We are told to trust the experts. They know what is right. They know what is best. We would all be better off if we would all just outsource our decision making and follow their advice, suggestions, and commands. Those who don’t obey the experts are the ones who are making things difficult for the rest of us. If only we could get rid of those pesky fools who won’t listen to the experts then all of our problems would be solved. After all, the experts know how to solve all our problems. They told us they do. Not only that: they’re experts! Surely we don’t want to go against the experts. They’re much smarter than we are. Wouldn’t it be so much simpler if we all just went along with the program?
Here at The Amateur Society we have no overarching gripe against experts generally as a category of people. When I needed reconstructive foot surgery as a child I went to an expert. The medical field provides us with any number of areas where expertise is fundamentally necessary. More broadly speaking, we are always reliant upon others who have more developed skills than we do in various areas. If you can guarantee that you are 100% self-reliant in all current and potential future scenarios, then drop me a line. I’d be thrilled to learn from your experience and abilities!
What I vigorously object to is what I call the cult of expertise.
In order to be a true expert in any given field you must dedicate your entire life to it. Not only do you have to learn the entire history of the field, but you must accumulate skills in any number of other related disciplines. This takes resources, time, and ability. If you aspire to be at the cutting edge of any field, then you must specialize in ways that are difficult to grasp. A true expert needs to know everything that there is to know about a particular topic. Because the amount of information that is required for such an achievement is astronomical and continuously increasing, a narrowing of focus is mandatory.
An expert scientist cannot know everything there is to know about all aspects of science. Only a momentary reflection is necessary for us to grasp this truism. There is simply too much information for one person to comprehend comprehensively. In the time you spend reading this article new scientific research is being performed and papers are being written that are not even finalized or universally accessible. The logistical hurdle alone is too much for anyone to overcome. One person could, conceivably, become a true expert in the narrowest of narrow sub-specialties in a field, but it would take constant effort to maintain such a status.
We are tragically cavalier with our use of the term expert. Anyone who has spent some time studying a subject, has a piece of paper with some letters on it, or has some experience seems to be automatically classified as an expert if they qualify with the ones who assign the label. Those who agree with a preferred ideology are deemed experts, and those who disagree – regardless of ability or experience – are deemed fools. This linguistic technique of influencing public opinion and perception should have died off long ago if only because it is boring and predictable. However, it is still employed because arbitrary labeling still proves to be monumentally effective.
I have three warnings about the cult of expertise:
Be wary of an expert stepping outside their field of expertise
Stephen Hawking is by all accounts the premier theoretical physicist of his generation. A few of his predictions have turned out to be wildly incorrect, but honestly that doesn’t bother me because science should be an investigative enterprise of hypotheses that are gradually and continuously tested and refined. Being wrong can actually be a positive step because it narrows down the range of valid alternatives. We’ll save the absolutely horrific current conception of what science is and what it does for another time.
In his book The Grand Design Hawking on the first page writes that “philosophy is dead” and then proceeds to talk about philosophy for most of the remainder of the text. He then makes an outrageously self-contradictory claim: “because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” This is a laughably tragic bit of philosophy from a scientist who just proclaimed that philosophy is dead. I’ll spare you the details of the fallacies in this statement. If you’re interested in the breakdown I’d recommend watching John Lennox address the subject.
My point is that even though Stephen Hawking is a world-renown expert in his field he is profound out of sorts when it comes to philosophy. At the very least that is what his published work suggests. Experts are no longer experts when they step out of their area of expertise. The term expert is not some blanket title that applies to someone when they speak on any topic. If it doesn’t apply in such a way to Stephen Hawking, then it certainly doesn’t apply to anyone with a postgraduate degree.
Be wary of anyone claiming to be an economic expert
Economics includes the sum total of all human actions. This means that to be an expert on economics you must be an expert on history, government, politics, human behavior, decision theory, probability, mathematics, statistics, randomness, choice, finance, complex institutions, language, quantum physics, culture, war, mechanics, currency, debt, derivatives, banking, mining, technology, weather, computer science, literature, astronomy, psychology, sociology, and any of the other literal millions of things that can go into the decisions that humans make.
The best an economist can do is look at history and find patterns. The worst they can do is make assumptions about what works based on computer models that don’t reflect reality and then screw everything up royally. See William Easterly’s The Tyranny of Experts for an accounting of how developmental economists cause poverty rather than alleviate it. Personally, I give anyone whose writings get them booted from the World Bank for being too contrarian a touch of extra initial credibility when I begin to assess their work.
So called expert economists also have a remarkable tendency to get things wrong and then ignore that they did. The stimulus didn’t work? We didn’t do enough of it! More debt isn’t leading to more growth like my model said? One of the assumptions must be off because as an expert my ideology must be correct!
I comment on the economy, have an undergraduate degree in economics, and have spent time at a bulge bracket bank and on an equities trading desk. I am not an expert. I have some experience and do the best I can with what God gives me despite me not deserving it. Watch out for anyone who pretends to understand how all of these things work. There are too many charlatans and ideologues to count, and they typically call themselves experts.
Be extremely wary of any individual or group of experts who promise to deliver utopia if you give them the keys
This is a snare that dates back through centuries of history and is now being prepared for global rollout. It goes by many names including transhumanism, futurism, directed evolution, social engineering, and globalism. I think the best general term to describe it is technocracy. See Patrick Wood’s book Technocracy Rising for a marvelously detailed exposition of the history and current status of the latest iteration of the false promise of utopia.
A utopia of experts is code for Neo-Feudalism. The oligarchy is already set up, and their desire is to create a divided society of the rulers and the ruled. This process has been advanced radically over several centuries and particularly in recent decades. It has always occupied a hushed undercurrent among elites, but now it is out in the open. The verbal promise of utopia is currently on the table from those who call themselves experts. It sounds amazing and most will be captivated by it: no more problems, no more pain, no more disease, no more death! It’s the oldest lie in the book. The reality of the technocratic utopia is the exact opposite. Whether the design is more akin to Brave New World or 1984 remains to be seen, but one thing is certain:
There is no room for freedom in the utopia of experts.
Stand up to the cult of expertise. There is no shame in distrusting experts when they step outside their highly specialized fields, claim to be able to predict the sum total of human behavior, or promise you heaven on earth if you will surrender everything to them. This understanding and attitude are becoming more important than ever at this very moment.
I am proud to be an amateur. Are you?