The Problem With Experts

My friend Trey recently gave me a book to read in the back of the van.  The following passage seemed correct to me in its diagnosis of a modern problem:

There is in orthodox thinking a great dependence on experts.  Because modern technological society has produced a breed of experts who understand technical matters that bewilder the rest of us, we think that in matters of social conflict, which require moral judgments, we must also turn to experts.  

There are two false assumptions about experts.  One is that they see more clearly and think more intelligently than ordinary citizens.  Sometimes they do, sometimes not.  The other assumption is that these experts have the same interests as ordinary citizens, want the same things, hold the same values, and, therefore, can be trusted to make decisions for all of us.  

To depend on great thinkers, authorities, and experts is, it seems to me, a violation of the spirit of democracy.  Democracy rests on the idea that, except for technical details for which experts may be useful, the important decisions of society are within the capability of ordinary citizens.  Not only can ordinary people make decisions about these issues, but they ought to, because citizens understand their own interests more clearly than experts.  

Now the only thing I want to add to this is that for democracy to function properly, it also depends on citizens being well informed.  Citizens are capable of educating themselves, but they must want to.  It is important that a certain percentage of citizens read, pay attention to national and world events, and I also think, in such an interconnected world, travel if not in other countries, than at least in their own.  It should be important in a society that citizens understand that they have an important role in events and take that burden seriously.  One of the problems in the U.S. is that there are not enough people that understand that a democracy, for it to work properly, needs people to be involved at more than just a superficial level.

The writer of the above passage is Howard Zinn.  It is from his book Passionate Declarations.  While I usually would not wait to the end of a blog to name a source, I know that there are many that view Zinn as an unreasonable lefty, and I wanted the idea to live on its own terms for a moment.  (I personally think Zinn has a lot to offer people of all political stripes.  Because he is someone that speaks truth to power, there are those that want to label and discredit him.)

I have posted this video and song before, but I think that the Laurie Anderson song Only an Expert deals brilliantly with this same topic.

P.S.  I apologize to those of you that subscribe to this blog for sending an incomplete version of this post to your emails.  It simply was the cause of human error on my part.  I fucked up!  

Dark Time in the Revolution

You know Tom Paine wrote the first best-seller at a dark time in the Revolution when we were losing and all the soldiers were deserting. Giving up. And the book was called Common Sense and it was really just a long list of questions. And one of the questions was: Does it make common sense for an island to rule a continent? And everybody kind of went hmmm and they signed back up.
And today you could ask: Does it make common sense for a country to rule the world? But no matter what your answer, no matter what you think, no matter what you vote for

We just keep calling em up, calling em, calling em up. No matter what.

A snippet of lyrics from Laurie Anderson’s Dark Time in the Revolution.  When she talks about how, “We just keep calling em up”, she is talking about soldiers.  The always great Laurie Anderson brought a little light to my daily jog today with some truth.

Another Day in America

And so finally here we are, at the beginning of a whole new era.
The start of a brand new world.
And now what?
How do we start?
How do we begin again?

There are some things you can simply look up, such as:
The size of Greenland, the dates of the famous 19th century rubber wars, Persian adjectives, the composition of snow.
And other things you just have to guess at.

And then again today’s the day and those were the days and now these are the days and now the clock points histrionically to noon.
Some new kind of north.
And so which way do we go?
What are days for?
To wake us up, to put between the endless nights.

And by the way, here’s my theory of punctuation:
Instead of a period at the end of each sentence, there should be a tiny clock that shows you how long it took you to write that sentence.

And another way to look at time is this:
There was an old married couple and they had always hated each other, never been able to stand the sight of each other, really.
And when they were in their nineties, they finally got divorced.
And people said: Why did you wait so long? Why didn’t you do this a whole lot earlier?
And they said: Well, we wanted to wait until the children died.

Ah, America. And yes that will be America.
A whole new place just waiting to happen.
Broken up parking lots, rotten dumps, speed balls, accidents and hesitations.
Things left behind. Styrofoam, computer chips.

And Jim and John, oh, they were there.
And Carol, too. Her hair pinned up in that weird beehive way she loved so much.
And Greg and Phil moving at the pace of summer.
And Uncle Al, who screamed all night in the attic.
Yes, something happened to him in the war they said, over in France.
And France had become something they never mentioned. Something dangerous.

Yeah, some were sad to see those days disappear.
The flea markets and their smells, the war.
All the old belongings strewn out on the sidewalks.
Mildewed clothes and old resentments and ragged record jackets.

And ah, these days. Oh, these days.
What are days for?
To wake us up, to put between the endless nights.

And meanwhile all over town, checks are bouncing and accounts are being automatically closed.
Passwords are expiring.
And everyone’s counting and comparing and predicting.
Will it be the best of times, will it be the worst of times, or will it just be another one of those times?

Show of hands, please.

And ah, this world, which like Kierkegaard said, can only be understood when lived backwards.
Which would entail an incredible amount of planning and confusion.
And then there are those big questions always in the back of your mind.
Things like: Are those two people over there actually my real parents?
Should I get a second Prius?

And you, you who can be silent in four languages: Your silence will be considered your consent.

Oh but those were the days before the audience, and what the audience wanted, and what the audience said it wanted.

And you know the reason I really love the stars is that we cannot hurt them.
We can’t burn them or melt them or make them overflow. We can’t flood them or blow them up or turn them out.
But we are reaching for them.
We are reaching for them.

Some say our empire is passing, as all empires do.
And others haven’t a clue what time it is or where it goes or even where the clock is.

And oh, the majesty of dreams.
An unstoppable train. Different colored wonderlands.
Freedom of speech and sex with strangers.

Dear old God: May I call you old?
And may I ask: Who are these people?

Ah, America. We saw it. We tipped it over, and then, we sold it.
These are the things I whisper softly to my dolls. Those heartless little thugs dressed in calico kilts and jaunty hats and their perpetual white toothy smiles.

And oh, my brothers. And oh, my sisters.
What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They flow and then they flow. They come, they fade, they go and they go.
No way to know exactly when they start or when their time is up.

Oh, another day, another dime.
Another day in America.
Another day, another dollar.
Another day in America.

And all my brothers. And all my long lost sisters.
How do we begin again?
How do we begin?

Another Day in America by Laurie Anderson.  I was just walking my dog and listening to this.  Many of you may find this depressing.  If I told you it was making me laugh would you think me strange?  Is it because I heard a piece of art by another soul that said something out loud that I think from time to time?  Is it because of the piece’s truth telling mixed with its wonderfully surreal absurdity?  I honestly don’t know myself.  I love Laurie Anderson.  I am thankful she has always followed her own strange muse.  

Link to the recording: