Thursday, January 02, 2020

InstaGlenn: The Suicide of Expertise

This is just an op-ed, obviously. But I think it's an important point--and something the conservative hive mind gets righter than the progressive (or the liberal) one. That's to say: I, at least, am now inclined to think that the basically conservative skepticism about experts and alleged expertise is at least as right as the basically (liberal or) progressive credulity about them. It's weird because, back in the day, "question authority" was a battle-cry of the left... It's certainly not very representative of current attitudes on the left. Of course the main target was what you could, I guess, call power authority rather than expertise authority...or so I understood it.
   My guess as to why conservatives are now more antiauthoritarian on the expertise front is: expertise relevant to political and policy questions leans left. Liberalism and progressivism tend to colonize sciences and scholarly disciplines, in particular where they intersect with politics. That's what's happened with psychology, medicine and climatology, for example. (Though a friend of mine has argued to me that the left has mostly taken over science communication. That could be, too--but it isn't inconsistent with my claim.) Philosophy, if that counts, has tripped all over itself racing leftward. There is, for example, no real debate about transgenderism in philosophy, despite the fact that it's basically a philosophical question. What we have is: a lot of screeching leftists screeching and committing character assassination against anyone with the temerity to call bullshit on their very, very bullshit arguments...which means, basically: Kathleen Stock.

   So anyhoo: politics-and-policy-relevant expertise tends to lean left. Not because the left is more scholarly or scientific, but because politics-and-policy-relevant scholarship and science tend to be infiltrated and colonized by the left. Which then bends them to its will. And this is, of course, easier the less objective a discipline is. Natural science resists because it has, well, standards. The can do just about anything you want with those...and so the left has made them its catspaw. Social "science" is somewhere in between (with econ being a laudable, somewhat-more-science-like holdout).
   I expect that this is part of why progressivism has lost its mind. Conservatives constantly have to defend themselves--basically against the whole rest of the culture. Progressivism controls everything, so progressives basically only hear their own side of the argument. Their view is constantly reinforced everywhere they turn. They bathe in groupthink. Of course conservatives can try to lock themselves up in groupthink--but I doubt it'd be easy. You can't do it if you want to go to college. Or read newspapers. Or watch television, including the news. Or go to the movies. Or read contemporary novels. Or listen to popular music. This constant reinforcement has pushed the left leftward and shut it off from meaningful contact with its critics. Empirical evidence seems to offer support for this hypothesis, showing that conservatives understand leftists' positions and arguments, but leftists don't understand conservatives'.
   The expertise stuff hit peak absurdity a few years ago when I started seeing women's studies professors and feminist philosophers cited as "experts" on gender...which...the mind reels. There may be no group of people on earth who understand less about gender than women's studies professors.*  In fact, I doubt you find much genuine expertise in the humanities beyond the kind of literary-historical expertise that can report on who said what when. Women's studies professors, for example, might be able to tell you what Judith Butler said about gender. But they can't claim any expertise about gender its ownself. Though that doesn't stop them... (And this problem isn't just political: I know a lot about epistemology but probably little or nothing about knowledge.) A sociologist can tell you what other sociologists think about "the patriarchy" or "white privilege" or "systemic racism"...but probably doesn't have much actual knowledge of any of them. Well, for one thing, they're all fictional... But anyway: those areas of academia are all so politicized that what they've got is more on the side of what we'd normally call opinion. These sorts of academicians are leftists who went and got a Ph.D. in a subject that would let them opine about things they were already opining on and pretend it was knowledge. They're not experts who obtained knowledge that happens to accord with leftist positions.
   Righties understand that stuff much more clearly than lefties do because virtually everything such "experts" say is fishy as hell by righties' lights. Lefties are at a comparative disadvantage in this respect, since they don't get such constant reminders that something is rotten in Cambridge. (Conservatives may not deserve any more epistemic credit than leftists here; it may just be that they happen to have a handier set of biases than leftists do.)
    As for the climate stuff--conservatives have long said that international climate agreements are largely stalking-horses to increase the power of the U.N., "re"distribute money from bad, rich countries to good, poor ones, and generally effect leftist ends. I used to scoff at that idea, but now I'm fairly certain that that's largely what's going on. I have two main reasons for that. The first is that I now doubt climate-hysteria. And, when a theory seems poorly-supported or false, we typically look around for non-epistemic explanations of why it's held. The second is that Green New Deal insanity has basically recapitulated the process that conservatives think they've been tracking on the international scene: it's very obviously a blueprint for leftist reengineering of society and government...with some hysterical climate policies included in the mix. This is clear to anyone who's read even part of the thing--if you've read it and didn't recognize that, you ought to be worried. You've probably lost your objectivity. But also: the authors of the GND have admitted that's what it is. At any rate: this is another case in which the experts are at least represented as being on the side of the left--and few object to that. And yet what they're represented as believing is extremely implausible. Furthermore, in this case, we're told that there is near-unanimity about the relevant conclusions. Furtherfurthermore, we are assured that "the science is settled." If this foolishness doesn't shake you out of your dogmatic slumbers, what will? In twenty years when the story has changed, will that do the trick?
   Anyway. My hypothesis: conservatives are more right than the left about this stuff. The left is benighted largely because it has achieved its goal of colonizing the loci of expertise. The alleged experts are now generally biased in favor of progressivism. So they tend to err to the left. And the contemporary left brooks no dissent--so that exacerbates the problem. So now we get a big, fat, multi-nodal feedback loop. Leftist politics influence the experts, the experts issue left-friendly opinions, and the left says "See? The experts agree with us!" Added bonus: the left also gets to say "See? We're the party of science!" But this, of course, has all the advantages of theft over honest toil. And though it has undoubted political benefits, these come at an epistemic cost. Progressives start believing their own bullshit. They have their own prejudices amplified back to them. It's a blueprint for at least temporary political success...but it's also a blueprint for getting dogmatically locked into near culture-wide groupthink. (I'll bet conservatives faced this same sort of situation back in the day...)

* IMO old-school feminism did know some things about sex and gender and suchlike...but as feminism radicalized, it gradually abandoned its reasonable but not-terribly-exciting insights in favor of flashy, radical ideas that are generally nuts. There are still a few feminist philosophers around who do know some things, IMO--e.g. Susan Haack, Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, Kathleen Stock.


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