The recent media furore over sick child Charlie Gard was emblematic of one thing, the death of expertise. The desperate and easily-led parents argued with the Peadiatricians at the world-renowned Great Ormond Street Hospital that treatment for their terminally ill little boy should be extended. It duly went to court, the Doctors naturally won, being experts in the care of sick children, but a media storm was ignited by the usual subjects in the UK tabloid media. The extreme right wing NHS haters then fanned the flames, and were buoyed by US Clown-in-Chief Donald Trump who tweeted that America would help.
America couldn’t (the US Doctor hadn’t even looked at the boy’s brain scans and turned out to be a publicity seeker) , the kid’s still going to die, and the parents have now ungraciously admitted defeat. It would have been a suitable example for “The Death of Expertise” , a new book by Tom Nichols adjunct Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College, bemoaning the arrogance and ignorance of the mob.
It’s mainly US-focused, but none the worse for that, and describes the “narcissistic and misguided intellectual egalitarianism” currently poisoning the polity, ultimately resulting in self-defeating disasters like Brexit and the Presidency of Donald Trump. The ground he covers isn’t exactly revelatory with the Dunning–Kruger effect, the internet/Facebook and ‘news as entertainment’ highlighted as causal factors. The chapter on higher education was interesting, and all in all, it is well-written and engaging.
I do think he’s left some things out though. In particular the spread of managerialism from the corporate sector to just about everywhere else, the standard of public/state education, the decline of reading fiction, and the infantile nature of popular culture, especially Hollywood.
A population that doesn’t read stories can’t empathize with others. A population that can’t concentrate on a serious (non-action, non super-hero) film is unlikely to be able to show common-sense, and good judgement when faced with complex problems. How a mob of mawkish Daytime TV watchers can be so easily manipulated as in the Charlie Gard case is just another example of why public education needs a thorough overhaul and vastly increased investment in the UK and the US. This wouldn’t happen in Holland or Germany, or Canada.
It’s a depressing topic for sure, but this is not a depressing book. Like Statler & Waldorf it’s sometimes nice to wallow in righteousness and it’s a theraputic response to the tidal wave of knuckledragging ignorance crashing over the Anglo-American world.