Experts and Elections


As you can tell by the picture, I voted in our primary election this week. In a county as deep blue as it could be in North Carolina, I’m not sure that my vote made a difference in any particular race.

It did make me think though about the state of politics and how that applies to this article published by The Federalist. For those who don’t want to read the whole thing, it’s essentially a lament about anti-intellectualism and our apparently declining trust in expertise. Writer Tom Nichols makes a lot of fair points, especially about our politics. People rarely bother to research the facts. Even if they do research, they tend to choose facts that conveniently align with their point of view. Folks rarely question how valid their sources are either.

I’m generally trusting when it comes to experts. If people have valid education and experience to back up their advice, chances are pretty high that I’ll listen to them. Yet experts can also be incredibly busy people. They don’t always have the time to check all the references they include in their papers. Plus, as the number of scientists who have a tendency to cite their own papers in their publications demonstrates, experts tend to be prone to massaging their own egos. So when I get a whiff of someone being self-serving rather than helpful, I feel it is definitely within my interests to question their motives and their advice.

Experts also have a tendency to focus on a very narrow slice of life. That degree of obsession is helpful because that’s what led them to become experts in the first place. But the big picture matters too and I feel the best experts make an effort to demonstrate how their particular subject of interest fits into that picture.

What does this have to do with elections? Check out one of the last paragraphs of the article:

But when citizens forgo their basic obligation to learn enough to actually govern themselves, and instead remain stubbornly imprisoned by their fragile egos and caged by their own sense of entitlement, experts will end up running things by default. That’s a terrible outcome for everyone.

That made me think of all the money and lobbyists being injected into politics. Corporations and companies might not be “experts” per se, but they know how to make the political system work for them better than the average citizen does. They’re using their “expertise” to run our country the way they want it to be run.

That brings me back to the self-serving expert. Corporations and PACs aren’t looking out for the interests of the people. The advice (and money) they give politicians comes with strings attached. It’s up to us to educate ourselves on the issues, to advocate for policies that reduce the influence of folks working against us, and to make an effort to run our government through the ballot box rather than let others run it for us.

I’m glad I voted this week.

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