Saturday, September 7, 2013

Dishonest Experts

On the opinion page of the Catholic Times, a seminary professor, a priest, mentions having read a book by the music conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, The Unanswered Question, 20 years ago, and the thoughts from that reading still linger in mind. Although he knows little about music, he found Bernstein's explanations of music, its history and literature totally enjoyable, not only because of what he learned, but because of the ease of communication. Here was a master musician who was continually questioning himself about the role of music in life, and was also able to communicate that interest to others who know little about the subject.
Today the professor says it's difficult to find an expert who can communicate truth persuasively, because the sphere of knowledge is so extensive. But also because the organization of knowledge has been divided, fragmented, relativized and specialized.  Often the experts are not able to "see the forest for the trees," he claims, because of the way they have privatized their knowledge and their relationship with power, which makes it difficult to talk about things as they are.

Two examples were given concerning government policy; in one case, either the experts were silent or gave answers to questions that were meant to shut up the opposition. If one speaks up with words of criticism, they are quickly labeled as anti government leftists. And there is the case where government wants the  trust of the citizens without good reason, and the experts are nowhere to be found or are unwilling  to speak the truth, resulting in an irrational situation.
He brings us back to the time of Christ and the experts of that age: the lawyers of the law,  and wants us to look at their way of life. Similarities between the experts back then and now are easily seen, he says. They were interested in making themselves known and advancing their personal greed; they were experts in sophistry. They labeled those who wanted freedom and more personal responsibility with the term sinner. They shackled the aspirations of the people with their letter-of-the-law approach to life and made God partake of their wrong-headed interpretations. This is why Jesus called them a brood of vipers.

Those who have built up a reputation for expertise and are endowed with the name "expert" are not considered so for their own private needs. They are not to bow to special interests or give in to temptations but are to search for truth and to free us from ignorance, prejudice, error, liberating us from abuses, helping us to become better persons and working for a better world. This will win the respect of all.

And yet we should be aware, says the professor, that there are those who stand out in society as capable and wise, says the professor, who have led many astray and are doing a lot of harm. Their expert opinions often appear in the media, giving a  false understanding of events, hiding the truth for reasons that are far from laudable. 


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