Dead Experts Society

Interesting recently to see a revival in the ‘lost experts’ spiel in British politics. People lamenting the fact that experts are no longer respected/listened to in the political and social discourse. Which is bollocks, from what I can see. Not the bit about experts not being listened to, but the idea that that’s a new development rather than a built in feature of British political culture.

I can’t remember any point in my lifetime where academic or practical expertise was in any way central to the political or media discourse. Foreign Policy and Wars, Immigration, Education, Social Services, Policing, Healthcare, Climate Change – never once have the people with practical and studied knowledge of those things been put at the forefront of the debates about them or the policy on them. At best they’ve been marginalised as some ivory tower (or myopic) collective, churning out papers and reports that merit the odd line or two here and there. At worst they’re wheeled out solely as political props when someone feels there’s a gain to be made from doing so. And yet we’ve got people now acting as if Brexit or the rise of ‘Populism’ (whatever that amounts to) is the death knell to some halcyon age of reason.

What has changed, I think, is that the veneer of responsibility or vaguely technocratic neutrality has been stripped away from the political and media mainstream. One side has lost it because of Brexit, pissing away their credibility in a last hurrah of ‘trust us, we know what we’re doing’ self interest. While the other half, the Centrist/Blairite/’grown up’ half, has seen it’s power eroded by the defeat of Remain and the rise of the soft Left which has basically triggered a temper tantrum. They’re crying about experts and serious debate being lost while either completely unaware or completely indifferent to the preceding decades where they basically did their best to replace it with their own sense of entitlement. Imagining themselves to be the experts in every given situation because they like to think they’re sensible and smart.

Heard someone suggest, in passing, that what the UK really needs to move forward is some sort of Peace and Reconciliation process to honestly look at what our social discourse has become. Was said in relation to Immigration, where practical, academic and expert voices have been blanked out for years by both main parties and the entirety of the media in favour of dog whistling, grand standing and exploitation. I think it’s a good idea to be honest – and one which could be extended far further.

If there is a responsible portion of the Right then they need to own up to the culture they’ve created and their eagerness to place blame on Migrants for every problem under the sun. And if the Centrists (or whatever you want to call them) want to play a useful role in the civil discourse then they need to accept that they fed that same system of demonisation. Every step of the way they played to the imagined gallery of bigotry until they’d guaranteed it’s existence. And all along both sides have acted as if practical and academic expertise was a side note to the political and media game.
The same could go for our Foreign Policy, the NHS, education, policing, benefits system and everything else. A massive ratcheting up of contributions from those who do actually work in and understand those things and a calling to account, preferably a willing one, of those who’ve spent years banging on despite their ignorance.

I doubt it’ll happen though. In fact, circling back to Brexit, I half suspect that a second referendum would still go Leave because so many of the headline names of Remain would refuse any hint of self-reflection. While the big names of Leave are more or less obliged to double down on their rhetoric, even on top of their potential for personal gain from it all.

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