Matthew Yglesias catches Jonah Goldberg making a bad argument for why the left is enamored of ‘Experts’:
The left needs to believe in the authority of experts because without that authority, almost no economic intervention can be justified.
Yeah, no. This isn’t really why the left needs to believe in the authority of experts. First, the left is about more than ‘economic intervention’ and their harnessing of Experts isn’t really focused on, or even limited to, ‘economic intervention’ as such in the first place.
So why do they worship at the altar of Expertopia then? Perhaps Yglesias’s rebuttal will provide some hint:
One way to think about conservative ideology formation in America is that many prominent conservative writers, such as National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, are kind of dim-witted and thus need to come up with principles that allow them to write about diverse issues without having any insight into anything.
See what he did there? He, Matthew Yglesias, paid pundit who “blogs” for a living, called Jonah Goldberg a dummy. And by comparison, implicitly and breezily elevated himself to the status of a smarty, based on no evidence, background, training or experience whatsoever. (Having read thousands of words from both, I have yet to see one iota of evidence that Matthew Yglesias is one iota smarter than Jonah Goldberg.) Yet Yglesias speaks as if his smartness, his intellectual superiority to Jonah Goldberg just goes without saying. This is quintessential lefty behavior in their wild, pristine environment. I find it fascinating myself.
Because, you see, one way to think about lefty ideology formation in America is that many prominent lefty writers, such as Think Progress’s Matthew Yglesias, are kind of dim-witted and thus need to hitch their views onto ‘Expert’ opinions that will allow them to write about diverse issues without having any insight into anything. Oops, okay I did the same thing there. But the point is, it’s self-flattery to think that you can always locate yourself on the side of ‘Experts’, and why people such as Matthew Yglesias do it doesn’t really require any deep psychological explanation.
But that’s not really why I think the left is in thrall to ‘Experts’. I think it flows from a very real and genuine divide between the lefty and righty worldviews. The righty worldview is characterized by a desire for limited government and greater individual autonomy. This desire is obviously in natural tension with anyone’s attempt to put ‘Experts’ or their purported findings centrally in charge of anything. In stating this desire the right would emphasize the ‘knowledge problem’, i.e. that no central group of people, no matter how ‘Expert’, could have sufficient knowledge to solve the things that government tries to solve. (Those who have memorized my Primer will recognize echoes of All Large Calculations Are Wrong.)
The left, meanwhile, is almost by definition engaged in a denial of the existence of the knowledge problem. Their implicit pitch is that given enough time/resources/[power], ‘Experts’ can too solve those problems, so we should put them in charge (or, more accurately, put the left in charge, because they promise to listen to more Experts, appoint Experts to high positions, etc).
The latter attitude is obviously quite flattering to Experts (and, perhaps more so, to posers who think of themselves as Experts, or ‘technocrats’, or what have you). So, it’s no surprise that a goodly portion of Experts are happy to go along with the flattery and Expert status-elevation the left peddles.
My explanation would also predict that the more arrogant and egotistical the Expert – and the more his self-image is pathetically tied to him being such a big-shot smartypants Expert – the more likely he is to be attracted to the lefty rather than the righty worldview. While we are still gathering data, this prediction does appear to be borne out by the real-world political distribution of Experts that one can observe on the web.
Anyway, the point is that the lefty-righty divide on ‘Experts’ doesn’t arise for some trivial reason such as one side having dumber pundits than the other. And it isn’t some inexplicable esoteric mystery or random statistical fluctuation either. It stems directly from a genuine, sincere, real, and deep-seated difference between the two worldviews. Righties had better get comfort with that and come up with better explanations for it than Jonah Goldberg just did. Otherwise, the likes of Matthew Yglesias will come along and call them dumby dummy-heads, and that really hurts, because Matthew Yglesias is a frickin’ polymath GENIUS. Know how I know? Because he name-drops Experts.