Monday, January 06, 2020

Jacob Sullum: "Who Poses A Greater Threat To Peace: An Impetuous President Or 'Experienced Advisors' Who Are Disastrously Wrong?"

Well, the answer's pretty obvious when you phrase it that way...but that's not the real question. The real question is more like: which poses a greater risk, an impetuous president or advisors with terrible track records?
   I'm seeing everything through the lens of the death of expertise these days. It sure does seem that the intelligence community and the foreign-policy establishment have been pretty terrible during my lifetime.
   I don't think that going into Afghanistan was a mistake. I think that refusing to commit the resources required to get OBL immediately was the mistake. And that mistake was allegedly Iraq-related. Everything about our response to 9/11 was a gigantic screw-up, so far as I can tell. Maybe staying in after we screwed the pooch at Tora Bora was a mistake. But damn, who could consign those people to the tender mercies of the Taliban?
   Older and, perhaps, wiser now, I'm tempted by a thought I rejected on principle in my youth: maybe/probably not every group of people is well-suited to democracy. A conservative friend of mine says: the real mistake was not re-instituting the monarchy.
   Anyway, thing about unchecked (which is the best term I can think of right now) expertise is: it may well be worse than nothing. Untested or even untestable or even disconfirmed ideas take hold among a community, and wreak havoc where individuals left to common sense and their own devices are likely to have done ok. Think about: education. The crackpot ideas that seem to govern ed schools and the primary and secondary education establishment. There seems to be a weird tendency there to produce and follow theories--even though the theories they produce are pretty nutty. Add PC/leftist crackpottery to that, and you get what seems to be a disaster. When I heard that Betsy DeVos had no experience with ed schools and education theory I thought Oh thank God. Progressives shrieked, of course, but I'm inclined to think that education policy is one of these areas in which the "experts" basically have negative expertise; you're better off without whatever it is they have.
   Maybe hubris is unavoidable with expertise. Study something long and diligently enough and you can't help but think you know more than you do, and can't help making judgments where you should suspend judgment instead. I dunno.
   Or maybe the structure of professionalism selects for over-extension. Truly modest, truly thoughtful people are often filtered out. Maybe we select for flash and hubris.
   I dunno, man. Somebody like me shouldn't have to try to puzzle this out.
   Surely someone, somewhere has some good thoughts on this.


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