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Beware of the rise of the ‘expert class’

Beware of the rise of the ‘expert class’

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Patrick Burke

In 1922, “Public Opinion” was authored by American columnist and political philosopher, Walter Lippmann. Lippmann wrote ordinary people have been “eclipsed in the name of science and mass communication.” He argued that the rise of the expert class did nothing good instead of brainwashing the common folk in science and education.  

Lippmann introduces “the manufacture of consent,” using the expert class and the media for politicians to gain consent of the governed. Of course, the expert class is equally capable of fomenting discord. Lippmann referred to the governed as the “bewildering herd” was easily susceptible to the manufacturing of consent. 

The past two decades has seen a staggering increase in “experts” in all aspects of American life. The increase of internet platforms collectively known as social media seems to have created a generation of professional attention seekers. It appears that far too many have abandoned a search for the truth and truth becomes information that confirms existing biases.  

Much of the expert class is little more than slick self-promoters looking to gain an economic or political advantage. I am not intending to disparage, as this is part of how capitalism operates but this should not negate our responsibility in a search for gaining wisdom. Wisdom and experience cannot be purchased, they can only be applied. Wisdom is the fruit of curiosity cultivated through the exploration of ideas, people, places and things. Socrates held that wisdom was the most important personal virtue.  

American financier and statesman Bernard Baruch said in the 1930’s: “I have witnessed a whole succession of technological revolutions. But none of them has done away with the need for character in the individual or the ability to think.” 

Propagating wisdom should be our priority and not allowing the expert class to usurp that responsibility. 

I have observed that a significant portion of the expert class.  

  • Overestimate their knowledge 
  • Think their opinion is final  
  • They easily overshadow other’s expert opinion 

A couple of weeks after graduating from college my father gave me a 3×5 index card on which he had typed some instructions which I have kept with me for 38 years. He told me I would be confronted by many distractions and experts, make certain I stay grounded in these ideas.  

  • Think for yourself and follow through on your ideas. 
  • Back up your words with action. 
  • Do you know the facts? 
  • Do you seek constructive criticism of your ideas? 
  • Select and support good leaders and be willing to serve. Critics and spectators accomplish little. 
  • Set and stick to specific goals. 

The experts have an important role in society, but not at the expense propagating wisdom. In the heated and fractured political environment of today, the inclination is to find that expert to guide us through the darkness of fear and anxiety. On your journey in search of the truth inherent in the propagation of wisdom, may well be where your answer will be found. 

Patrick Burke is the managing principal of Burke Group, a Rochester-based retirement plan consulting & administration, actuarial services and compensation consulting firm.