If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Monday 17 September 2012
Read gnomica 1-100 here!
We have not overthrown the divine right of kings
to fall down for the divine right of experts.
Harold MacMillan (10 Feb 1894 – 29 Dec 1986)
Here is a statement that thrills me for its pithy articulation of a long-held shibboleth of my own. This stalwart Prime Minister (10 Jan 1957 – 18 Oct 1963) of England during an era of continuing British decompression from its loss of that sprawling commanding nineteenth-century empire on which (in a foolish phrase traceable to Xerxes’ grandiloquent claim before the Persian invasions of Greece in 480 BCE [note 1 below]) the sun never set sorts it all out spot on, as they say. Well, it certainly never worked out too well for the hybristic Xerxes, nor, in the long run, did it work out for the British entirely to their liking. Fact is … empires come, empires go … as the Egyptians too learned before the Persians and the Romans after them.
Is there a lesson lurking in there?
But back to the experts.
It’s long been a feeling of mine that we rely far too much on credentials and experts, and it’s definitely not that I don’t want my doctor, lawyer and car mechanic to be an expert and appropriately credentialed, but the term ‘expert’ has undergone such vast semantic inflation … I mean even ‘experts’ in court theater directly contradict each other, and that’s a dog that just won’t hunt!
What is an expert in something as wooly and subjectively driven as ‘educational theory’? nutritional ‘science’? fiscal policy? investment advice? foreign affairs? Just to zero in on one: I can recall being told in grade school that for breakfast I should have a glass of whole milk, toast and butter, bacon, fried eggs … . Then came the dire warnings about cholesterol. Then it turned out that certain kinds of cholesterol actually were OK and eggs were de-demonized. What will tomorrow’s experts suggest?
Why did Camel cigarettes spend big bucks on those old full-page ads wherein doctors commented on how good their T-Zones felt after puffing away?
How many folks lost a ton of money listening to ‘expert’ advice their brokers got good loot for giving them in the late nineties about buying stocks? or investing in California and Florida real estate just a few years back?
Another few years back still, on the occasion of one of those periodic outbreaks we have come to accept of vengeful nature attacking some vegetable crop or other that all the ‘experts’ were going on about figuring out a solution to, I actually put my artistic skills — such as they are — to work doing an editorial cartoon piece that, while perhaps not entirely fair and admittedly a bit visually hyperbolic, did capture something of my distress about everything coming under the relentless purview of the ‘experts’ while it all goes to hell right around them — here!
Well, gee, that was quite a ride … Xerxes, cigarettes, Herodotus, breakfasts, Macmillan, experts, cartoon …
Even if you don’t agree you gotta agree I keep it kinda hummin’!
Herodotus (~ 484 – 425 BCE) Histories 7.8
οὐ γὰρ δὴ χώρην γε οὐδεμίαν κατόψεται ἥλιος ὁμουρέουσαν τῇ ἡμετέρῃ, ἀλλὰ σφέας πάσας ἐγὼ ἅμα ὑμῖν μιαν χώρην θήσω. For the sun will look down on no territory that borders ours, but I will make them all into one territory united to us.