Let’s assume, for the moment, what we will question later — namely that an expert can stabilize technical facts. A technical fact has the following logical structure: X is the cause of Y.
Examples of purported technical “facts” include:
- Red wine in moderation is good for your heart. (Consumption of red wine is a cause of clearer arteries.)
- Eating eggs is bad for you. (Eggs cause high levels of cholesterol and cholesterol causes heart disease.)
- New walking and biking trails in your old neighborhood will make you healthier and more social. (A new trail is the cause of greater physical health and more interaction with your neighbors.)
- Carbon based fuels are the source of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which leads to what is then man-made global warming. (Your use of carbon based fuels is the cause of climate change.)
- Smoking is very bad for you. It leads to lung cancer. (Smoking is a primary cause of lung cancer.)
- Vaccines are essential to avoiding certain diseases. (Vaccines, on average, cause good health.)
- Gun ownership is positively correlated with gun violence. (Guns cause, all by themselves, violence.)
If experts could actually stabilize such technical facts, why would we care? We would care only if we already believed in a certain set of assumed metaphysical and related moral “facts” establishing the importance of these technical facts. The logical structure of the relevant metaphysical facts is: X is the function (purpose) of Y. The logical structure of the relevant moral facts is: A promotes X (A is good).
Examples of purported metaphysical and moral “facts” (facts about Reality) include:
- Having a healthy heart and circulatory system is good, an end in itself. It is much more important than enjoying what you eat and drink throughout your life.
- Being an outgoing member of your community is good, and even a priority, worthy of being inspired by and sustained by tax dollars.
- Global warming is unnatural. It is caused by man. Man is not a part of nature. And what is natural is what is normal. The natural is what ought to obtain.
- Climate change is a bad thing. Carbon fuels are too costly to the environment. The health of the ecosystem should be our top priority. The most important human value of all is the survival of the earth.
- The benefits of not smoking always outweigh the benefits (pleasure) of smoking.
- Having healthy kids is more important, of more value, than having the freedom to reject vaccinations. Some government control of our bodies is required to make us healthy and therefore happy.
- We can objectively calculate the net utility, the net happiness, gained or lost due to all-encompassing social policies.
- The right to self-defense has less value, less net utility, than everyone giving up their guns.
Experts often admit that they cannot establish such metaphysical and moral “facts” as the context of their technical facts. Commitment to these moral and metaphysical facts (where morality is based on goals implied by the nature of Reality) is relative to your tradition, your beliefs. There is no way either science or philosophy can verify or falsify metaphysical “facts.”
Experts, as such, do claim that they can establish technical facts using universal reason — the scientific method.
Now the technical facts, again, are ironically worthless without the metaphysical facts. Without a certain metaphysical world-view in place, any given technical fact may not be a logical input into any policy decision, either individual or collective. Without an entire view of Reality establishing what is of value, what our functional goals are as human beings, and what the hierarchy of these goals is, the technical facts are actually uninteresting even when they are clearly true. There is nothing to keep people from concluding that the behavior which experts tell them is bad, is really good — a trade-off which maximizes their happiness from their own point of view. I have a lot of fun with my AR15 even though I know it can be dangerous if I do not handle it properly. No expert is going to convince me that I should give it up to be more perfectly safe. He is just preaching his relative hierarchy of values. He tries to convince me that his position is authoritative. But I understand that he is just flexing his will to power.
Rule by expert makes no sense whatsoever because the technical facts cannot tell us what we should care about and how we should prioritize what we care about. In fact, even if experts could tell us what is objectively valuable, if they could not also tell us how to organize those values into a hierarchy, there would be no clear policy implication. There would always be a competing value.
Science does not actually describe Reality, the most important dimension of which is the purpose of human life and therefore its hierarchy of values. Experts are not God. An expert must never be allowed to tell a smoker, a gun owner, or an SUV owner, that his values and value hierarchy are wrong. This is the job of the church, not modern experts, not government bureaucrats. There are many competing traditions about what is valuable and what is relatively valuable by degree. Settling these metaphysical questions for public policy purposes requires democracy and/or a detailed constitution. Ordinary language and religious tradition are essential to the process of describing the practical context of our technical “facts.” Ordinary language is already stained with moral and metaphysical biases from our western religious tradition. (Experts hate that.) People instinctively understand that experts cannot provide us with the metaphysical and moral facts.
Of course experts find the whole idea of being limited by the peoples’ ordinary language and religious tradition, abhorrent, even while they admit that they cannot establish the crucial metaphysical and concomitant facts themselves. They cannot even prove that it is important, above all else, to survive biologically. Many human values are higher in the hierarchy of values than physical survival.
A few years back, a big time scientist proposed that we suspend democracy so experts can solve the global warming problem from the top down. This level of philosophical naiveté is breathtaking. It is propositions like this which discredit experts. The best scientists tend to be very good philosophers. (See Einstein and Bohr.) But some scientists are just comically obtuse to the implications of their own social propositions. Perhaps the only way in which we can correct such people is by ridiculing them for their philosophical naiveté. They think they can tell us how to live, not just what contributes to biological longevity.
Above all else, what philosophically naïve scientists are wont to do, is assume a totally speculative, metaphysical conception of what is natural. Is human activity unnatural? Why? In what obviously controversial view of Reality is human activity unnatural, non-normative? For all any scientist knows, the total rape and destruction of the earth by human beings is perfectly natural. After all, what is, naturally speaking, is what ought to be. Or, rather, it just is what it is in a value-neutral way. The ideological scientist is just committed to a particular language game with respect to the term “natural” which serves his will to power.
But ideological scientists are not the only ones exhibiting dogmatism rooted in philosophical naiveté. The last time I listened to a conservative radio talk show host deal with the question of whether or not people should submit their children to vaccinations, he wanted to make sure that everyone in his listening audience clearly understood that he believed in science, and all of its technical facts, and that it was just stupid for parents not to vaccinate their children. He was sympathetic to government policy which would require that children be vaccinated before being allowed to attend school. Many of our “conservative” leaders are very big on exhibiting their reason as faith in science. But being truly rational requires a loss of faith in science. The pseudo-sophistication of reason-worshipping conservatives is embarrassing. Like the scientist who believes that democracy should be suspended, conservatives who are philosophically naïve tend to be authoritarian. They proudly announce their faith in expertise. They are themselves so unthinking that they do not notice that the technical facts are worthless without the metaphysical facts.
Of course, the problem with government education, with regard to the vaccination issue, is that it is already a restriction on our freedom of association. We are forced by law to send our children to school and the government has already forced us to pay for its schools. If people were actually free in this country, free not to associate, an issue like vaccination would be less amenable to exploitation by statists. There would be a choice — private schools where vaccinations are required and private schools where they are not.
Conservatives, if they were really more intellectually sophisticated than liberals, would consistently recognize the worthlessness of technical facts in a metaphysical vacuum — a vacuum of moral and religious tradition. To prove their superiority they would have to go even farther. They would have to ask the following question: “Are experts able to stabilize technical facts?”
What is becoming increasingly obvious to many people, other than liberal and conservative true believers in expertise, is that experts have a very hard time agreeing upon and then stabilizing technical facts over long periods of time. Man-made global warming remains very controversial, and the experts have changed their minds about the healthiness of wine, beer, coffee, eggs, salt and so on. Economic experts keep demonstrating why it is called “the dismal science.” Experts have a very difficult time reducing the complexity of the human experience to a library of absolutely stable, reliable technical facts which go beyond the mechanics of machinery.
If the experts cannot provide a reliable stable of technical facts, let alone metaphysical facts, then their claim to authority is truly dead. It is dead because, as it turns out, causes and causality, are actually metaphysical objects.
Nothing has been more controversial in the philosophy of science than competing answers to the question: “What is causality?” To this day, the “cause” in science actually remains a mysterious metaphysical object, and the true nature of causality a matter of speculation. We are no longer even sure that causality works in just one temporal direction — from past to present. As David Hume pointed out so long ago, it is one thing to notice that events occur conjunctively. It is another to understand what the cause is in itself. There are, by the way, a large number of risk factors for lung cancer. Smoking is just one of them. So what is the true cause of lung cancer in a given smoker? Experts see the effects of the cause, not the cause in itself.
And so there is a philosophical explanation for why experts cannot even agree on technical facts. They have different non-verifiable, non-falsifiable understandings of what causality is in general and in particular. It all becomes ideological rather than recognizably scientific in any well understood sense. After all, do you believe that the mere fact that you own a gun is likely to cause you to engage in violence? Experts often make it all too clear that they are simply exercising their will to power. They are so self-absorbed they do not see us seeing through them.
Here are my tradition-based claims: Expertise is mostly a will to power. It leads to tyranny and tyranny is a very bad thing.
The age of expertise, and rule-by-expert, is dead.