Wednesday, September 14, 2016

From Officious To Official

     Among the often invisible processes that have overcome the good sense of Us the Formerly Free is the displacement of individual freedom by the notion of “democracy,” which in its turn is eventually displaced by what a self-nominated “ethicist” recently called epistocracy:

     In an epistocracy, political power is to some degree apportioned according to knowledge. An epistocracy might retain the major institutions we see in republican democracy, such as parties, mass elections, constitutional review, and the like. But in an epistocracy, not everyone has equal basic political power. An epistocracy might grant some people additional voting power, or might restrict the right to vote only to those that could pass a very basic test of political knowledge. Any such system will be subject to abuse, and will suffer from significant government failures. But that’s true of democracy too. The interesting question is whether epistocracy, warts and all, would perform better than democracy, warts and all.

     It seems attractive at first, doesn’t it? Why shouldn’t those who know more about thus-and-such have more decision-making power over it? Isn’t that the reason we go to a doctor rather than attempt to medicate or (God help us) operate on ourselves? Where would we be without specialists who know how to do things we don’t?

     The ball-hidden-under-the-shirt is, of course, the transition from expertise recognized and patronized by the expert’s lay customers to expertise proclaimed by a government and enforced at the point of a gun.

     I’ve known nominal experts, in fields about which I know little, whom I wouldn’t patronize under any circumstances. (In one case, I did patronize that expert – once.) It has nothing to do with any presumed gaps in their knowledge or skill. Rather, it arises from my evaluation of their ethics or my dislike of their officious conduct. Think “bedside manner” if it helps to clarify the distinction. And things being as they are (in those fields, at least), I have the option of seeking the services of their competitors.

     Jason Brennan’s notion of epistocracy would award, to “experts” selected by government-decreed criteria, power that might well include the elimination of my freedom to choose among them. Indeed, when we speak of the “rule of experts,” that’s exactly what we mean. The “expert,” who possesses a State credential of some sort, is awarded the power to override certain of the decisions of the layman.

     This is already the case in certain areas. Medicine. Legal practice. Education. Building codes. As there are currently more than eleven hundred licensed and regulated occupations in these United States, plus innumerable more areas in which “experts” inside the government possess such a power, I could go on about this for quite a while.

     There’s nothing inherently objectionable about recognizing expertise and choosing to defer to it, if that’s the layman’s free choice. My problem with it is the way the “rule of experts” goes from “This is the way it’s done” to “This is the way it’s always been done” to “This is the way it must be done, and you’ll take it and like it.” But then, I’ve always had a problem with persons who stick a gun into my ribs and tell me “It’s for your own good.”

     The process is the problem. It’s advanced a millimeter every time we defer to an expert. Moreover, it operates in fields most people wouldn’t even suspect.

     Remember this essay?

     The essence of the taboo in American society is linguistic: not to speak the forbidden thought or attitude. So one such as I, who holds many taboo beliefs, is supposed to remain silent about them all. That would reduce me to prayers, requests to pass the condiments, and the occasional statement of approbation for the New York Rangers. Needless to say, I've chosen to express myself rather more broadly than that.

     But even those of us who defy the taboos ideologically are expected to obey their constraints on our vocabulary. Certain words are forbidden to us with a firmness that hints at a mouthful of soap to come.

     The tabooing of particular words or concepts is a preliminary step in the process. After all, if there’s significant, openly expressed dissent, the experts cannot rule with assurance. Thus, the layman’s freedom to express himself about the experts’ targeted field must be quenched before they can confidently exercise the authority they desire.

     It’s worse than that, actually. An assemblage of experts in some field will usually include some dissenters. The dissenters within the expert-group are very dangerous to the rest; they make it plain that there are well-informed persons with an equal claim to expertise who oppose the arrogation of authority. Thus, not only is it necessary to silence the layman; it’s even more important to delegitimize and expel the dissenters within the experts’ ranks.

     An interesting case of this in the seemingly expert-free field of fiction is available for our inspection:

     Officials in charge of an Australian writers festival [the Brisbane Writers Festival, which ended Sunday] were so upset with the address by their keynote speaker, the American novelist Lionel Shriver, that they censored her on the festival website and publicly disavowed her remarks. . . .

     Ms. Shriver criticized as runaway political correctness efforts to ban references to ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation from Halloween celebrations, or to prevent artists from drawing on ethnic sources for their work. Ms. Shriver, the author of 13 novels, who is best known for her 2003 book, “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” was especially critical of efforts to stop novelists from cultural appropriation. She deplored critics of authors like Chris Cleave, an Englishman, for presuming to write from the point of view of a Nigerian girl in his best-selling book “Little Bee.”

     Ms. Shriver noted that she had been criticized for using in “The Mandibles” the character of a black woman with Alzheimer’s disease, who is kept on a leash by her homeless white husband. And she defended her right to depict members of minority groups in any situation, if it served her artistic purposes.

     “Otherwise, all I could write about would be smart-alecky 59-year-old 5-foot-2-inch white women from North Carolina,” she said.

     “Officials in charge,” eh? Persons who claim to speak for a much larger group? Persons who claim some sort of authority over what may and may not be said? Persons determined to deny the legitimacy of a viewpoint that differs from their own? How fortunate for Miss Shriver that they can’t yet prosecute her for her deviationism!

     It’s an intermediate step...but how long has it been since such an expression of opinion, while it might have incurred an argument, was completely noncontroversial? Doesn’t it seem that our “progress” from “This is the way it’s done” to “This is the way it must be done” has accelerated sharply in recent years?

     The process, and the fettering it augurs, is of course most threatening when politics becomes involved in it. However, that’s the penultimate step: the one just before the Omnipotent State acts to remove our freedom of choice. At that point, the outcome is almost guaranteed.

     When experts of any sort openly lobby the State for the use of its powers on their behalf, the situation is desperate. Think about the “global warming / climate change” chimera, particularly the attempts by various state attorneys-general to criminalize dissent from the experts’ decrees, and you’ll have an excellent sense for the thing. They didn’t miss it by much this time. They know it, and they’ll be back.

     I hope to return to this.


Jack Imel said...

Yes, please do return to this. Who would have thought a few years ago during the laughable Gore-days that climate change (ne. global warming) would produce such a catastrophic wedge to pry so many freedoms away from American citizens at this day. Like people wouldn't believe me when told them in the '80s that homosexuality would soon be and breed such evil waves of cultural destruction. Oh, well...

Anonymous said...

I have a better idea. You only vote if you are a net contributor to the Treasury. If you pay no income taxes you do not vote. IF that were done you'd see massive change in this country in within 6 years.

As to this epistcrap.. who decides? Those who want 'deniers' prosecuted or labeled 'mentally deficient'. The 'best and brightest' who have run this country into the ground? Maybe I should be the decider.. or perhaps....

Actually this sounds an awful lot like a poll tax.

Joseph said...

Didn't we used to have literacy tests?