Wednesday, September 13, 2017

"Considering Experts"

There was imaginably a time when everyone did everything themselves.  Of course – excusing us for not doing everything ourselves – there were, in that imagined era, considerably fewer things to do.  Back then, the imaginable counting system only went up to 4, the letters advancing truncatedly to “i”, capital “i”, a veritable glimmer on the alphabetical horizon. 

I am going to jump ahead so I don’t finish before I am finished.  You get the idea, though.  Once there was a time when there were eleven things to do and everyone did all eleven of them themselves, longing for a previous “idyllic” period when there were only seven things to do, the current epoch burdening them with a greater than fifty percent increase in their onerous responsibilities. 

“Oh, for the days of doing just seven things myself.”

What subsequently happened was that, over the passage of time, there eventually became too many things for one person to do, at least capably, themselves.  People have “gifts”, after all, and no one can satisfactorily do everything, especially when “everything” goes beyond a specific number, possibly, twenty-seven things necessary for you to do yourself.  Pile on a twenty-eighth specialized obligation, and the entire “I can do everything” world crashes thunderously to the ground, “twenty-seven”, in this apocryphal example, being the prohibitive cut-off point.

Practical Solution:  Say hello to the “Barter System.”

Which worked, in case you have forgotten, or even if you haven’t, like this:

The person who makes exquisite sandals may have an inordinate difficulty successfully downing woolly mammoths.  With the arrival of the “Barter System”, the successful woolly mammoth downer would then trade a downed woolly mammoth for an attractive pair of sandals, or if it were a particularly large woolly mammoth, a negotiated number of pairs of sandals, dickering for, possibly, a pair of black leather “Oxfords” for weddings, to seal the bargain. 

Bullet-training right along…

Division of labor led inevitably to specialization, which led inevitably to expertise – the more you did something, the more expert you became at it, especially compared to people who didn’t do it at all and when they used to they stunk at it.

Everybody was happy.  People no longer had to do everything themselves.  As if they could have, there now being hundreds of things to do, making the person complaining of doing eleven things himself sound, retrospectively, like a monumental whiner.

Quickly, before this gets too optimistic and therefore uncharacteristic of this blog…

The Observable “Down Side” of Expertise.

In a word, “snootiness”.  In two words, “Supercilious snootiness.”

“Don’t tell me how make sandals, you know-nothing mammoth downer!”

(Completing the conversation, rather than accentuating the example….

“Well don’t tell me how to down woolly mammoths!”

“I didn’t.”

“Oh, well shut up, then.”)

You get the point though, right?  The incendiary standoff – the expert’s “Don’t tell me how to do what I’m an expert at!” versus the non-expert’s “How dare you tell me to butt out!”

But that’s not my primary problem with expertise, though I am no fan of “Shut up and listen to your ‘betters.’”  Using an example which is of interest to me but I did not know how to talk about it because it’s boring but, since it applies in this context it is hopefully less so my primary concern with expertise is

Inevitable “Tunnel Vision.”

And here my boring although hopefully less so because it applies in this context example comes appropriately into play.

Considering the future positioning of the country in the global economy, Bill Clinton championed NAFTA and Barack Obama championed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, without, apparently, sufficient consideration for the negative consequences of this policy for the American worker. 

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, focusing exclusively on the negative consequences of this policy for the American worker, attacks NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, seemingly ignoring the future positioning of the country in a global economy. 

I am sure that all three of these guys are not idiots and that none of them would deliberately sabotage our country.  I am also sure both sides have accredited experts, providing factual legitimacy for the respective positions.  I can imagine debate-style “errors of omission” that are included – if it possible to “include” omissions – in both of the arguments.  But understanding the “experts” conventional M.O., they had their eyes so single-mindedly on the ball, they missed, or at least strategically downplayed, the serious consequences involving the other ball.

Experts are unquestionably indispensible – when
I need heart surgery, only a heart surgeon will do.  But experts are vulnerable to criticism for their arrogant condescension.  (Earning the pejorative “Know-it-all Elites.”)  Also, the very nature of targeted expertise makes them less sensitive to collateral consequences.  (Earning the pejorative, “Capitalist swine!”)

It seems to me some leavening humility might be in order, accommodating the “common sense” intuition of the ordinary person, and considering the worrisome “fallout” of their “solution-directed” expertise.

I am, however, no expert in this matter.

So I could easily be wrong.

Still, Dr. Strangelove.

Wasn’t that guy an expert?

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