The Reign of Experts


Are you an expert? They seem to be everywhere nowadays.

You can’t turn on the telly or read the news without an ‘expert’ passing their judgement on something. ‘Humanity to be extinct by tea-time next Wednesday,’ will claim one, ‘unless garden hosepipe ban immediately introduced.’

Invariably, a COBRA meeting will follow this pronouncement, with Generalissimo Johnson appearing before the nation looking like he just rolled out of bed after a three-day-long bender, puffing out some announcement on some previously scarcely considered but now utterly urgent measure. 

They’re everywhere, these experts. They like to stand before Powerpoint slides, face plastered with grimacing concern. There is little they want more than to tell everyone what to do. Politicians – who are certainly not experts – dare not oppose. Increasingly, this unelected, unaccountable and generally unlikeable bunch are the ones actually in power.

You see, they’re experts after all. They know about the problem of eating too much beef, drinking too much wine, smoking too many fags, engaging in the crime of ‘unnecessary socialising’ and so much more.

They have been accredited by the finest institutions in the land. An MSc from a mid-ranking university followed by a well-placed internship. Making friends with the right crew too can help: an appointment to a quango here or there courtesy of some second rate politician the golden ticket. A six-figure salary, an armoured plated pension, massive power and no responsibility.

It doesn’t matter much that they are rarely right. Ferguson with his quintillions of Covid cases. Every claim about the ice caps melting and penguins roasting. New predictions replace the failed old, and in an age of hysteria – hypercharged by modern mass communication – we’ve already forgotten that we should all have died a week ago last Tuesday.

Far too often these experts are shown to be useless. Having been so highly trained in one sphere, they seem to miss everything obvious to us mere mortals. A monomania of the mind takes hold, rendering them a societal liability, not saviours of the modern age.

For, to be a rounded person, one must have wide knowledge and interests. Mental fitness is like physical: if you were just to train one calf muscle to the exclusion of the rest of your physique, you may indeed be an ‘expert’ in one-footed calf-raises, but you’d be useless for everything else. Certainly, nobody would seek your advice on fitness.

And so, being promoted to positions of authority based on this mental monomania, it is scarcely a surprise when they judge the world purely through their particular prism. The head of an anti-smoking organisation (an expert, no less) will demand more legislation against smoking. A public health expert will measure life purely on its length: the deleterious impact of their demands on the soul are not a quantifiable outcome of their chosen obsession. An environmental ‘expert’ will scarcely give a hoot about people unable to heat their homes, so long as their ‘carbon footprint’ is filed down a millimetre or two.

Yet, it is under this framework that we are increasingly governed. Terrified to second-guess the ‘experts’, politicians cave into their demands, safe in the knowledge that the phrase ‘we are following the science’ can get them out of any tight corners. The Science – as it is properly rendered – is now the false god squared at the centre of any debate. Morality as we once knew it has gone the way of the Dodo and of Betamax.

For politicians must make moral decisions. Ducking forever behind the personalityless husks pontificating about their particular area of expertise, our elected representatives cede all responsibility, all difficulty, to them. To a class of politicians largely composed of those bereft of ideals and with the sole concern of maintaining the initials ‘MP’ after their surname, it is the perfect get-out. But it raises the question: if politicians are unable, or more accurately, unwilling to make these decisions, what is the point of them?

We are often lectured to about our ‘democracy’. It is increasingly the case, however, that we live under a technocracy, where real power is wielded by ‘experts’, both of the self-proclaimed and accredited variety.

It might not be so bad if they were competent. Heaven knows there are enough illustrations of their failings. Let us take one, key example: the so-called ‘lab-leak theory’.

To the ordinary intellect, a high-level virology centre focused on researching bat-borne coronaviruses being the distance of a few pangolin tails’ away from a major outbreak of a novel coronavirus might raise a few questions.

But naturally we are not experts. They told us such notions were a ‘conspiracy theory’. Greater minds than ours had already decided on day one, with the help of the Chinese Communist Party, that Covid-19’s origins lay firmly outside the laboratory. Nothing to see here, move along.

Yet as time has gone by, the ‘expert’ class is slowly coming round to the idea that perhaps Occam’s razor applies here: usually the most simple explanation is the right one. Only almost two years behind everyone else on one of the most important questions of our age.

If that is the level of their expertise, being exposed to their incompetencies is a terror-inducing prospect.

With the collapse of religion, experts have taken the role of the priests. Actual religious representatives – of the Anglican variety, at least – serve only to echo and reinforce their pronouncements, as we saw by the miserable decisions taken by our national church during the pandemic.

Lacking their guidance, perhaps I, a resolute non-expert in matters theological, can offer a quick prayer instead: Lord, save us from the absolute certainties of these so-called ‘experts’. Let us live in the freedom bestowed by the ambiguities of the amateur.

The author is on Twitter @FredEdwardUK