Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"Expert Opinion"

There appears in some quarters to be a raging hostility towards expertise, as if, somehow subliminally, the appellation “I’m an expert” connotes the famed Chevy Chase addendum, “And you’re not.”  It understandably upsets people to be so snootily dismissed.

“Don’t tell me I’m not an expert.”

Well, you’re not.

“I said ‘Don’t tell me!’”

My suspicion is that it is that it not the expertise itself that is so vociferously objected to, it’s the underlying “Children should be seen and not heard” implication in which if you’re not “experts”, you’re “children.”  It feels hurtfully disrespectful to hear, “Shut up and just listen.”  

My concern, however, is that this hot-button business has gotten muddled, in that this perceived (or possibly actual) condescension triggers an inflaming animosity towards experts, not because they are supercilious nincompoops but simply because they are experts.  This seems to me to be a dangerous confusion, especially, say, picking an example out of the air, when voting for the office of President of the United States.

Hold on.  We’ll get to that.

Arguably, ever since Lyndon Johnson in the mid-1960’s, who admittedly messed up in Viet Nam though it wasn’t entirely his fault – he just wasn’t a Kennedy – who also messed up in Viet Nam (and the Bay of Pigs) but at least he was a Kennedy – Lyndon Johnson, due to decades of service wrangling Congress, had a background eminently suitable for the position of president.  (Subsequently demonstrated by his successfully ramrodding the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts through a recalcitrant legislature.)

Since then, however, we have preferred to elect peanut farmers. 

And their equally less qualified ilk, voting for them consistently over battle-hardened (maligned) “Washington insiders”, with admirable resumes and hands-on expertise.


A candidate for president:  served in Congress, headed the CIA, served as Vice President of the United States and one term as actual president.

“We don’t want him!

Who did they prefer?

The former Governor of Arkansas.

What’s the annual budget of Arkansas?  You know the budget for the latest Captain America sequel? 

The budget of Arkansas was what they paid for the trailer.

Not the preview of the movie, the star’s actual trailer.

Bill Clinton was not a tainted (by experience) “Washington insider” and that’s all they needed to know.  He was their kind of candidate – a two-seater pilot asked to captain a Jumbo Jet – and they gave him the job.

Which brings us to the present fiasco.

“Qualified for the position”?  The man was substantially elected because he wasn’t.

Paraphrasing The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,

“We don’t need no stinkin’ experts!”

He says he’s an expert negotiator.  Though I’m not sure presidents can sue people. 

“I’d love to discuss World Hunger with you, but I’m due in court.  Do whatever you want, and if it doesn’t work out we’ll insist that it did.”

I want the most important job in the world handled by someone who knows what he – or she, another qualified expert shot down at the polls – is actually doing.  When I was looking for heart surgeons, I never once demanded, “Get me the guy who builds gaudy condominiums!”

The irrational "hatred-of-experts" opposition is ubiquitous.  I recall a very funny comedy sketch in which a man who, although he knew where fish went in the winter, due to his lack of professional expertise was denied a public platform because, as it was explained, although he may have indeed known where fish went in the winter he was not expertly qualified to know.

“If you are not an anointed expert, then they shut you right up”, was the point of that very funny comedy sketch.  I am trying to remember who wrote it.

Oh wait.

It was me.


The people I cleverly deride say “X.”  I myself have said “X.”  I am “the people I cleverly deride.” 


Did you ever wish that you had never opened your mouth?

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