Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking • For January 28, 2017 Weekender
The Self-Delusion of Personal Expertise
David W. Hegg
It has been subtle, incremental, and so imperceptible that we have gone from laughing at it as absurd and ridiculous, to accepting it as worthy of consideration and applause. I’m talking about the unfiltered heed our society now gives to the arrogant political outbursts of certain actors, actresses, and athletes who suppose the world has been waiting anxiously for their political and social pontifications.
Whenever one of them steps up to the microphone they boldly insinuate that their political wisdom and social savvy are just what the world needs to be put right. However, in reality, they are suffering from an unjustifiable bout of self-delusion. Apparently, this malady is epidemic among those who believe their wealth and popularity justify their masquerading as experts in the weightier matters of life.
Consider this. Suppose a highly successful and respected neurosurgeon were to take advantage of a televised news broadcast to school Richard Gere or Meryl Streep on the finer points of the actor’s craft. Suppose this physician made broad negative statements about their on-stage poise, diction, and emotive ability. I can guarantee the cast of Hollywood would ridicule said doctor as being completely out of his element, and worthy of wide-spread disdain.
And what if a tenured professor of theology at Georgetown were to offer advice to LeBron James or Steph Curry on dribbling, passing, shooting or playing defense on the basketball court? Again we could all expect James and Curry, while much more polite and respectful than the Hollywood elite, to courteously suggest the professor stick to his own area of expertise.
Here’s the deal: Success in one area does not equate to expertise in another. Being good at something doesn’t mean you’re good at everything, or that you have any idea what you’re talking about when you start telling us how to think and live. Just because you are successful and rich doesn’t make you insightful and brilliant in every area. Just because you can say lines well before a camera, and garner an Oscar, doesn’t mean your political or social pronouncements deserve any more public consideration than do those of the folks at the bar or the salon. And the same goes for those who can throw, shoot, catch, kick, or hit a ball of some sort.
Despite their popularity, the only thing these famous types have that you and I don’t is regular opportunities for public declaration. Simply put, they have microphone privileges the rest of us will never have. But that doesn’t mean we have to listen.
Of course, we all recognize the brilliance of a great actress, and an accomplished athlete. We enjoy their expertise, dedication, and ability to entertain us in a grand manner.
But wake up America! When those who live to entertain step out of their world and into the arena of pubic discourse, we simply must hit the mute button until they can speak out of some study, some proven ability, some experience in the field where they now presume to speak authoritatively.
It has been my experience that the wisest, most brilliant people I have ever met were also the most humble. Though exceedingly accomplished in their fields, they refused to speak dogmatically into other fields lest they became what they most greatly despised: shallow minds foolishly giving off simplistic answers to complex questions.
All around us now, through the ubiquitous presence of social media, our society is deluged with information purporting to tell us what to think, what to believe, and how to act. And, sadly, the deluge has washed away the grid we once counted on to determine the true and important from the abundant foolish drivel. We used to know the experts from the arrogant pretenders, but now it seems we are defenseless against the emotional outbursts of those we applaud in other arenas.
But, again, we don’t have to listen. And we don’t have to applaud, even if that means we appear to be uncool. Wouldn’t we rather be smart than hip if the choice must be made? Wouldn’t we rather take in the studied results of actual experts than the whiny outbursts of the coddled and galactically self-focused? Of course, it’s up to you. In the final analysis, we all have to determine what level of expertise we’ll demand from those whose opinions we allow to hold space in our minds.