all of us, via the Internet, TV, and the written word. But there is a glaring problem with this proposal: That lack of trust.
Nobody trusts each other anymore. And so few trust the experts.
And with good reason, I’d say.
The stakes are too high, the power and the money (really, just different manifestations of the same thing) to alluring a prize to actually leave things up to the individual.
And so we are skeptical about experts, even ones we should know better than to disparage. The questions are all the same: What’s his angle? What’s in it for him? Am I being manipulated? How can I trust this guy?
It’s simple. You can’t. The damage has been done, and done with such breathtaking speed and efficiency that it’s no wonder the so-called tinfoil hat wearing crowd is gaining new prominence and people are starting to take them seriously.
The old order has failed us.
The old order, which might still be right on some things, has cried wolf one time too often.
And so we turn to others who may not have any expertise, but at least their words and exhortations jibe with what we are seeing and feeling and thinking and experiencing ourselves.
The shame is that experts have a vital place in society. They do what the rest of us cannot, the same way the rest of us do what they cannot, and the synergy is supposed to make all of American society better off. But it isn’t working like that.
Because we don’t trust each other.
It’s not a great place to be, but here we are.
It would be nice if we could talk to each other. Like, really talking, not cursing at or insulting or ascribing ill-intent and evil motivations to. Because maybe, just maybe, we’d learn something and actually come to the best possible solution.
Maybe we’d regain some of that trust.
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