Measured Against Reality

Monday, April 19, 2010


One of the things I've been finding distressing lately is the general contempt Americans hold toward experts. You see this all the time in the media at large, most flagrantly when someone uses the word "elitist" in a derogatory sense. There are particular avenues where it's most pronounced, such as climate change and other controversial topics.

There seems to be this idea that all opinions are created equal. I'm not sure where it comes from, but if I were to hazard a guess it would be the idea that all people are created equal. From this it would follow that all our opinions and thoughts are equal, because we're all equals, right?

That's facile. We're not all equal. That statement is an ideal, not a fact. It should be blatantly obvious that we're not actually created equal. I had a much better chance of success (however defined) than someone born into a poor family. Demographics matter, far more than they should. But that's another topic.

Additionally it's a statement about rights. We are all equal in the eyes of the law (again, we're not actually, but that's another topic). It does not follow that our beliefs and opinions are all equal.

Why does this distress me? Because our national discourse suffers for it. When experts on health care say that our system needs these reforms and uninformed idiots prattle on about death panels it hurts us all. When experts on the financial system say we need to enact these regulations and uninformed idiots say the reforms will create bailouts in perpetuity it hurts us all. When experts on climate change say we need to enact policies to counter it and uninformed idiots prattle on about how warm it was last week it hurts us all. I could go on and on, picking topic after topic where there is widespread agreement among experts that something needs to be done (if not widespread agreement about exactly what) and the uninformed disagree based on nothing, nothing at all.

What really irks me about this, though, is how someone saying what I'm saying is generally viewed. I'm arrogant. I'm elitist. I'm condescending. This is exactly backwards. If you have spent your life studying a topic and someone who learned everything he knows about it from a 15-second segment on the local news comes up to you and starts lecturing you on it, who there is being arrogant? Who is being condescending? Believing you can formulate an opinion equivalent to someone who has spent a lifetime studying an issue, that is the height of arrogance.

But it doesn't matter. Because for some reason Americans think their opinion of health care is the same as John Cohn's, their opinion of financial reform is the same as Tim Geithner's, their opinion on climate change is the same as climate scientists. It is not. Learn some humility and admit that when it comes to topics you know nothing about your opinion means precisely as much as you know: nothing.


  • Thanks for the Teflon post of 2006. I'm living with a lady who studied Eng Lit and German, was educated at Smith, and has a MSW, but who clearly absorbed nothing from any science class, if she ever took any.

    I also enjoyed your most recent post about opinions not being all equal. Among other things, she abhors microwave ovens; so I wonder if you could write something on that subject. She says she "doesn't approve" of them. When I asked why, all she could say was "Because I don't like them, and never have."

    I wanted to say "Well, thanks for clearing that up, then," but decided, for the nonce, that discretion was the better part of valor.

    By Blogger Trinovante39, at 2:36 AM, May 22, 2010  

  • A person can study something all their life, be a genuine expert, and still be agenda-driven. If a person channels their life study into policy that attempts to achieve "social justice" (for example) then anybody who reads that policy is qualified to comment on it - if the new health care bill creates "death panels" then somebody needs to point it out, you certainly won't hear anything negative on it from the dinosaur media.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:18 PM, August 01, 2010  

  • She says she "doesn't approve" of them. When I asked why, all she could say.

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    By Blogger James, at 8:17 AM, January 08, 2012  

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