‘Trust the Experts’ is the Virus
A radical shift in political culture in the Covid coup put centre-stage in public affairs a long-gestating tendency towards the fragmentation of knowledge and the elimination of synthesising voices.
‘What are you — Henry Ford?’
Here is an infallible rule: a prince who is not himself wise cannot be well advised, unless he happens to put himself in the hands of one individual who looks after all his affairs and is an extremely shrewd man. In this case, he may well be given good advice, but he would not last long because the man who governs for him would soon deprive him of his state. But when seeking advice of more than one person a prince who is not himself wise will never get unanimity in his councils or be able to reconcile their views. Each councillor will consult his own interests; and the prince will not know how to correct or understand them. Things cannot be otherwise, since men will always do badly by you unless they are forced to be virtuous. So the conclusion is that good advice, whomever it comes from, depends on the shrewdness of the prince who seeks it, and not the shrewdness of a prince on good advice. — Niccoló Machiavelli, The Prince
‘The weird thing that happened around Covid, and I had never noticed this before, at any other time of my life:’ says the American comedian and YouTuber, Jimmy Dore, ‘[is that] you weren’t allowed to ask question at any point during this. You just had to do what The Man on the TV said — right? — you had to do what the man on the TV said, without questions, and then you were a good person. But if you question it, then you’re a white supremacist Trumper Naz . . . woah, no no no! No! “No, I didn’t vote for Trump, I just have questions!”
‘“Jim-mee, only dumb people ask questions!”
‘Isn’t that weird? It was the weirdest thing I’d ever seen. Even comedians would get on stage and try to shame people for trying to get informed about a medical treatment that was experimental, that they had to take and if they didn’t take it they would lose their jobs, and they wouldn’t be able to travel. And when people tried to get informed about it, other people shamed them. They would say, “Please tell me you’re not going to, [airquotes] ‘Do your own research.’” You’ve heard people say, that: “Please don’t ‘do your own research . . . ’”
‘You know, before Covid, “doing your own research” used to be called “reading”! Now you’re shaming me for reading, at the behest of Big Pharma? It’s like I woke up in the middle of a Bill Hicks bit: “Wall, it looks like we got ourselves a reader!” — that’s how much people internalised the propaganda from Big Pharma, which was that they would be anti-intellectual enough to shame people for reading, while they were wagging their finger at them for doing it! You would never shame people for doing that, no matter what other subject it was, no matter how unimportant. Like if I was to say, “Hey, I’m going to go buy a car!” . . .”Don’t look into it!” . . . “Well, how will I know which car to get?” . . . “Ask the salesman — he’s the expert! What are you — Henry Ford?”’
It’s so true, so clear. In this short rap, we can almost glimpse the total meaning of comedy as a serious endeavour.
Put like that, it’s funny, laughable, ludicrous. But it happened, and it was our neighbours and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters and parents and grandparents saying these things to us, and treating us as retards when we refused to buy it. The tropes Jimmy Dore is mocking were to begin worded only slightly differently to his satire, and they became as though instant verities on social media and on the other governing platforms of our cultures. Suddenly, a majority of the human race seemed to surrender all autonomy, all discretion, all initiative, placing their lives and existences in the control of men in shiny suits and, sometimes, white coats supplied for a photo op, as though by Central Casting.
Dore’s ‘translation’, encapsulation and metaphorisation tickles our funny bones because he so clearly sketches a parallel that releases a years-long tension created by a cultural belief system that contradicted everything that same culture had held to for as long as we could remember before that. Suddenly, in the name of science — nay, ‘The Science’ — obscurantism was not merely fashionable again, but actually mandatory. Suddenly, ignorance was in. And, even more ridiculously, this new dispensation was being pushed by people who would diss without thought, for example, an interest in the transcendent, as a fetish for sky-pixies. Overnight, after 335 years of alleged progress and post=Enlightenment enlightenment, philistinism was fashionable, cluelessness was classy, benightedness was the new Big idea, and empty-headedness the happening thing. Those insisting on the values of the Enlightenment were condemned as barbarians by those rejecting them, and the culture as a whole, and all its high priests and priestesses, got to its feet in toxic applause. Objectively speaking, it seems impossible, but still — we know — it happened, just three years ago, delivered out of the blue by a process of cultural railroading generated in an improbable and overnight rearrangement of cultural furniture ordained by a convocation of vested interests, and funded by administrations with access to the deepest pockets in the whole of history. The idea of it happening now is as dizzying as, four years ago, it would have been unimaginable.
Just think: this is funny because it actually took place. But, right now, seen against the backdrop of an entire life lived in the Free West — is it even possible? Was it a dark dream? Yet, how dark must be our laughter to be able to find humour in something so recent and so scarifying that we are even yet unsure whether we mightn’t have dreamed the whole thing.
We come back to the hypothesis of the French philosopher Henri Bergson. In his book, Laughter — An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, in which he proposes that humour derives fundamentally from rigidity in human behaviours and affairs. We find funny, he says, anything that breaks away from the natural patterns of human life, by becoming mechanistic and predictable. Hence, what makes people laugh is the absence of alertness and elasticity in the object of ridicule, i.e. forms of sclerosis arising from the culture of the group, things that deviate from the law of life, which abjures rigidity and mechanisation. But, here, the rigidities are not simply those of sclerotic authority, or bureaucracy, or power, but of our friends and neighbours, our brothers and sisters, our parents and children, the man behind the cash desk in the supermarket who used to be so friendly and, well, funny — all these and many more, who for a full two years at least, became the attack dogs from the Valley of the Squinting Windows where the Stasi live.
And the dark heart of our laughter says something else that defies or elides words: If they could do this, what else might they do?
The Man on the TV: the same shadowy, jerky figure we could observe move as though silently behind the lace curtains of every window we passed after dusk in that darkling spring of 2020; the Man in the White Coat; the Scientist; the Specialist; the Sage; the Expert — all these figures whose words were no longer just opinions or advice, but the hard stuff of dogma, dictum, doctrine, directive, edict — stood as public prosecutors of We, The People, who stood before them, the Accused, who, by virtue of a deficicney of the correct letters after our names, had no defence against those who had, who knew, who understood ‘The Science’ and, moreover, were ordained to chant it in our direction as a signal to stop and bow down. The Covid Cult of the Expert prosecuted and leveraged human infectiousness, the very mechanism whereby hitherto the human body had contrived, when it did, to remain strong and healthy. The experts, the medics, the scientists-on-message, all lined up to convey the verdict that man was deadly to his fellow, an infectious host of innumerable pests and parasites, a festering mess of pathogens rather than a creature comprising an embodied soul made in the image of his Creator, the equivalent of a suicide bomber with 40 lbs of explosives strapped to his waist with the pin out of the activating grenade.
If you were to identify a single avoidable pathology of collective humanity that led to and enabled the horrific events of 2020 and continuing — events that have brought to a shuddering halt the freedom, the democratic culture, the value-systems (and, imminently, the prosperity) of what we call ‘The West’, this would have to be it: the Cult of the Expert As Super-wicked step-parent to the Whole Human Race, and the way a generalised acquiescence in this arrangement contrived to seep into and take a hold of human minds and sensibilities to the point where slavery, destruction and even death were preferable to disobedience.
Now, it is slowly dawning on the human race that the step-parent was a gargoyle in disguise: The ‘experts’ promised to ward off the evil spirit of disease, but in reality — calculating, cunning, malevolent in the extreme — all the time delivering into the respiratory ducts of our societies an unprecedented chaotic evil, in the name of curing and saving — in reality dispensing death and disease and injury at a level previously unseen, while still wearing the white coats of benevolent ministration and smiling as if nothing at all was amiss.
The booby trap at work here was, in part at least, the eruption in public culture of a phenomenon in human affairs that for the longest time had existed as a matter of respect for learning and healing powers at the level of personal interaction. Most of us, all our lives, had been aware of and compliant with the quality of deference on display in our cultures to doctors, nurses, surgeons, biologists, and the like, the men and women of great learning whom we could trust to looking into the inscrutabilities of our bodies or advise us concerning arcane matters to do with the structure of reality. In childhood, the sound of the doctor’s voice on the stairs was calming, soothing, all but absolutely reassuring. His hurried step as he entered the sick room caused the crowd around the bed to pull back into the corners, making clear his path to the patient. A stethoscope was produced, in the style of a conjuring trick, from a slightly smudged and over-burdened white pocket. A brief period of listening was following by a moment of reflection; then, a diagnosis — nay, a verdict. The watchers relaxed. The child in the bed smiled as though modestly accepting applause, her illness being the cause of this necessary miracle.
How this familiar tableau metamorphosed and metastasised to the point where it was able to undo a civilisation is perhaps the most important reflection or study that our societies need — and soon — to undertake, if Western civilisation is to be restored to anything like its prior condition of liberty and reason. Something wholesome, well-intentioned and good became something dark and destructive and downright malevolent, in a time when the act of thinking became a kind of crime, and the desire to know what is true, what is reasonable — what is — became an occasion of accusations of error and sin. What are you — Henry Ford?
On television and radio, in the newspapers, the ‘expert’ was featured and feted all the time. He or she told us what was true, what we should concern ourselves with, and what — and whom — we should put out of our minds, what was significant, what that significance was, and how it affected us or was none of our beeswax. This counsel became the popular understanding of things. The subjectivity which had defined the human mind for centuries was pushed to the side in favour of a more ‘objective’ way of understanding. And this form of understanding was applied not merely to things outside our own experience, but even to our own experience of ourselves, our bodies and their functioning, our sense of freedom, our spirits. Psychologists and psychiatrists explained to us why we do things or think things, and these explanations came to rank higher than our own understandings of what we knew and believed, and how we had acted all our livelong lives.
Above all, the non-expert was required to fall silent. Where did YOU do your microbiology degree?
Hiding behind the pseudo-authority of ‘The Science’, the new religion of public life, which attributed all knowing to ‘experts’ on the basis of the letters inscribed after their names, decreed that the unlettered should wait in silence for The Science to speak through its anointed priests. This was beyond respect or even deference: By fiat of the sponsored convocation, the ‘experts’ acquired a power that trumped that of the people or the institutions they had constructed to manifest and sublimate their power. Those with fewer letters were advised, then enjoined, then instructed, to maintain a proportionate silence; those with competing qualifications who disagreed with the narrative were smeared and vilified into the margins and inaudibility.
If this had simply amounted to a bamboozling of the public on a passing, incidental issue — a long con flimflam operation designed perhaps to defraud the public of money or seduce its political loyalty, it would have been merely reprehensible. But what happened in the Covid episode was much, much worse than that. What occurred amounted to a coup against the autonomy of the people, not just politically, but in the most intimate realms of their existence. It amounted to a seizing of the right of human beings to decide for themselves in respect of their own bodies — bodies they had inhabited for 20, 35, 47, 59, 68 or 93 years — under the insinuated, imposed injunction that they were not ‘qualified’ to make decisions concerning those bodies, or even know in any meaningful way if anything was amiss with them, or how that was likely to play out. The normal doctor-patient relationship, whereby the would-be patient sends for, visits or ‘reaches out’ to the doctor, who in turn responds to whatever queries his patient may have, and proposes a course of action on this basis, was reversed: Here, the doctor became, in effect, a weaponised cultural instrument and underhanded psychological device, confronting the individual person with the ‘facts’ of his own alleged lethal infectiousness, and demanding, as an ‘expert’, that he deliver himself to whatever remedies were proposed by the omniscient authorities.
In this period, too, journalists, their employers having been bought and paid for by the orchestrators of the coup, more or less surrendered one of their central traditional functions — that of translators and mediators of ‘expert witness’, harking to the specialists in various disciplines and putting their thoughts into comprehensible language, interrogating each assertion until its rational basis became clear. Among the many baleful outcomes is that the pseudo-realities constructed by ‘experts’ became more and more impervious to lay deconstruction, which meant that the laity, under multiple headings that increasingly threatened their freedoms, jobs, businesses, wealth, and even their very voices for speaking truth, became more and more trapped in innumerable categories of imputed ‘ignorance’, while the ‘literate’ experts droned on in incomprehensible sentences that brooked of no response except capitulation. As the months gave way to years, the Covid coup consolidated in the minds of a majority that anything declared or decreed by a certified ‘expert’ could not be questioned, other than by another accredited expert, and then only if his qualification was exactly the same as the first speaker, and he was not of the ‘far right’. Unsurprisingly, after a while, almost no one, it seemed — and certainly no outright lawman — was willing to challenge anything, even on the basis of common sense. More and more, we were being shunted towards an outrightly materialist way of seeing everything, or — perhaps more correctly — accepting everything, without question, that Big Pharma wished us to believe.
This, far more than it was a biological crisis, was a psychological operation — ‘psy-op’. We should remain mindful that those who imposed the appalling conditions and circumstances of the past nearly four years have had access, above all, to the very best — or worst — of what behavioural psychology can offer. It is not outlandish to suggest that the orchestrators of the public mood — politicians, scientists, medical experts — somehow managed to impose a trance, which transformed reality into a kind of dream world, in which, as with actual dreams, nonsense came to seem perfectly sensible and the utterly preposterous as though the stuff of the clearest familiarity.
The American philosopher, Richard M. Weaver, in his 1948 book, Ideas Have Consequences, described humanity as already, even then, having given up all its other freedoms in return for the economic kind. This comes as a bit of a shock to the present-day reader, who might think of 1948 as a prehistoric era of pre-technocratic freedom. One of the more interesting chapters in a fascinating book is titled ‘Fragmentation and Obsession’, in which he analyses the cult of specialisation, which immediately struck me as remarkably germane to what's been happening to our world in the recent years and months. He had in mind the — at the time of his writing — a then relatively incipient era of specialisation, by which the ‘expert’ was soon to become elevated to the level of godhead, but only on the narrow terms, and with the thin remits of his particular specialisation.
His account of these matters begins in the Middle Ages, with the ‘philosophic doctor’, who ‘stood at the center of things, because he had mastered principles.’ This figure was the integrator and moderator of all disciples and arguments, a fount of supreme intellectual wisdom and explication.
‘On a level far lower were those who had acquired only facts and skills’, writes Weaver, and all these fell silent when the philosophic doctor rose to speak. He, the philosophic doctor, was in charge of ‘the general synthesis’, and his learning was grounded in the master disciplines of metaphysics and theology. His knowledge of ultimate matters entitled him to answer ultimate questions. ‘This is why, for example, the faculty of theology at the Sorbonne could be appealed to on matters of financial operation, which in our era of fragmentation, would be regarded as exclusively the province of the banker.’
The ultimate purpose of the system of education and administration out of which the philosophic doctor emerged was ‘to perfect the spiritual being and prepare for immortality’. Materialism, however, made this objective incomprehensible to the majority, and so it was in time replaced by a system that prepared the person for ‘living successfully in the world.’ This may, to modern ears, seem imminently sensible, but that is because of a misunderstanding that has developed concerning the metaphysical: because immortality is no longer universally believed in, it is presumed that preparing for it is, or may be, a waste of time that might be put to better use learning about how to make money. Obtaining a metaphysical education, however, was not simply to do with the next world; it also offered the student an enhanced capability of achieving greatness in this world — greatness in thought and deed and achievement — because of the ability it conferred to discern between ideas, and integrate any conclusions that might emerge. The metaphysician was not confined to a bounded knowledge of the metaphysical, but understood too how this impacted in the physical world, and could tell where the consequential trajectories of interventions and actions might lead, and calculate the interaction of interventions and actions under different headings, and how they might serve to exacerbate or ameliorate one another.
Education, Weaver claimed, is ultimately about comprehending a hierarchy of values, which implies a sufficiency of knowledge of multiple disciplines to establish priorities between them. This does not imply or necessitate a total knowledge of everything or even anything, which is in any event impossible, but it does impose a facility to sort and parse the concepts relating to multiple disciples in a way that enables them to cohere in the culture inhabited by the people.
In the modern era, by Weaver’s analysis, the ramping up of materialist notions caused the philosophic doctor to be replaced by what he called the ‘gentleman’, a secular version of his predecessor, who substituted for a depth of knowledge of metaphysics with a grounding in humanities and the liberal arts. ‘The most important thing about the gentleman,’ Weaver observed, ‘was that he was an idealist, though his idealism lacked the deepest foundations.’ He was a ‘man of broad views’, characterised by self-restraint and a necessary degree of sentimentality, and was broadly unsympathetic to materialism and self-aggrandisement. He was courteous and apparently lacking in ego. He was a man of his word, magnanimous in victory and gracious in defeat. The gentleman’s role was to establish hierarchies of thought, priorities of action, and above all ideals, and to deliver judgements on the general relationships between things. On one thing was he deficient:’ wrote Weaver, ‘he had lost sight of the spiritual origins of self-discipline.’
Although this lack had grave consequences, Weaver suggested, ‘it did not prevent the gentleman from standing in for the philosophic doctor: ‘He will serve as an exemplar to a humanist, secularized society as the other did to a religious.’
Weaver believed that, for as long as it could maintain a gentleman class, by hereditary succession or recruitment generation to generation, Western society would be able to maintain a measure of protection against certain congenital tendencies of human societies.
At the time of his writing, 75 years ago, Weaver was of the view that the concept of the ideal had continued to endure, but by then the gentleman had been obliterated from virtually every Western country. Nevertheless, even in our own times, we can recall that a special veneration was often shown to the poet, the philosopher, the playwright, the statesmen, the patriotic hero, even the sportsman under certain headings — all of whom carried on elements of the personality of Weaver’s ‘gentleman’. All this appears to have dissipated now, under the attrition of liberal ideologies and state sponsorship of ‘the arts’.
Weaver says that the gentleman was ‘ousted’ by modernism — in practice by politicians and entrepreneurs, ‘as materialism has given its rewards to the sort of cunning incompatible with any kind of idealism.’ The once revered gentleman was to become an impecunious eccentric, ‘protected by a certain sentimentality, but no longer understood.’ After World War One, he said, Europe turned for leadership to ‘gangsters’ (he had in mind such as Mussolini and Hitler) who ‘though they are often good entrepreneurs, are without codes and without inhibitions. Such leaders in Europe have given us a preview of what the collapse of values and the reign of specialization will produce.’ And here we stumble across another great problem with specialism: that it enables the ‘experts’ to believe that, such is their knowledge of their own area that it amounts to a form of total knowledge. And here we stumble across perhaps the first and most prevailing problem with specialism: that it enables the ‘experts’ to believe that, such is their knowledge of their own area that it amounts to a form of total knowledge.
Weaver’s exposition of this phenomenon is so astounding in its seeming prediction of the present state of affairs that one’s first response is to doubt that it could possibly have been far enough advanced by the late 1940s for him to write such an account as he did. It is for this reason that I intend, without apology, to quote liberally from the chapter ‘Fragmentation and Obsession’.
By far the most signıficant phase of the theory of the gentleman is its distrust of specialization. It is an ancient belief, going back to classical antiquity, that specialization of any kind is illiberal in a freeman. A man willing to bury himself in the details of some small endeavor has been considered lost to these larger considerations which must occupy the mind of the ruler. The attitude is well expressed in King Philip's famous taunt to his son Alexander, who had learned to perform skilfully upon the flute: ‘Are you not ashamed, son, to play so well?’ It is contained in the hierarchy of knowledge in Aristotle's Metaphysics. It is explained by Plutarch with the observation that ‘he who busies himself with mean occupations produces in the very pains he takes about things of little use evidence against himself of his negligence and indisposition to what is really good.’ The attitude is encountered in men of letters of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They wished to be known as gentlemen first and as writers only incidentally. Finally there is the story of the barber who congratulated Napoleon for not having a scholar’s knowledge of the proper pronunciation of Alexandria. To regard these as exhibitions of priggishness is to miss the point entirely; they are expressions of contempt for the degradation of specialization and pedantry. Specialization develops only part of a man; a man partially developed is deformed; and one deformed is the last person to be thought of as a ruler; so runs the irresistible logic of the position.
Science, he averred, was not a proper pursuit for rulers, because it demands an ever more minute inspection of the physical world, and therefore makes an ideal of specialism. When the arcane details of science come to be pursued as knowledge, he wrote, ‘the task of synthesis approaches impossibility.’
The position of the philosophic doctor and of his secular heir, the gentleman, was thus correct. For them the highest knowledge concerned, respectively, the relation of men to God and the relation of men to men. They did not expect to learn what they most needed to know by fleeing center, that is, by diving ever deeper into the mysteries of the physical world. Such is escape and moral defeatism.
Thus, he wrote, the student ceased to be a philosopher, having embarked upon rendering himself a ridiculous figure by delving deeper and deeper into single items of knowledge, and in this endeavour of research accruing for himself a level of veneration as though he were still a philosophic doctor, bestowed by a public incapable of discerning that detailed but small knowledge is something quite different from, and inferior to, a broad view of relationships and syntheses.
The facts on the periphery, they feel, are somehow more certain. The modern knower may be compared to an inebriate who, as he senses his loss of balance, endeavors to save himself by fixing tenaciously upon certain details and thus affords the familiar exhibition of positiveness and arbitrariness. With the world around him beginning to heave, he grasps at something that will come within a limited perception. So the scientist, having lost hold upon organic reality, clings the more firmly to his discovered facts, hoping that salvation lies in what can be objectively verified.
From this comes a most important symptom of our condition, the astonishing vogue of factual information. It is naturally impossible for anyone to get along without some knowledge that he feels can be relied on. Having been told by the relativists that he cannot have truth, he now has ‘facts.’ One notes that even in everyday speech the word fact has taken the place of truth; ‘it is a fact’ is now the formula for a categorical assertion. Where fact is made the criterion, knowledge has been rendered unattainable. And the public is being taught systematically to make this fatal confusion of actual particulars with wisdom. On the radio and in magazines and newspapers appear countless games and quizzes designed to test one’s stock of facts. The acquisition of unrelated details becomes an end in itself and takes the place of the true ideal of education. So misleading is the program that one widely circulated column invites readers to test their ‘horse sense’ by answering the factual queries it propounds. The same attention to peripheral matter long ago invaded the schools, at the topmost levels, it must be confessed, where it made nonsense of literary study and almost ruined history. The supposition that facts will speak for themselves is of course another abdication of intellect. Like impressionists, the objectivists prostrate themselves before exterior reality on the assumption that the organizing work of the mind is deceptive.
Plato, Weaver reminded us, observed that, at any stage of a process of inquiry, we are moving either towards or away from first principles. Now, he said — by 1948 — the previous distrust of specialisation had been supplanted by a new distrust of generalisation. ‘Not only has man become a specialist in practice, he is being taught that special facts represent the highest form of knowledge.’
Mathematical logic, with its attempt to evade universal classification, is an excellent example of the tendency. The extreme of nominalism appears when men fear, as many do today, to make even those general groupings which are requisite to ordinary activities. We are developing a phobia toward simple predication. Sensing that even expository statement is a form of argument and that argument implies the existence of truth, we shrink back by clinging to our affirmation of particulars.
Even then, he was connecting these incipient developments to what can only have been the most fleeting traces of emerging ideological tendencies:
Since liberalism became a kind of official party line, we have been enjoined against saying things about races, religions, or national groups, for, after all, there is no categorical statement without its implication of value, and values begin divisions among men. We must not define, subsume, or judge; we must rather rest on the periphery and display ‘sensibility toward the cultural expression of all lands and peoples.’ This is a process of emasculation.
Thus, the road to increasing fragmentation of the general picture, and a consequent obsession with each of its constituent elements, all of this carved up between men who lacked for no element of knowledge except what it all meant. And all this knowledge promising, as Weaver foresaw, nothing but collapse.
Obsession, according to the canons of psychology, occurs when an innocuous idea is substituted for a painful one. The victim simply avoids recognizing the thing which will hurt. We have seen that the most painful confession for the modern egotist to make is that there is a center of responsibility. He has escaped it by taking his direction with reference to the smallest points. The theory of empiricism is plausible because it assumes that accuracy about small matters prepares the way for valid judgment about large ones. What happens, however, is that the judgments are never made. The pedantic empiricist, buried in his little province of phenomena, imagines that fidelity to it exempts him from concern with larger aspects of reality — in the case of science, from consideration of whether there is reality other than matter.
Such obsession with fragments has grave consequences for the individual psychology, not the least of which is fanaticism. Now fanaticism has been properly described as redoubling one's effort after one's aim has been forgotten, and this definition will serve as a good introduction to the fallacy of technology, which is the conclusion that because a thing can be done, it must be done. The means absorb completely, and man becomes blind to the very concept of ends; indeed, even among those who make an effort at reflection, an idea grows that ends must wait upon the discovery of means. Hence proceeds a fanatical interest in the properties of matter which is psychopathic because it involves escape, substitution, and the undercurrent of anxiety which comes of knowing that the real issue has not been met.
If, then, the substitution of means for ends is the essence of fanaticism, we can better recognize the peril in which science and technology have placed our souls. Sanity is a proportion with reference to purpose; there is no standard of sanity when the whole question of ends is omitted. The obsession, however, is a source of great comfort to the obsessed. It is a reprieve from the real ordeal. Let us not question the genuineness of the sigh of relief when people are allowed to go back to their test tubes and their facts.
I have cited these passages in their totality because they appear to me to describe so precisely the general nature of our contemporary societal pathologies, as well as underlining the particularities of what we encountered in the Covid scam as to offer an almost total diagnosis of the core of the cultural problems now confronting us. Weaver pointed to the growing emotional instability and volatility of temperament already to be observed in inhabitants of urban settings in 1948, accounting these as symptoms of fixation upon small tasks — the industrial world invading the very mind of man. ‘It shows itself in fits of fickie admiration,’ he observed, ‘in excitation over slight causes, in hypersuggestibility and proneness to panic, all of which render most unlikely that sober estimate of men and things characterizing the philosopher.’ By contrast, the man standing close to nature remained stable and balanced, sustained by his broader view of reality and its essence.
Is this not all too familiar to us, we who labour under the yoke of Woke and write, as though for some form of time capsule, under the shadows of the boots that, as Orwell predicted, threaten to come down at any instant upon our faces and writing fingers?
Yet, superficially, this culture of specialism, its attention to detail, its obsession with fact, is impressive and seductive. It seems to look deeply into things, a plumbing of reality that seems to be more penetrative and capturing than the broad stroke of the generalist.
An observer coming into some modern metropolis from a province where traditional values are yet rooted is impressed by the way in which judgments are made without reference. He encounters arguments which are brilliant, perhaps, within a narrow scope, but which, when pushed a step in the direction of first principles, collapse for want of basic relevance. He finds movements, propagated with all the cleverness of sophisticated techniques, which appear absurd as soon as their presuppositions about human nature and human destiny are laid bare. The fragmentary character of such thinking permits contradictions and sudden reversals, and these prevent emotional composure in the face of choice.
The nub of the issue, Weaver divines, is that the specialist is ‘psychically inferior’ to both the gentleman and the philosophic doctor who preceded him. It is clear that this is not some marginal commentary, some nibbling at the edges of what man seem to have the potential to become culturally problematic, but a profound, essential analysis of the already malfunctioning core. The specialist who thinks of himself as part of the self-perfecting mission of ‘progress’ is, in truth, immensely inferior to his predecessors — the gentleman and the philosophic doctor — in the most vital conceivable respects.
He is like some parvenu striving to cover up with self-assertion the guilty feeling that he is not qualified. For the truth is that fanaticism and emotional instability, tension and flightiness, are incompatible with that seasoned maturity which we expect in a leader. The man who understands has reason to be sure of himself; he has the repose of mastery. He is the sane man, who carries his center of gravity in himself; he has not succumbed to obsession which binds him to a fragment of reality. People tend to trust the judgments of an integrated personality and will prefer them even to the official opinions of experts. They rightly suspect that expertise conceals some abnormality of viewpoint.
The specialist, he says, ‘stands ever at the borderline of psychosis’, which inevitably leads to the thought that a society grounded in such ‘expertise’ could not but become unstable, unhinged, deranged and, not to put a tooth in it, mad.
It has been remarked that when one passes among the patients of a psychopathic ward, he encounters among the several sufferers every aspect of normal personality in morbid exaggeration, so that it would be possible theoretically to put together a supermind by borrowing something from each. And as one passes through modern centers of enterprise and of higher learning, he is met with similar autonomies of development. Each would be admired for his little achievement of power and virtuosity; each is resentful of subordination because, for him, a specialty has become the world. The public, retaining a certain perspective by virtue of its naïve realism, calls them ‘lopsided.’ There is no reason to quarrel with the metaphor. The scientist, the technician, the scholar, who have left the One for the Many are puffed up with vanity over their ability to describe precisely some minute portion of the world. Men so obsessed with fragments can no more be reasoned with than other psychotics, and hence the observation of Ortega y Gasset that the mere task of saving our civilization demands ‘incalculably subtle powers.’ Civilization must be saved from some who profess to be its chief lights and glories.
In 1937, just months before the beginning of the Second World War, the novelist Robert Musil delivered a lecture in Vienna about titled ‘On Stupidity’, in which he tried to separate everyday stupidity — which is of a type where insight occurs infrequently but nevertheless is always a possibility — from a higher stupidity: the stupidity of the elites, a phenomenon almost impossible to describe, it being ‘a dangerous disease of the mind that endangers life itself’. Musil was critiquing the stupidity of the regime then in control of Austria, which would dress up stupidity ‘in all the clothes of truth’.
We now find ourselves at a comparable moment, but this time the conditions that Richard M. Weaver was to diagnose a decade later are now achieving their full-blown manifestation. In the spring of 2020, all around the world, but markedly throughout what we call “The West’, the ‘expert’ elites, using ideology as a kind of talisman, launched a sustained attack on human existence aimed at destroying everything it had been up to the day before. With their smooth bedside manners and their pristine white coats, the experts imposed themselves as heroic life-savers, carrying out selfless acts of public ministration and compassion. They did not, of course, reveal the extent of the financial recompense they were receiving for these endeavours and benevolences from the corporations who stood to gain if the lies being sold were believed and absorbed.
In our modern world, its moment-to-moment public discourse characterised by statistical analysis, cybernetic opinion polling, scientific data and sociological positivism, we have reached a situation in which the very future of our civilisation is threatened because there is no over-arching wisdom. There are no philosophic doctors and the ‘gentleman’ is a figure of fun. The poets and minstrels have gone over to the dark side, and the higher thinking of the metaphysicians, theologians and philosophers is not considered relevant unless it comes grounded in some form of pseudo-scientific research. Opinion polls and focus groups are the oracles of our time. Higher truths cannot be mentioned without being dismissed as religious mumbo-jumbo or superstitious nonsense. The dogma of scientism which allows for no consideration of anything that is not objectively demonstrable according to a narrow schema of methodology, is the Gospel of the Day.
Communism as a Marxist experiment was built on the dogmas of positivism and scientism. Positivist socialism continues to believe that somehow society can be controlled by man armed with ‘The Science’, that a utopian society can be formed and enforced by man, through a sense of supposedly higher knowledge and understanding, even though this, as Weaver describes, is akin to the fixed gaze upon the middle-distance of the drunk who fears losing his balance and collapsing. Ardent socialists continue to repeat the disgraced shibboleths of the failed socialist experiment. No matter how many times this experiment is shown not merely to have failed but to have delivered outright disaster, the world keeps returning to it as to a beguiling ex-lover who claims not to have been given a fair chance to prove her affection.
Modern education encourages specialisation as a virtue, and dismisses grounding in the humanities as a kind of indulgence in irrelevancies. The more ‘educated’ people become in our cultures now, the less able they are to see what is under their noses. One of the chief reasons people from a manual work background were better able to see through the Covid ruse was that they were not compartmentally ‘educated’ but generally better able to integrate their thinking with the evidence of their senses by virtue of using, for example, their hands in the course of their quotidian actions and activities. Manual labour is much derided in ‘educated’ circles, but many forms of such work allow for a much more integrated, holistic view of the world. Every human being, in the earliest stage of a life, discovers the world via the senses: sight, touch, smell, sound and taste. In the world up to a couple of generations ago, this, augmented with a sprinkling of the ‘three ‘r’s’, was the whole of an education, and afterwards the individual had to investigate the world on his own, using the methods and skills he had acquired from the cradle. What we call ‘education’ today cuts off the sensual aspects of learning at a relatively early stage, and switches to an exclusive mix of abstractions and concepts, all acquired by dint of committing to memory the selected contents of a narrow range of books, all of them ideologically chosen. Among the consequences of this is that the automatic use of the senses, and the memory of previous sensual experience, to confirm or rebut the validity or veracity of a received ‘fact’, is abandoned in favour of rote learning and the construction of a version of the world that is ‘rational’ in the sense that all its parts are designed to relate to and connect with all the others. The problem enters in when, as the pupil ascends through the system, he is more and more required to specialise, to acquire a detailed ‘expertise’ within a narrow section of overall knowledge, and only a very sketchy impression of all the rest, and all of this is removed from his sensual grasp of the world. This is one of the things that Richard M. Weaver saw coming.
And there is, furthermore, a collective problem, related to this: that, whereas each pupil, each graduate, each qualified ‘expert’ has, at the end of this process acquired a profound and detailed knowledge of his own specialisation, and all the specialisations, taken together, amount — theoretically — to the totality of all possible knowledge, there is no over-arching discipline by which the implications of each area of expertise may be seen in relation to all the others, and accordingly have its judgements and verdicts adjudicated within a total scheme of things. Instead, what we have is a babble of specialisms, each one discrete and, in a sense, absolute, but by no means capable of reconciliation as to their overall meaning in culture or social discourse. Expert A know everything about subject Z; expert B knows everything about subject Y; expert C knows everything about subject X, and so on. But expert A knows nothing about subjects X and Y; expert B knows nothing about subjects X and Z; and expert C knows nothing about subjects Y and Z. And, when conflicts occur across boundaries between the disciplines, there is no expert — no philosophic doctor or ‘gentleman’ — capable of reconciling or resolving them. Such is the tragedy of the modern culture of experts. In the ‘babble of expertise’, each ‘expert’ speaks over the shoulders, or to the shaking heads, or the raised hands of the others suppressing their yawns, each one waiting his chance to speak his only truth, neither listening nor synthesising. And, while each one speaks, each of the others is as though a layperson, more often than not just as baffled by the arcane argot in use, and unable to say whether what he hears is true or false. And, in the same fashion as the total layman, he is told he has no right to an opinion about any of it, and so, when asked, responds that it is ‘not my area of expertise’. Thus, each ‘expert’ is not merely qualified only in a single subject, but he, no more than the total layman, is not permitted to challenge or question any of the other ‘experts’, or he too will face the equivalent of the question: What are you — Henry Ford?
This is why the experts of the present day almost always seem like comical figures. In truth, though speaking with great authority on a single subject, they know almost nothing about anything else. Indeed, their concentration of energies into a single discipline has starved their imaginations of insight into other matters, and so they are as though dunces in about 99 per cent of reality. The humble binman who reads the New Scientist or Popular Science may know a great deal more about a greater number of topics, and yet is utterly without authority, whereas the specialist has the power to bring whole civilisations to a standstill by recommending that citizens be locked in their homes or injected with what, being untested, may turn out, for all anyone can predict, to be a lethal poison.
In this world, there is no reconciliation of risks with remedies, no balancing of precautions based on an overarching calculaus, no overall authority ‘qualified’ to demand such measures or responses. The politician nods at everything; the journalist is silent before it all; the cleric shrugs and suggests a prayer. None of the books from which all this alleged learning emanated in the first place are available to be scrutinised and their contents independently verified. There are no independent verifiers, no fact-checkers of the factoid experts. The sole recourse of the layman listener is to carry out, to the highest degree possible, the letter of what every single expert says should be done, even if these actions and courses are mutually contradictory to the point of inviting more or less instant chaos. Hence, our culture has become a kind of parody along the lines that Machiavelli warned his prince against, with politicians incapable of mediating between contradictory advices from a range of autonomous and discrete ‘experts’ whose opinions and advices appear to be irreconcilable as far as the politician is able to say. And this is before we take account of the hidden material interests at play from the perspective of each of the sundry experts who throw their tuppenceworth into the mixture. The result being a distorted jabber of unchecked and uncheckable theories and opinions, it ought not be a surprise to encounter in reality, a few years down the line, a pervasive and metastasising chaos.
As to whether it might be possible to reverse these tendencies, Weaver was pessimistic. The restoration of a genuinely liberal system of education, he thought, would be a start, but it is implicit in the other sections of his book that he did not imagine this to be a possibility. At the heart of his thesis was that democracy was itself damaging the chances of retaining a functional civilisation. The most important general event of his time, he argued, was the steady eradication of the necessary distinctions and hierarchies that create society. If society is something that can be understood, it must have structure and hierarchy. Without these elements there can be no integration of variegated human beings, and as a result the centre is unable to hold, and chaos inevitably follows.
It was clear from the outset that the ‘Covid project’ was a coup: in each territory, an autogolpe — self-coup — in which the prior value systems were being torched and demolished. Such was the official contempt for freedoms, rights, constitutions and the rule of law that any half-intelligent person must have been able to intuit that there could be no going back under the prevailing systems of politics and administration. The willing or coerced participation in the coup of multiple layers of disparate establishments, and their willingness to act in a tyrannical lockstep, ought to have conveyed to the populations of the West that all bets were off and the bookie had cashed up and gone awol.
One of the key giveaways was the placid willingness of political establishments and the governments they administered to publicly delegate authority to ‘expert’ agents, agencies and entities beyond the political realm. In the past, it had been a principle of political leadership that, whereas all governments had always had advisors, these were generally kept in the background — indeed, in some instances, maintained quite separately from the governmental chambers, and consulted only when a particularly arcane difficulty required to be approached on the basis of specialist knowledge. The legendary Irish Taoiseach, Charles J, Haughey, for example, famously declared that economists ought never be allowed into the same room as government ministers, but should be maintained in a separate room at a fair distance and, when required, have messages brought to and from them on pieces of paper. The point, obviously, was that political authority was a matter of sacred delegation by the people, and ought not be sub-franchised to unelected agents or entities.
All this went out the window from the outset of the Covid scam. Politicians, ministers, prime ministers, presidents all suddenly demonstrated their preparedness to share the stage with grey-looking, slightly clownish figures who spouted figures and statistics and formulae in a manner that exhibited no sense of responsibility to explain itself. The politicians, standing in the shadows, merely nodded their heads or shrugged their shoulders. Thus did they make a mistake analogous to that described by Machiavelli, of handing their authority to a dissonant chorus of babblers, who gradually altered the tone of their announcement so as to exclude the spectre of the politicians from what became their unmediated issuing of diktats and prohibitions. The political establishments of the West were in effect cuckholding themselves, facilitating the ‘expert’ proxies of the external colonising overlords, and all the while pretending to be still in charge. One possibility here is that, mistaking their own cowardice for cleverness, the politicians failed to see that they were publicly handing over the authority entrusted to them by their peoples. Another — even more ominous — is that they already knew that the death hymn of democracy was being sung, and that part of what was happening was a kind of dramatisation of contempt for the democratic process, a ritual of slash-and-burn being conducted in plain sight so as to place beyond doubt that there would be no going back to old assumptions or the old order. Thus, on the orders of the predator overlords, our political establishments were collaborating with their own symbolic public castration, possibly on a promise of reward via the medium of fake money or the prospect of seats on the ark, but either way having already abandoned their oaths and their promises, and most of all the people to whom these oaths and promises were made. They understood that the New World Disorder was coming, but knew of no ‘expert’ capable of turning it back in its tracks.