The Revenge of the Laymen

A few years ago, there was a horrible crime committed in the city of Seattle, one that rocked the 24 hour news cycles to their foundation, meaning they replayed it endlessly and breathlessly for days, with talking heads railing about the injustice of it all.  What was this crime, you ask?  The officials at the end of a NFL game had botched a call that gave the game to the hometown Seattle Seahawks over the Green Bay Packers.  The deep meaning to this tragedy was the incompetence of the officials, who were replacements for the regular officiating crews, who were on strike at the time.  Commentators bewailed the incompetence of such “scabs” and demanded the return of real expert officiating.  I remember remarking to someone at the time that the professional football players who were complaining about the replacements had learned a valuable lesson about the sort of incompetence that non-millionaires have to deal with regularly, and hoped the strike would go on even longer.  Sadly, it did not.

Max Weber pointed out years ago in his lecture “Science as a Vocation” that modern societies’ knowledge was in principle open to everyone, but that in practice only experts actually possessed that knowledge.  Unlike primitive peoples, who knew all the simple tools and mechanisms by which their society operated, modern people are, by and large, dependent on The Expertise, as I like to call them–the doctors, lawyers, academics, scientists, educators, media consultants, bureaucrats, etc.–for its functioning.  There has been much discussion, with the election of Trump and Brexit, as to the distrust that many of the people who voted for them hold of The Expertise, and whether this is a good or a bad thing.  I mention this because there have been a rash of articles appearing recently in the media, decrying Donald Trump’s incompetence and general lack of knowledge about, well, most everything.

There are a great many dividing lines between peoples in the United States these days–between races, between the classes, between globalists and nationalists–but I would suggest there is another.  And no, I don’t mean that between the expert and the layman. Most people in our society, as Weber indicated, are laymen.  The distrust of The Expertise is not, I think, the result of a knee-jerk rejection of expertise as such.  Rather, I think it comes from knowing how inequitably the benefits of such expertise are distributed in our society.  The professionals whom working class people tend to distrust are precisely academics, lawyers, doctors, etc.–people who do possess real expertise upon which our society depends. Since Trump’s election, many have pointed this out.  But what many don’t seem to realize is that such expertise can be purchased by those who have wealth; those who don’t, have to deal with substandard legal representation, healthcare, and the like. This is something The Expertise only discovers when things go wrong, as in the NFL officials strike, but my guess is that working class people have to deal with this everyday, and that this, rather than any rejection of real expertise (which is hard to distinguish from the numerous counterfeits in our society, unless you are an expert yourself) is at the heart of the backlash against The Expertise.

This shouldn’t be surprising.  The failures of The Expertise in the past fifteen to twenty years have been very obvious ones–the numerous disastrous wars in which our government have involved us, the economic crisis which not only did they not predict but did little to remedy, as well as the failure to safeguard things like healthcare, and other benefits for that class of people who cannot easily afford access to such expertise. This is why I don’t think crying up Trump’s incompetence will get the media branch of The Expertise very far, at least not with the people who voted for him.  I imagine they look on his bungling as a fitting reward for those that have reaped the benefits of such expertise while denying it to them, all the while looking down their noses at the laymen who are in practice denied such benefits.  It probably won’t do them much good in the end–the media, the party elites, seemed to have learned very little from the results of the election, preferring to obsess over Trump’s personal failings rather than addressing the real problems that led to his election–but I doubt they will lose any sleep over people in the media and elsewhere getting a taste of the incompetence their fellow laymen are subject to on a daily basis.

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~ by Alypius on May 17, 2017.

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