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The cult of the expert

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posted on May, 1 2012 @ 09:50 PM
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

-Robert A. Heinlein

Like many of you, I'm a proud generalist, and a self-taught one (for the most part) to boot. And I'm not afraid to admit it. I've always admired the Heinlein quote above, and sought to embody it in my own crazy-quilt life, built on the basis of a rough compromise negotiated between the demands of survival and the joy of following my own abundant curiosity wherever it may lead, and let consequences take care of themselves.

Along with this attiude comes a corresponding mistrust of specialists, and "experts," and its good to hear my sentiments on the topic echoed eloquently in the below article, which I recommend to ATS today:

The cult of the Expert

...For in today’s world of hyper-specialization, we have a never ending supply of experts always streaming across our television screens and popping up on the internet, ready and willing to tell us something that we desperately need to know but that we don’t know because we lack the training and intelligence and bottom-of-the-screen label that this particular expert does. In a world, after all, in which specialization reigns supreme, it only makes sense that we have an expert for every conceivable situation—and that we rarely have more than one expert for any particular situation. By embracing the idea of specialization, defining the industrial economy as the greatest economy that has ever existed or will ever exist, and celebrating every new fragmentation of our lives as a matter of great progress, we’ve created the necessity for this multitude of experts. By proclaiming that the height of human ability is to be trained in one very specific task and to be the sole person capable of performing that task—or to be the very best at that task, even if other people fumble through their own inadequate attempts at said task—then we condemn ourselves to, at best, being extremely good at one or two things and very bad at everything else. Or, if not very bad, then at least inadequate—unable to stake our claim to that task with the sort of legitimacy that a real expert would....

For the self-taught to complain about the dominance of experts and specialists carries with it the whiff of sour grapes, and yet there are valid reasons to be skeptical of not just particular experts themselves, but what "expert-ization" does to society. As the article points out, the rise of specialists is necessary for the industrialized economy we find ourselves in, but it carries with it a corresponding loss of satisfaction on a psychological level, as well as a loss of the robust skill-set of the household economy that characterizes both traditional societies everywhere and the skills needed for survival in the darker world most of us on ATS know is coming.

There are other points for discussion in the article as well, such as the difference between a world of experts and one of artesans: In the former world, for example we all eat the same type of cheese, created for us on a mass scale by cheese experts, while in the latter, we get wonderful variety and local flavor. Food for thought indeed.
edit on 5/1/2012 by silent thunder because: (no reason given)


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