The Rule of Credentialed “Experts”

Lead and Gold links an article by Noemie Emery:

They had a dream. For almost a hundred years now, the famed academic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex has dreamed of a government run by their kind of people (i.e., nature’s noblemen), whose intelligence, wit, and refined sensibilities would bring us a heaven on earth. Their keen intellects would cut through the clutter as mere mortals’ couldn’t. They would lift up the wretched, oppressed by cruel forces. Above all, they would counter the greed of the merchants, the limited views of the business community, and the ignorance of the conformist and dim middle class…Their stock in trade was their belief in themselves, and their contempt for the way the middle class thought, lived, and made and spent money: Commerce was crude, consumption was vulgar, and industry, which employed millions and improved the lives of many more people, too gross and/or grubby for words.

These attitudes, Emery notes, explain the passionate attraction that so many academics and journalists felt toward Barack Obama:

Best of all, he was the person whom the two branches of the liberal kingdom—the academics and journalists—wanted to be, a man who shared their sensibilities and their views of the good and the beautiful. This was the chance of a lifetime to shape the world to their measure. He and they were the ones they were waiting for, and with him, they longed for transcendent achievements. But in the event they were undone by the three things (Fred) Siegel had pegged as their signature weaknesses: They had too much belief in the brilliance of experts, they were completely dismissive of public opinion, and they had a contempt for the great middle class.

Much of the “expertise” asserted by people in the academic-artistic-and-punditry complex is entirely imaginary, as far as the organization and management of social institutions goes.  L&G cites one of my old posts at Photon Courier:

In university humanities departments, theory is increasingly dominant–not theory in the traditional scholarly and scientific sense of a tentative conceptual model, always subject to revision, but theory in the sense of an almost religious doctrine, accepted on the basis of assertion and authority. To quote Professor “X” once again: “Graduate “education” in a humanities discipline like English seems to be primarily about indoctrination and self-replication.”… 

Becoming an alcolyte of some all-encompassing theory can spare you from the effort of learning about anything else. For example: if everything is about (for example) power relationships–all literature, all history, all science, even all mathematics–you don’t need to actually learn much about medieval poetry, or about the Second Law of thermodynamics, or about isolationism in the 1930s. You can look smugly down on those poor drudges who do study such things, while enjoying “that intellectual sweep of comprehension known only to adolescents, psychopaths and college professors” (the phrase is from Andrew Klavan’s unusual novel True Crime.)

See also L&G’s post How We Live Now: The Rule of Inept Experts.

I  believe that the overemphasis on educational credentials has played a major part in shifting the power balance between Line and Staff in organizations of all types…here, I am using “Line” to refer to people who have decision-making authority and responsibility, and corresponding accountability for outcomes, while “Staff” refers to people who analyze, study, and advise, but are not themselves decision-makers.  It was once pretty well understood that one should not take a person whose entire experience is in Staff positions (however exalted) and put him in a high-level Line position, where the consequences of failure will be very serious, without first having him gain experience and prove his performance in lower-level Line positions where the consequences of failure will be less-devastating to the entire organization.  This seems to be much less well-understood today, the ultimate example of course being the career path of Barack Obama.

Fred Siegel, mentioned in Noemie Emery’s article, is the author of the very interesting book The Revolt Against the Masses, which is on my (long) list of books that need reviewing.

17 thoughts on “The Rule of Credentialed “Experts””

  1. The military learns this lesson in every war. It takes a while but the Henry Hallecks, the Mark Clarks, the other incompetent staff officers eventually fail. Sometimes it is spectacular, like the French army in 1940. We were awfully lucky with Eisenhower. He was a better president than general. Stilwell made the mistake of learning Chinese. Vietnam was lost by LBJ but the Saigon REMFs helped a lot and the one fighting general, Creighton Abrams, came along too late.

    I have read that Ford got into serious trouble in the 50s and 60s when the line people were replaced by accountants and lawyers.

    Medicine is going through this now. The hospital where I used to practice is now being run by a former Pepsi cola executive. It is shedding experienced nurses rapidly. The only ones staying are about 60 and at the supervisor level. They hate their jobs. They are hanging on until they can retire.

    There is a reaction by those who think themselves intellectual to reject Bourgeois values. A sort of “Bloomsbury group” mentality that came close to losing the war for Britain in the 30s. Bourgeois values are responsible for most of the progress of humanity the past 300 years but they are always hated by those who consider themselves intellectual. Rousseau did not live to see what his ideas created in France.

  2. They – the intellectual and artistic set – wish to be patronized by the aristocracy, you see. They have only to produce the fine art and the fine thinking for their noble patrons who have exquisite good taste. Producing for the broad mercantile middle-class is just too disgusting to countenance.

  3. “Producing for the broad mercantile middle-class is just too disgusting to countenance.”

    The “middle class” wouldn’t understand it anyway. Think Jackson Pollock . I went with my intellectual daughter to the London Museum of Modern Art . She was oohing and ahhing while I was restraining giggles. One item was a piece of pine board with nails driven into it forming the shape of a fish. String was wound around the nails. It looked like a fifth grade art project. Probably worth a million pounds.

    There is worse .

  4. Re Jackson Pollock, etc, see this Ricochet article on modernism and traditionalism in art, as viewed from a conservative perspective.

    I think it’s to be expected that changes both in technology and in social structure will have an influence on art. For example, this article suggests that an important enabler of Impressionism was the availability of a much broader range of vivid pigments, thanks to industrial chemistry. Re social structure, images of kings, queens, and princes do not now have the kind of emotional resonance they must have once had.

    None of which changes the fact that a significant portion of today’s art scene is devoted not to producing works that are either beutiful or interesting, but rather simply to get attention and to shock…see Art, Discomfort, and Dehumanization.

  5. Getting my credentials took some effort but nobody has ever asked to see them, apart from a couple of Visa sections of foreign countries.

  6. I am a fan of impressionism and realize it was a radical departure from the subjects of early 19th century painting. Some of those things I like too. Especially landscape painting which really preceded Impressionism in subject. Chemistry was making huge strides in the late 19th century, especially in Germany.

  7. I remember reading of the social structure of the late Roman Empire- from “The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization,” by Bryan Ward-Perkins.

    The well-connected aristocrats received an eduction in rhetoric, grammar, etc- which I took to be roughly the fifth century equivalent of a liberal arts degree- and went forth to rule the Empire. If I recall Ward-Perkins used the specific example of the aquaducts. The aristocrat would be sent out to be in charge of the aquaduct, but the actual engineering knowledge to maintain it was vested in the low-status individuals placed under their supervision.

    The credential was more important than the actual knowledge, in other words.

    I also recall Moses Finley, in his work, “The Ancient Economy.” Per Finley the Roman uppercrust really disdained manual labor, and would never admit to doing such, because they believed manual labor was for slaves and other social inferiors. Eventually, an enormous portion of the Roman population- formerly free citizens of the Roman Republic- were nothing more than slaves laboring on the latifundia.

    I see parallels with the modern American society as envisioned by the political class.

    I note the idiotic credential-mongering. The political class finds that sort of thing important- very important– everyone else, not so much.

    It’s interesting for me to read that doctors don’t get seem to get social status conferred upon them- you know, because they’re doctors– but merely appear to be viewed by our credentialed elites as something like those aquaduct-engineers were once viewed by the ancients, when we see hospitals run by former beverage-company executives.

    I also note the contemptuous disdain endlessly expressed by the elite for the American middle class, which reminds me of the ancient elite attitude toward manual labor.

    Middle class people tend to do jobs the American elites despise. That is, jobs Americans “just won’t do”, which means jobs the elite just won’t be caught dead doing, but which are quite often done by Americans. Policy favored by the elite regards such jobs as not worth caring about, so government policy doesn’t care about them. Hence, we have a free trade policy, resulting in the disappearance of vast numbers of manufacturing jobs filled by the lowly minions who work with their hands, while the elite congratulate themselves that higher-status jobs such as marketing remain in the United States. For now, at least.

    Plus, the elite is continually attempting to force an open-borders policy upon the country, against strenuous objections from the American public. This is because American elites don’t see a difference between an American or a foreign worker-peasant, and are bitterly resentful that American worker-peasants seem to think they should get some sort of special favor merely because they were born in the United States. Hence they really want an influx of worker-peasants who know their place, and won’t expect to be paid the sort of wages demanded by the uppity American peasants.

    I also note the endless attempts by the elites to disarm the public. The ancient elite had succeeded, so much so that later the inhabitants of the Empire were forced to beg permission from imperial authorities to defend themselves, even when imperial defenders were nowhere to be found and barbarians were literally at the gates. Today, we have the endless leftist shrieking for gun control, so far unsuccessfully.

    But the GOP establishment- supposedly opposing the left, as it supposedly represents people who are intensely hostile to leftist gun-banning ambitions- just isn’t into all that.

    I note the George Bush merely let Clinton’s “assault weapons ban” expire instead of repealing it and making a political case against it. Plus, the GOP reportedly only voted against the so-called Toomey compromise gun-banning bill only because the party was planning to stab the GOP base in the back with another amnesty bill.

    Interesting times, as the saying goes, and we’ll get to see if the Constitutional machinery constructed by the Founders is up to the challenge of containing the ambitions of the American elite to visit upon us the glories of fifth-century Rome.

    I sure hope so, lacking any golden credential.

  8. “Eventually, an enormous portion of the Roman population- formerly free citizens of the Roman Republic- were nothing more than slaves laboring on the latifundia.” Most unlikely – the slaves were imports. The missing free citizens had either marched off in the legions, or gone to Rome to live off the dole.

    That structure still gives you ample room for analogies for the modern USA, I imagine.

    It’s also worth remembering that the later Roman elites didn’t just study liberal arts, they equipped themselves for command in war. I’m guessing, but I imagine they familiarised themselves with the law too. Earlier, of course, the elites despised Greek habits such as the study of rhetoric and grammar.

  9. Mike,

    Stilwell made the mistake of learning Chinese

    Could you elaborate? Why was that a mistake? I’ve read Tuchman’s book about Stilwell, but that’s about it…

  10. Producing for the broad mercantile middle-class is just too disgusting to countenance.

    The amusing thing is how durable and cross-cultural this idea is. It is apparently a human universal, to which all societies must adapt. Failure to recognize the strong, innate, and unbreakable need for hierarchy will founder democracy.

    For all the shouting about equality, intellectuals lie: they wish to submit. The only question will be to whom? Themselves (Marx), an hereditary elite (Kim Jong-Un), or God. They cannot submit to the people; that they have demonstrated. Only one choice leads to livable society.

  11. Stilwell was an impressive general and was commender of the Infantry School at Fort Benning before Marshall was. He was headed for big things in World War II, possibly the role that Eisenhower later filled. But…

    Just prior to World War II, Stilwell was recognized as the top corps commander in the Army and was initially selected to plan and command the Allied invasion of North Africa.[10] However, when it became necessary to send a senior officer to China to keep that country in the War, Stilwell was selected, over his personal objections, by President Franklin Roosevelt and his old friend, Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall.

    His carer did not recover and he hated his role in China.

  12. The Stilwell story almost justifies the advice of the mother (fifty years ago?) that her daughter should not learn to type.

  13. My typing is limited to two fingers but I have written two books with them. Any better and I might have ended up as a data entry clerk.

    Stilwell suffered because he was the ONLY senior army officer with that skill and his own career meant nothing to Roosevelt when China was an obsession.

    Evans Carlson got much more out of his Chinese language skill because he was with the communists and he was a less senior officer. He was the model for Sam Damon in “Once an Eagle.”

    The only contribution China made to the war was as a bottomless sink for the Japanese army. The value of this role was less than it might have been because Japan did not have the shipping capacity to take it anywhere else anyway. The threat to Australia might well have been exaggerated because of this. Certainly, there was no risk of a Japanese invasion of Hawaii, let alone California. “Shattered Sword” makes this clear. They barely had enough shipping for Midway and would have been in trouble had they succeeded in occupying it.

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