Some years ago I used to comment on a particular blog – I eventually stopped because the owner of the blog got mad at a comment I made and put me on a sort of suspension…which I wasn’t about to put up with, so I just stopped going there. The issue at hand was that in a discussion of the French Revolution, I had pointed out that a great deal of what brought it about was not so much a desire for liberté, égalité, fraternité but, instead, a desire on the part of French bankers to get repaid for loans they had made to the government. Trouble was, the government really didn’t have the money to repay…but sitting just over there, helping to prop up the overall government and social system of France, was the French Catholic Church, owning at least 10% of all wealth in France. Too big a target to pass up – but getting that money required a major change in how France was governed.
To be sure, there were a lot of things needing deep reform in French government – and this was readily conceded by just about everyone from the King on down…and so the calling of the états généraux precisely to get reform done. But the King felt he could not alter the fundamental structure of French society – which included the French Church being largely outside the control of the government and continuing to possess it’s wealth and property. In the end, no one was going to go to the barricades under a slogan to despoil the Church so that the bankers could get repaid – and, so, liberté, égalité, fraternité. All quickly hijacked by people like Robespierre who did have definite ideas of what they wanted – even if a lot of people had to be killed to get there. As it was, the people of France didn’t really want that, either…but they got both (despoiled Church and guillotines); mostly because someone who wasn’t The People (experts, as it were) decided it should be so. At all events, by speaking the apparent heresy that it wasn’t, perhaps, just a spontaneous revolt of the people, I got into trouble. I had, it would seem, questioned the wisdom of experts on the matter. I don’t know what makes a person an expert on the French Revolution – after all, the only thing we can do is read about it and then decide for ourselves what it all meant. I had read about it for a long, long time from a wide variety of sources and it just suddenly struck me one day that in addition to helping to finance the Parisian mobs, the bankers were quick to get the National Assembly to nationalize Church property and pass the cash along to the bankers.
I bring this up because over the course of this year I’ve been hearing again and again that the problem with the Trumpsters is that they simply don’t know what they are talking about. They don’t realize that easy immigration and free trade are good for America. They don’t realize that their little communities are doomed and so they’ll just have to suck it up, move away and find something else to do. They don’t realize, most importantly, that those who have expertise simply know better and thus they should just accept leadership from the experts. I’d like to point out at this juncture that the experts have one thing in common pretty much across all human societies – they are almost invariably wrong when they step outside their area of expertise.
No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require to have their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of common sense. – Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquess Salisbury, Prime Minister of Great Britain
Experts do have their place. When I want a tooth out, I go to a dentist – an expert in removing teeth. When I want the sink fixed, I go to a plumber – an expert in plumbing. If I want a war fought, I go to a general – an expert in moving men and material around. If I want to decide whether or not I should go to the dentist, get a plumber or fight a war, then I go to myself. I think it over and make the decision that appears best to me. I’d no more allow someone to decide for me how I should view such matters than I’d allow someone to decide for me if I should get married.
The trouble with our experts is that they presume their expertise in a narrow field means they have a general expertise applying to all facets of human life. A really good example is Noam Chomsky, winner of the Nobel Prize in Linguistics. Clearly a brilliant man (though some of his ideas have come into question of late). If I wanted some advice on linguistics, I’d be at the man’s feet, waiting for his wisdom. But Chomsky doesn’t seem to do much in linguistics of late – but he does seem to spend a great deal of time commenting on every subject under the sun. That, itself, wouldn’t be a bad thing, but we are told we are to hold his views on non-linguistic matters in awe because he’s a brilliant linguist. Sorry, ain’t happening. At least not as far as I’m concerned. His views on foreign policy are no better than mine – Nobel Prize notwithstanding. If he says something on that subject, I’ll listen to it and give it as much consideration as any other view…and if it doesn’t fit in with what I believe to be correct, I’ll discard his views.
And here’s the kicker – you really can’t get expertise on things which are not of some sort of mechanic art. Once again, we know a good dentist because the actions of his dentistry have good results. No matter how many degrees a person has in economics, foreign policy, etc. we can’t be sure that the person has got it right – even if it appears right for a while, later events still might falsify his views and actions. You can’t falsify the fact that after the drilling and filling my cavity is cured. Well educated, brave, dedicated and experienced commanders still managed to allow the Battle of the Bulge to happen. Because even being an expert soldier is not the same as being an expert dentist. It isn’t purely mechanical – it is something subject to an unlimited number of variables which cannot all be foreseen even in the best of circumstances. To flat out assert to me, for instance, that free trade is always a good thing is to assert impossible knowledge – you can’t possibly know all the variables involved and thus while these three free trade deals worked out just fine, the fourth one might be an utter disaster.
Other than mechanic arts, each thing has to be taken or rejected on it’s apparent merits or demerits. And in deciding if it’s good or bad, the yokel in a barbecue joint in Akron might be right while the professor in the Ivy League is wrong. The only difference is that, hopefully, the professor has some additional knowledge to provide which might help the yokel make a better decision…but the yokel must be consulted and must participate in the decision-making process. To exclude him on the grounds that he lacks specialized knowledge is to pretty much ensure that the wrong decisions will be made – because the decision will be made without that “very large admixture of common sense”. At the end of the day, additionally, it is better to go with the yokel’s views than the expert’s because yokel has at least a shot at understanding how the decision might effect him and those like him…the common run of humanity who ultimately pay all the bills – in blood and treasure – for a nation’s decisions. This is especially true as the professor, in his rarefied atmosphere, might have got his head stuffed with a lot of nonsense…for instance, he might have a Marxist view of things, and this would pretty much ensure that anything he believes is at 180 degrees variance from reality (how a guy who never worked a day in his life gets to be the arbiter of what working people want is just beyond my understanding).
The revolt of the Trumpsters – and the revolt of the BLMers – is not a revolt of the stupid against the smart, but of common sense against nonsense. It is people who, while inarticulate and uninformed on many matters (and thus getting some things wrong), yet understand that what is happening to them in their daily lives just isn’t right. To try and tell them that things will get right if they just shut up and do as they’re told is probably not going to move them. In fact, it will probably just make them more angry.
We do live in an age of experts – set up that way by experts. It all started, really, back during the Woodrow Wilson Administration but didn’t get set in stone until FDR…when the government proposed to manage the economy for the benefit of all. Experts would do it – people who had gone to college and got degrees in economics and such would take over and make sure things worked. That they failed utterly didn’t seem to dismay them, at all. They lucked out – World War Two happened and then the post-WWII population boom, which allowed for a massive increase in global wealth which made it appear that the experts were on to something. Vietnam started to disabuse people of this notion – that was the experts war from start to finish. They were going to manage that war so that we’d get victory quickly and on the cheap and without having to disturb people in their daily lives here at home. It didn’t work out that way and the first doubts among regular folks appeared…but so embedded in power were the experts that they’ve managed to keep it going, now apparently joined even by some on the right who also got college degrees and a growing mistrust of the people.
It is a mistrust I don’t share. I don’t dislike the unwashed masses. Even when I hear what are massively mis-informed views being expressed, I’m not dismayed. The Trumpsters and the BLMers get some things very wrong. I don’t think the way to deal with this is to read them out of the community of people. They are our people, folks – our fellow Americans. And they have a right to speak their minds, and we have a responsibility to listen to them. And I think by listening to them we might find that we, ourselves, are corrected. This nation is in a gigantic mess – it took us more than 100 years to get into this mess and all of us bear some responsibility for making the mess. It will take the efforts of all of us to get us out of the mess…and anyone who is absolutely dismissive of others simply won’t be able to participate. Even the most obtuse – whether a Marxist professor or a pub-patriot – must be allowed to participate. It is the only way we can do this. But one very necessary step will be for the “experts” to climb off their high horse and start listening…once a bit of listening has gone on, then there will be a better ability to explain to those who do know less, and perhaps do need some guidance to the correct path.