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!