Expert Fools

The voting public has been chastised for being unappreciative of the good the expert elites of the ruling class have done to them. The experts are expert in all things except realizing that they are not experts.

Perhaps by accident, Joe Klein, "TIME's political columnist and author of six books," made an interesting comment:

There is something profoundly diseased about a society that idolizes its ignoramuses and disdains its experts. It is a society that no longer takes itself seriously.

He made this statement in response to a posting regarding Christine O'Donnell in her Senate debate with Chris Coons.

Joe had the following to say about Ms. O'Donnell:

She is attractive, to some, because she doesn't know anything ... There is no way she could ever be confused with a member of the elites; there is no way she could be confused with an above average high school student. Her ignorance, therefore, makes her authentic -- the holy grail of latter-day American politics: she's a real person, not like those phony politicians ... (italics in the original)

Though beyond the scope of this essay, there could be some interesting stuff derived from exploring Joe's notions that

"elites" are the ones who know something,

"ignorance" is the condition of a "real person,"

 "ignorance ... makes [one] authentic," and

that it takes an "above average high school student" to be better than "not know[ing] anything" and devoid of "ignorance" (italics added).

In any event, Joe's tacit assumption is that idolized ignoramuses and experts are two separate groups.

This is debatable.

An "ignoramus" is "an ignorant person."

"Ignorant" is defined as "uneducated in the fundamentals of a given art or branch of learning; lacking knowledge of a specific field."

An "expert" is "a person with special knowledge or ability who performs skillfully."

At one level of analysis, an empirical argument can be made that the majority of politicians are anything but expert. The simple observation "look at where we are as a country" leads to the obvious conclusion: "Clearly the folks running it are not performing skillfully." QED.

(A similar analysis can be applied to state and local governments.)

However, more specific examples offer to strengthen the possibility that we have made experts out of our ignoramuses, in politics and other domains.

1. Barack Hussein Obama was elected POTUS in 2008. Presumably, the majority of voters believed him to be the most expert of the candidates running for that office.

There are reasons to conclude that BHO is "uneducated in the fundamentals of a given art or branch of learning." Or, should one choose to define "educated" as merely having been presented with material, then certainly he did not learn "the fundamentals of a given art or branch of learning" where he claims expertise.

As some examples of one area where he appears "uneducated in the fundamentals of a given art or branch of learning":

BHO stated, "I was a constitutional law professor[.]"

This "law professor" was actually a senior lecturer. A senior lecturer is different from a law professor.

This self-proclaimed "constitutional law professor" is ignorant of the language of the Declaration of Independence. The official White House transcript of the "Remarks by the President at a DCCC/DSCC Dinner," given September 22, contains these words: "if we stay true to our values, if we believe that all people are created equal and everybody is endowed with certain inalienable rights ... [italics added]"

The Declaration of Independence reads, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights ... [italics added]."

(Yes, the Declaration of Independence is not the Constitution. Still, it is not beyond the pale to expect an awareness of the Declaration and its content from a "constitutional law professor.")

Nor did the "law professor" know that the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission would not "open the floodgates for special interests -- including foreign corporations -- to spend without limit in our elections."

BHO's failure to learn despite being provided education is a recurring theme. It makes difficult the argument that he is educated "in the fundamentals of [his chosen] art or branch of learning."

And this is the area in which he should reasonably be strongest.

Of note, ignorance is a family affair.

2. Regarding the experts in Congress, some of whom appear to be on the chopping block by cleaver-wielding, diseased members of society, George Will, in a piece from October 27, quoted this excerpt from a political ad:

There are 100 members of the U.S. Senate. Fifty-seven of them...are lawyers. That'd be fine if we had a lawsuit to settle, but we have an economy to fix. There are zero manufacturers and one accountant.

As an expert is one "with special knowledge or ability who performs skillfully," the observation speaks against the majority of Senators possessing the necessary special knowledge or ability to claim expert status outside schooling in the law. (See 1, above, for the distinction between schooling and knowledge.)

3. Regina Benjamin is the Surgeon General of the United States. The Surgeon General is "appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate" and "is the federal government's principal spokesperson on matters of public health."

According to the definition she accepts and publishes, she is a health illiterate: "Health literacy is the ability of an individual to access, understand, and use health-related information and services to make appropriate health decisions."

Benjamin states that overweight/obesity is incompatible with health, yet she admits that she is fat.

An expert who is illiterate in her field (an oxymoron) should be an oddity. In some administrations, all bets are off.

That a health illiterate was appointed Surgeon General by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate is addressed in 1 and 2 above. Briefly, that is more the work of ignoramuses idolized to power than true experts.

4. Celebrities seem to be a fertile group for producing ignoramuses idolized into experts.

For example, Oprah Winfrey is fat, yet she anoints weight loss experts who have never succeeded on her behalf, except to line her pockets, apparently.

The political opinions of the performers Lady Gaga, Shakira, and Kanye West, to mention a few, are newsworthy, despite no foundation being presented by the media for their expertise. Credentials are clearly no guarantee of expertise (see 1, 2, and 3 above). However, it is more likely that someone with relevant credentials would have expertise than someone without.

And perhaps herein lies one real definition of an "expert" in today's world.

An expert is frequently one whom the media put out there as an expert.

Being right, skilled, smart, learned, lettered, sound of mind and body, etc. are not necessarily necessary qualities -- and may actually function as drawbacks.

To wit, Joe Klein.

The above suggests that the Venn diagram representing Mr. Klein's experts and idolized ignoramuses has more overlap than he might believe.

An exploration of this topic was undertaken some years ago by Christopher Cerf and Victor S. Navasky in their work, The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation (Pantheon; 1st edition [August 12, 1984]).

Used copies are available for as little as $0.01 (plus shipping -- prices may change).

Mr. Klein might find it a worthy read when making more of his expert thoughts while sitting in the loo.

Joe's comments were regarding the upcoming midterm election.

If there is an attempt at real change in the nation's politics, perhaps a more accurate comment in serenade to the electorate would be:

There is something profoundly healthy about a society that disdains the idolized ignoramuses it made into experts. It is a society beginning to take itself seriously.

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." - H. L. Mencken

Michael Applebaum is a physician and attorney practicing in Chicago. He has earned seven fitness certifications. His medical work comprises his diagnostic ultrasound practice and The Anabolic Clinic sm, which he founded. He is president of FitnessMed, Inc., a fitness consulting firm offering services to individuals and businesses.