Friday, June 12, 2015

Who Watches the “Shmexperts”?

Professors are often idiots (never mind that obscure faux-black professor in the news today: prestigious universities used to give awards to actual Zimbabwean ruler Mugabe, and now it takes literally 35 quadrillion of his regime’s dollars to buy one of ours). And scientists are routinely wrong. And people who claim to know comedy may have no discernible sense of humor.

Yet our world is largely run by those who get anointed “experts” through one bullshit credentialing process or another, such as getting a Ph.D. or writing for the Huffington Post. What is to be done? Below, a helpful book recommendation and a dozen reminders how full-of-it these people are.

1. The increasingly obvious “intellectual gridlock” between dueling right and left pundits is as good a reminder as any that it's time to set aside the old right/left spats and, embarrassing as it may be, fight the hybrid globalist-corporatist-fascist-socialist takeover -- as fellow anarchists.

Look, I know how that sounds to most people. I mean, just stating the basic facts makes one sound like a sci-fi conspiracy theorist, but, yeah, we actually now live in a world where within about a day (literally) of Sen. Rand Paul singlehandedly putting the brakes on NSA snooping, we found out (A) Obama’s simply ordering the snooping expanded via other routes, especially “near” the border, (B) that for-now-stymied big international trade agreement violates privacy and encourages international data-sharing in various ways, (C) the FBI operates a fleet of small surveillance aircraft perpetually cruising over major cities (do they operate the massive, silent, hovering triangular craft people keep seeing, I wonder?), and (D) China just stole all the U.S. government employees’ data.

As if it weren’t bad enough that the libertarians of New Hampshire were used as a weak argument by local cops for Homeland Security-subsidized armaments, now Reason magazine is being subpoenaed by the Justice Department for (plainly hyperbolic) comments by its online readers in threads on the magazine’s site and in Austria libertarian reporters are literally being watched by Cobra special police operatives at the big annual Bilderberg conference (they’re actually called Cobra).

It’s not my fault reality sounds like paranoia. Who has time to fight all these battles one at a time anymore? Time to reject it all in one fell swoop, I say.

2. On the bright side, paranoia can be entertaining, and I recommend the new USA Network series Mr. Robot, based on the premiere episode they briefly put online. The show airs regularly starting Wednesday, June 24 and depicts an impressively antisocial, spooky, alienated young hacker (instead of the usual charismatic TV-being) being recruited into a left-anarchist cabal that hates society as much as he does but plans to do things about it that he’s not sure he should be part of. I think it’ll be good, and fairly smart.

3. If that’s not punk-rock enough, see the band Mission of Burma with me two weeks from tonight (on June 26) at the Bell House in Brooklyn. These last-minute sloppy appeals for a concert buddy have been working out nicely so far.

4. For a more detailed, book-length sticking of it to “the Man” and all the experts who work for that Man, check out Marc Fitch's Shmexperts when it hits bookstores in November because I’ve been waiting for a book all my adult life that comes right out and says that our high regard for experts, even the ones with actual science degrees and the like, is fundamentally misplaced.

Fitch makes the case, with great humor, that our trust in today’s experts, even when their data is weak and their conclusions wildly overblown, is just another manifestation of that more ancient guide faith, which I’d add is also unreliable. Sometimes everyone is wrong, but no one likes to admit that. And so tomorrow’s papers will likely tell you the “secret to longevity” or (as numerous recent pieces did after some science study or other) the “code for happiness” or some other weakly-supported but eagerly-consumed nonsense.

Fitch sides with the “Average Joe” who suspects the experts are ignorant bigmouths. If enough people read his book, maybe even college graduates will find the courage possessed now only by uneducated bar stool drunks -- to say it’s all bunk. 

5. As noted in my previous blog entry, if all it takes to be regarded as soothsayer is getting a few predictions right, we should all really be getting our futurist insights from Seth MacFarlane, whose show Family Guy, in its complete randomness, seems to keep presaging world events. Maybe everyone should see Ted 2 in a few weeks to help them cope with the increasingly frequent debates over how to define who’s human, female, black, etc.

6. Things are getting postmodern enough to seem as if it all has to fly apart and end soon, so maybe fictional experts at the Onion put it best (h/t Will Pangman).

7. Seriously, though, the problem here is that people are unwilling to admit the good and the bad come packaged together, so they assume someone with one decent insight is brilliant on all subjects. It makes it hard for people to see, for instance, that Elon Musk might be both visionary and a mooch.

8. If the geniuses negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement come up empty thanks to the U.S. Congress, Greece bails on its EU financial obligations, and the bond market falls apart all around the same time, it will be interesting to see who gets blamed for what.

9. It is tempting to think that science is above the fray and offers an escape from all that politicking, but does it really? Witness this litany of distractions and tangents as a columnist attempts to defend abortion without making any real arguments -- particularly that almost dreamlike and irrelevant bit about the kids caring for animals.

And if we’re convinced looking at concrete reality absent ideology yields the “real” answers on such contentious topics, try the clarity and physical specificity of this pro-life tale on for size (just for contrast, mind you -- I’m pretty moderate on the whole topic).

10. The inordinate praise recently heaped on the Faulkner play The Sound and the Fury here in NYC by the Times and Entertainment Weekly is enough to remind us that the intelligentsia actually love being confused, much like cult members, so long as they are tantalized by the suspicion there’s profundity in there somewhere amidst all the crap and distraction, and that it’s profundity with a message they’d still end up agreeing with if they could spot it.

That’s twentieth-century literature in a nutshell.

11. A new Florence + the Machine album came out on June 2, and at least she reaches all the way back to the Middle Ages at times for her chaos and confusion, making it seem a bit more timeless and grand. This number from a prior album makes it pretty blatant.

12. But uncertainty can be managed even if it cannot be fully escaped, and so I am off now to party with Bayesians -- and back next week to muse about whether the ancients mapped an iceless Antarctica, even if the experts understandably ask where all the water would have been at the time. 

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