If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Monday 21 January 2013
Read gnomica 1-250 here!
If the world should blow itself up,
the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it can’t be done.
Peter Ustinov (16 Apr 1921 – 28 May 2004)
On the basis of this statement I would guess that this very fine actor is not unconditionally enamored of that common public figure, the ‘expert in her field’. Nor, for that matter, am I.
It strikes me as an inappropriate enough form of self-adulation to designate oneself as an expert available for filler in today’s evening news filler, and even more so to acquiesce in being so designated by some beauty queen who then proceeds to the scripted interview with you about ‘your area of expertise’.
It is as though only ‘the expert’ (preferably one with a Ph.D. – and a richly modulated accent inculcated and trained on the playing fields of Eton and throughout the hallowed halls of Oxbridge doesn’t exactly hurt, either) is today capable of bestowing the final validation on whatever topic the news program’s entertainment division has elected to feature.
What has always interested me – and still does — about these histrionic riffs to which we television watchers and newspaper readers have all become so accustomed is the follow-up: when the prediction proves wrong or the advice offered is shown (by ‘further research’, of course) to be in error, the expert in question might well have been given an opportunity to explain how the former interviewer ‘misunderstood my earlier point’ – but it is a very rare occasion indeed when that same expert is in fact rolled out before the audience and queried about the nature of his failed expertise and the reasons for the defective projections to which it gave rise. Instead, new ‘experts’ are found, and a fresh expertise is enlisted in corrective back-pedaling.
I say all of this not from a high mountain top of certitude about all things nor with the dripping cynicism that may appear to coat my commentary, but simply as a point of what I see as the confluence of ancient and modern.
The desire to know the future is not a wish novel to us moderns. It is probably older than time – and certainly at least as old as the ancient Greeks and Romans. We all want some ‘authority’ to turn to in the hope of making some kind of sense – any kind of sense – not only of what was and is but especially of what will be.
We have our ‘hard’ scientists with their Ph.D.s in chemistry, physics, and meteorology , and we have our ‘soft’ scientists with their Ph.D.s in sociology, education, family studies. The ancients had their haruspical inspectors doing liver-lobe readings; their experts in ornithomancy interpeting on the basis of avian flight patterns what was, is and will be; and their Delphic pythia cranked up on ethylene, plugged into Apollo at the oracle and hallucinating about the god’s certainties vouchsafed to her concerning events past, present and future.
Color me scornful skeptic if you must, but as for the kinds of ‘experts’ and ‘expertise’ I’m talking about here, I’m not sure but that the ancients weren’t one or two up on us moderns. A possible illustration of this proposition comes from the ‘expert’-saturated field of economics, as reported recently (Monday 7 January) by ‘expert’ economist Paul Krugman about ‘expert’ economists and their many ‘expert’ disagreements about economics with other ‘expert’ economists (be sure to take a selective swim through the massive inundation of ‘comments’).
It seems not unfitting, then, humbly to close my open-ended and non-‘expert’ diatribe by concluding with a most amusing line from the Krugman article about a paper written by two ‘experts’ associated with the ‘expert’-economists-clotted International Monetary Fund and apparently understood by other ‘experts’ in economics as “… an admission from the I.M.F. that it doesn’t know what its’ doing.”
Quick, before the market opens tomorrow — how do I get to Delphi?