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February 15, 2020

The tyranny of experts


February 15, 2020

There are many words, phrases and terms which make little or no sense in our daily conversations but we use them unthinkingly and with no qualms at all.

This is not because we love using these arcane words but because we are told that using them makes us experts. In our so-called postmodern world, an expert is one who has developed the capacity to talk Greek to the public or use sophisticated language which cannot be comprehended by a common person.

These experts, loaded with arcane words and clichéd phrases, are imposters who proclaim to be intellectuals by offering a fragmented and obfuscated worldview. They are good at not only mystifying our simple world into a puzzle but also in occupying our imagination as knowledge leaders of some highly sophisticated intellect.

These experts have all the requisite statistical data to shape a nonassertive, mechanical and fragmented worldview amongst our techno-savvy generations. They are paid well to break worldview into disconnected and common-sense questions, partly out of fear – lest our techno savvy youth should disrupt the order of things. Disruption is endemic to technology but it is dangerous only if it leads to transformative change. That is why experts are assigned to dilute the transformative spirit only. Disruption, therefore, is not necessarily transformative and it may even strengthen the existing order. Technology is an instrument of both accelerated transformation as well as the regression of societies depending upon the worldview of its users.

From Al-Qaeda to Isis and from liberal anti-globalization campaigners to progressive change-makers, it is technology that facilitates the global outreach of ideas and worldviews. There is then a booming industry of experts whose only vocation is to deconstruct these worldviews into smaller interpretative schemes. They call it ‘specialization of knowledge’ and it is only for them to provide intellectual legitimacy to these worldviews through a rigorous treatment to disintegrate them into separate parts. These bits and parts create a jigsaw puzzle where experts thrive as ideology is collapsed into complex and disconnected events of daily life.

Our gadget-laden young generation finds it extremely hard to make informed choices in a complex and confusing world not of their own making. Amidst this complexity, the research being churned out at universities has attained industrial scale with little substance which does not widen the horizon of its user. Corporate sponsored research makes it a lucrative industry while universities are being deserted by professors who have increasingly become research experts rather than being academic researchers.

Our techno-savvy young generation has more transformative and disruptive potential than the traditional demagogues of revolution because the former operates at the global level, beyond the physical borders of a state. Our virtual global economy functions in a fragile digital space across the national borders where regulation has become a big challenge. For minimal disruption, global corporates invest huge amounts to disintegrate the knowledge base and worldviews. Today we fight for individual causes as if women’s rights, environmental protection, poverty, unemployment and inflation are isolated domains to be dealt with by individual experts. We have separate experts for environment, gender and poverty who do not communicate with each other at all and even if they come across in a debate one can sense some repelling emotions.

The wisdom we receive through television talks, digital platforms and the big minds of social media contributes to our flimsy perspectives of life which make us good consumers of a given and fragmented knowledge. Knowledge production today is one of the most lucrative industries and it is used to dissipate the possibility of liberation that human agency can attain in the age of technology. But this new mechanism of benign control seems to be losing its credence because technology has surpassed the spatial politics of structural control.

New regulations are being considered where will to freedom must look more like a good of consumption rather than a spirit of transformation. This sense of freedom as a good of consumption is what we call ‘choice democracy’ today. In the age of choice democracy we are free only to choose products as consumers but we are losing political cohesion to build democratic societies to exercise our collective will to shape our destinies beyond corporate fetishism. While we are losing fast the ground for wisdom to take roots we have relegated philosophy, politics and art to the domain of un-thought. This tricky domain of un-thought has become the preserve of experts who get paid to make it even murkier by admonishing us not to tread this mysterious terrain of wisdom. The expert then deconstructs for us those secrets of the terrain of wisdom in parts and hence a fragmented worldview is created.

In a nutshell, we call it the age of postmodernism, post-ideology and post-truth. In reality, we tend to juxtapose a series of posts with modernity, ideology and truth with little or no new substance. These posts suggest that we have failed to produce a synthesis of our past world of ideologies, yet we deny the very existence of human will to knowledge and freedom. In the world of pseudo-experts, we are left with a series of hollow words and phrases with little or no meaning at all.

While many of us may be deceived to live in a foggy world, experts tend to reserve the domain of un-thought for themselves. The domain of un-thought which is hazy and clouded with cliched terms is only a figment of the Platonic mind which is crafted to disorient young minds from becoming the agents of their own destiny. Be it politics, philosophy, sociology, economics or development, our worldviews are shaped by experts whose only mastery is to reduce knowledge into packages of consumable items. Ludwig will be rolling in his grave with anger over the ways we have obfuscated language as an instrument to oppress dissent and assert power rather than expressing the simple facts of life.

To the dismay of Wittgenstein, we believe that what can be said cannot be said clearly to establish the authority over the subject matter as experts. When people use words without understanding their meaning or essence they perhaps do so deliberately because they want to be seen as experts. The burgeoning experts seen in the media, at seminars and those who get the limelight of digital platforms make a career out of complexity. This nonassertive, neutral and cliched world is what we call the era of post-ideology and post-truth. But this is neither the real world we live in nor a game of technology to subdue human imagination. This is simply another grand narrative that reduces politics into an art of consumption.

Consumerism is not only about commodity fetishism, it is also about the branding of ideals into sellable propositions. In our bid to establish value for money in everything, we let loose the tyranny of experts to govern our worldviews and we let them kill our intellect and perhaps our beings.

The writer is a social development and policy adviser, and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @AmirHussain76