The Death of Expertise: A Rant

In a recent column, I wrote about the democratizing aspect of the internet, which I think is truly marvelous and can lead us to great things. I also mentioned a part of that democratization that I hate — the death and disrespect of expertise.

For the moment, I can’t decide whether the benefits of internet democratization are greater than its evils, but it’s a close call.

I may use the internet differently from you, and if you’re less than 50 years old, I can just about guarantee that’s true. I use the internet for things like email and some shopping, but also for some — but not nearly all or even most — of my research … and that’s about it. Very nearly 100 percent of my time on the web is spent communicating for business and gathering information. I have no real presence in social media (though I probably should) and I generally look for entertainment elsewhere — books, movies, music, television.

I’m old school, but in a way that would make my elders laugh. In comparison, my “old school” is their “space age.”

Don’t worry, it will be like that for you one of these days if you simply live long enough.

It was not originally my intention to use the internet only in those ways mentioned and to the near exclusion of social media, but the evolution of the web has pushed me that way. The death and disrespect of expertise is high on my list of pet peeves.

You see, in our modern society we have great division of labor. Our surgeons are not our airline pilots, and our structural engineers are not our nutritionists. True “professionals” work long and hard to become experts, and I’m certain that I could count on one hand the number of people I consider true experts in more than one discipline.

In the “real world,” I have only very rarely encountered people who had the temerity to consider themselves on the same level as recognized experts who had earned their station through decades of study and experience.

On the internet, it happens every day.

Every. Single. Day … and untold thousands of times.

I first saw it on fishing websites, most often at the bottom of how-to stories by or about top fishing pros like Kevin VanDam, Aaron Martens or David Dudley. One day I made the mistake of reading the comments below the story. That’s where I saw weekend anglers chiming in with comments like, “That’s right, KVD. I use lipless crankbaits in that situation, too” or “A-Mart should try adding a trailer to that spinnerbait. It would double his catch” or even “Dudley should fish with me for a day. I’d show him stuff that would blow his mind!”

Now, if these comments were coming from Roland Martin, Bill Dance or Rick Clunn, that would be one thing … but they’re not. They’re coming from rank and file anglers like me — maybe even less accomplished than me.

It would be bad enough if it stopped with fishing, but of course it doesn’t. It extends to politics, to science, to the arts and even to medicine and technology. Joe and Suzy Laptop are now viewed as the equals of the greatest minds in the world — not because they have the same résumé or experience, but because they have the same access to technology and can post a statement next to the considered opinion of a real expert.

Of course, that’s a farce, but I’m not laughing. And I truly despise the death of expertise that I see on the internet. It’s a big part of why the internet — and most particularly social media — is not a bigger part of my life. I don’t need that level of temerity or stupidity or false democracy.

And I don’t need the frustration I get when I see expert opinions shouted down by “snowflakes” who feel things should be different. It’s maddening and does bad things to my blood pressure.

When it comes to things that truly matter, all men are not created equal because all opinions, all ideas and all contributions are not equal. Not even close. Some are simply better than others, and we were a better world when we seemed to understand this.

End of rant.