Bonfire of the Experts

September 10, 2021 Updated: September 10, 2021


A couple of weeks before the completion of the catastrophe of the American presence in Afghanistan—or, if you believe President Joe Biden, the “extraordinary success” of the American evacuation—a Russo-British comedian named Konstantin Kisin published a brilliantly funny thread on Twitter headed: “You’re struggling to understand why some people are vaccine hesitant. Let me help you.”

The “let me help you” megathread, as he called it, consisted of example after example of so-called “expert” opinions that have turned out to be completely wrong—beginning with the British vote for Brexit and the American vote for President Donald Trump in 2016, both of which elections the top experts at the time confidently assured us would go the other way.

Actually, Kisin’s spiel could be considered as a belated gloss on one of the most famous quotations to come out of the Brexit referendum, that of the Brexiteer and veteran government minister Michael Gove who said: “I think the people of this country have had enough of experts.”

I think that Trump was striking the same responsive chord with Americans when he disparaged what he called “political correctness”—still ravaging the county after four years of his administration—which was also the product of that breed of experts who call themselves “intellectuals.”

If people were fed up with experts in 2016, think how much more reason they have to be so five years later! Kisin does, and he goes ruthlessly through the whole catalog of errors from Russian collusion to “systemic racism” and “white supremacy” to “toxic masculinity” and the abolition of sex in favor of the nebulous idea of “gender.”

And of course we mustn’t leave out the conflicting and often mendacious pronunciamentos of “the Science” on the coronavirus, which have culminated in the distrust, not so much of the vaccines themselves, but of “the experts’” attempts to demonize those who remain skeptical about them.

And all this was before the collapse of the Afghan government and army under the onslaught of the Taliban gave us what may be the best reason ever for thinking that we, too, have had enough of experts in this country.

“Afghanistan: the graveyard of experts,” wrote Tim Black at Spiked Online.

“US ‘experts’ who created Afghanistan mess should be fired for malpractice,” wrote Rebekah Koffler for The New York Post—though of course they won’t be. They never are. They’re the experts.

A writer on Substack named Richard Hanania compared the galaxy of American Ph.D.’s (including the now-deposed president of Afghanistan himself, Ashraf Ghani, who has a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia) who got us into Afghanistan with the madrassa-educated Taliban and wrote that, “It’s as if Wernher von Braun had been given all the resources in the world to run a space program and had been beaten to the moon by an African witch doctor.”

Unsurprisingly, there were a great many negative comments appended to Kisin’s bonfire of the experts, most of them to the effect that, just because some people have been wrong about some things it doesn’t mean that other people are going to be wrong about other things—especially when those things include vaccines which, as there are sound scientific reasons for believing, can be life-saving.

Nor should we neglect to consider that the lives saved are not only of those who receive the vaccines but also those of the immunosuppressed and other vulnerable people who come in contact with them.

They have a point. But so has Kisin. The latter is certainly right in thinking that the experts, particularly those who write for the partisan media, have taken too little care of their own credibility in the past, instead expecting to be trusted and believed as right, just because of who they are. When they then turn out to be wrong, they have no one but themselves to blame if people don’t believe them the next time.

Some people are always going to be wrong about almost everything, but the case is altered when the people who are wrong have set themselves up in the profession of being right. These are the people we call “experts” solely because they have the recognized credentials of experts—advanced degrees from top universities or awards for their expertise from other experts—whether or not they have any real-world experience or expertise.

Their authority is what the anthropologists call “positional”—like that of the parent who answers a child’s question of why? by replying: “Because I said so!” or “Because I’m your mother.”

The experts treat us all like those children—and then they wonder why they are resented and distrusted.

They are the people who identify themselves with their beliefs to the extent that they can never admit it—and so never learn from their mistakes—when those beliefs turn out to be wrong.

That’s how you get to Biden’s calling an obvious disaster of the first water an “extraordinary success”—with no more than an occasional raised eyebrow from the compliant media.

Much publicity in the last week or so was given to a Reuters report of a conversation between Biden and Ghani in the dying days of the latter’s government, as the Taliban were closing in. What he had to worry about, said the American president to the Afghan one, was the “perception” that he was losing the war, not the fact that he actually was losing it.

All he had to do to get American help, said Biden, was change this perception, “whether it is true or not.”

I think a lot of the criticism of this extraordinary conversation was misdirected. The problem wasn’t that Biden told Ghani to lie. Lying to the enemy has a long and honorable tradition in the history of warfare.

No, the problem was that he was foolish enough to think he could lie in that situation: that he (or Ghani) could get away with spinning the enemy as he himself was used to spinning the American media—as, of course, he would go on to do again with the claim of an “extraordinary success.”

A man whose self-assurance and self-absorption is such that he believes reality can make no claim against him that he can’t pay off with the experts’ counterfeit currency of interpretive ingenuity and rhetorical sleight-of-hand is a man who can only lead his country and himself into more disasters.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

James Bowman
James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The author of “Honor: A History,” he is a movie critic for The American Spectator and the media critic for The New Criterion.