Why are experts less respected?

There seems to be some general argument that experts are now no longer valued because all opinions are held to be equal, and because of “the rise of popularism,” rage, or “anti-estabishmentism”. These positions both beg the question of whether these are separate conditions, whether anyone actually thinks that someone else’s opinion is as good as theirs and which ignore analysis of the question of the socio-psychological basis for these views.

It seems to me that people judge information by information they already hold, which is backed up by the groups they are in allegiance with. This is the socially reinforced aspect of what is known as “confirmation bias” (where a person seeks evidence and opinions which agrees with their existing opinions), or of “belief bias” (where people first of all accept a conclusion as correct and then are largely uncritical of the arguments leading to that conclusion, or engineer arguments for the conclusion.)

People who seem to be good members of groups that other people see themselves as allied with (ingroups) are always more persuasive than people who seem to be exemplary members of groups they are opposed to (outgroups). The more groups can be made to separate, and the more people can fear exile from their groups, then the more this group bias occurs. Communication and reasoning are more about group bonding than about the nature of the world. During our evolution, group bonding, cooperation with our ingroup and maintaining a good reputation, was probably far more important to human survival than anything else.

Since the end of communism, we have had experts in one group (largely privately sponsored) claiming that free markets will produce liberty and meaning, which they don’t; in practice they produce corporate domination, distribution of wealth away from most people, unemployment, inflation of the economy to the be all and end all of life, and a less useful and participatory State. These results produce massive discontent, and thus risks disturbing actions.

In self-defense, the elite of this group seem to have made a very determined attempt to use the above ‘facts’ about human communication to attack those experts who dispute the virtues of privatizing everything or who dispute the universal beneficial consequences of such policies: they do not belong to our group; they are politically biased; they are immoral unlike us; they are sick; they are engaged in socialist conspiracies to thwart human freedom; they are an elite with nothing in common with us; they are out of touch; they want to take your money, and so on.

The aim of the process seems to be to separate groups and stop members of each group from talking to each other, and to stop trust in experts, by upping the abuse levels (see the Murdoch media), suggesting that talking with these outgroup experts means you are not really one of us (RINOs) and by engaging in largely distractionary “culture wars” – although the culture wars help reinforce the idea that the other groups are immoral and not worth listening to on anything. If there are other social processes reinforcing the separation of social groups into physically separate enclaves or conversational groups, then this move is easier.

The more fantastical the propositions being defended, ie ‘free markets’ produce liberty, corporate power is always good, coal is great for ecological and public health, then the more this kind of process becomes the best way of winning arguments, and supporting established power – until it breaks down and violence becomes more necessary to enforce the order being defended.

This movement against ‘experts’ is not an anti-establishment movement, it is a movement which is tied to an establishment which contradicts known things about social and ecological dynamics in the support of its power, even if it eventually leads to break down of that establishment.

Attacks on experts are socially motivated and proposed solutions have to bear this in mind. Simply defending expertise or attacking the groups attacking the experts will not persuade them of the experts virtues, it will likely do the opposite.


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