The Science of Expertology
All the experts agree: Global warming is really happening, and man is to blame. Only more powerful government (and less personal freedom) can save us. Slam dunk.
Observe that no crisis ever warrants less government and more freedom. So why dont I believe in global warming?
Because I get just a wee bit suspicious when all the experts agree that we should lose our heads about something and surrender our liberties to the mammoth state. We need one more science: expertology.
I got my first lesson in this badly needed discipline when I discovered that all the experts had been wrong about who William Shakespeare was; as it happens, Im writing this on
So it is in politics. Our rulers authority over us depends heavily on the expertise available to them, most of it kept secret from the rest of us. The very fact that we arent allowed to know what it is has actually been used as an argument for trusting them even when our own common sense says otherwise! The president knows more than we do.
How many times did we hear that, and say it to each other, at the beginning of the Iraq war? This allowed our rulers to pull cognitive rank on us and assure us, again and again, that there was no doubt that Saddam Hussein payrolled terrorists and had weapons of mass destruction probably nuclear so that preemptive war was urgent. After all, thats what their experts were telling them: Slam dunk, Mr. President.
Neoconservative pundits, Mecca-nukers, and courtier journalists such as George Will followed the experts and cried for war. In retrospect, the hysteria is already amazing. It may have reached its highest pitch in a 2004 book titled, with metaphysical absurdity, An End to Evil. The authors, both neocons, were Richard Perle, a certified expert, and David Frum, a journalist and Bush speechwriter who gave us the phrase axis of evil.
The book enjoyed rave reviews in the conservative press, notably from Newt Gingrich, now pawing at a presidential run, in National Review: a very solid introduction to serious thinking about the War on Terror and the scale of the threat to the United States.... Every serious citizen should read it and ponder its arguments. (And by the way: Biological weapons are the greatest threat we face.)
And what did this masterly volume say? Perle and Frum warned that nothing less than our survival as a nation was at stake. Saddam was getting nukes, plotting with al-Qaeda, et cetera. In the apocalyptic war with Evil, the two proclaimed, our alternatives were simple: victory or holocaust. Well, by now the holocaust must be at hand!
A skeptical liberal reviewer commented that Perle and Frum sounded like Bush on crack. Others suggested that they had eaten on the insane root that takes the reason prisoner; but Patrick Buchanan, while agreeing that the neocons had lost their grip on reality, shrewdly noted the detailed congruence between the agenda of Perle and Frum and that of Ariel Sharons Likud Party, which Perle had a few years earlier favored with his expert advice. Now the book favored an American invasion of Syria and action to foster regime change in Iran.
Over the last half century, certified experts, with all the can-do self-assurance of the Maytag repairman changing a gasket in your washing machine, have enticed us into wars in Vietnam, Panama, Somalia, the Balkans, and the Muslim world, and they are still very much in business, hoping to finish up in Iran. Soon.
Meanwhile, bills forbidding Bush to attack Iran without congressional approval have been stifled in both houses of Congress, not by Republicans but by Democrats Charles Schumer in the Senate and Rahm Emmanuel in the House, both severe critics of the Iraq war. For some reason the news media havent been covering this paradoxical little story.
The neocons now snort that Bush has bollixed up the war. Not much given to contrition, the only thing they regret is having trusted Bush. They want to make it clear that this mess isnt at all what they had in mind. And if he makes an even worse mess in Iran, why, that wont be their fault either. Not that they seem very worried about it.
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