My musings on different political topics relevant to America today.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Opinion and Elitism: the Bad Couple

Why do credentials matter? They certainly do matter, but why? If I was a writer, what difference does it make what I have done, if what I write is true? The fact is that the audience indeed does think it matters, and they will reward or judge an argument not by its clarity or effectiveness, but by the character, experience, and prestige of the author.  If you are well known, you must have something worth listening too.  It is an interesting phenomenon I wish to explore more.  It is best that we look at what exactly the pros and cons of this practice are, and to reconsider our assumption that credentials outweigh the actual substance of someone's opinion.

First, what are the positives.  They do indeed exist.  You got to consider why the person is well known in the first place.  Obviously, you have to do something remarkable in this society to be well-known.  A politician had to rise through the ranks of his party and beat out everyone else that competed with him for his position, as a representative, senator, or President.  A military commander had to rise through the ranks, which requires a very talented and determined individual.  A business executive had to likewise climb through the ranks of a corporation and log in countless hours, sacrificing all to beat out the competition for the top spot.  All of these "great" people have had to accomplish a lot, and experience a lot.  They have tons of experiences to draw from when making their opinions.  In addition, perhaps the person is well-known simply on the strength of their ideas or opinions.  In that case, knowing that the opinion is theirs signals to you that a really smart intelligent man made it.  In either case, being well-known does send signals that the person's opinion is potentially more valid than someone less well-known.

The opinion formers such as the media and
academia would prefer it this way
This is a convincing argument in some cases.  If General Petraeus gives his opinion on how winnable the current war in Afghanistan is, there is good reason to believe him over a radio commentator or some random guy (like myself).  However, that does not mean, that his opinion is undeniable.  People can still make valid arguments against his opinion, and if their arguments are more persuasive than his, then people should accept that indeed, General Petraeus may be wrong.  Nevertheless, he may still be right even if their argument sounds more persuasive.  That is the tricky thing about opinions, a better argument does not necessarily make it true.  Indeed, since he is a general, not a debater, he may not have the acumen some have for making witty arguments.  That does not mean he is wrong.  However, being a general does not make him automatically right either.  Many generals have been wrong before, no reason he could not mess up as well.  

This brings us to the big negative, there is a certain elitist flavor to favoring an opinion simply because it is made by a higher up.  Obviously the credentials a professor has makes it clear that an opinion he has in his field is more probably valid than not.  However, if an amateur comes along that has an equal passion for the subject, and makes an argument in opposition to that the professor made, his opinion should not be dismissed outright.  It is ridiculous to deny him the right to have an opinion and to take his opinion seriously simply because he does not have the experience, or level of education of another person.  While those are important, I do not deny, they are not the end all of truth.  

As a Christian, I believe this is self-evident in the Christian faith.  Christians should keep in mind that the founder of Christianity, Jesus, was a carpenter, and that his disciples were fishermen and other commoners.  None were Pharisees.  Yes, Paul was educated, but the opinion of Peter, a fisherman, is given equal footing with him.  Both are in the Bible, and Peter's opinion is not seen as any less valid.  Before dismissing someone's opinion because of their lack of "credentials," keep in mind who the founders of our faith were.

Credentials do give us signals that an opinion is likely more valid than not, but not necessarily.  Someone less well-known and "qualified" may indeed have a better opinion, or not, it depends.  Nevertheless, what I am arguing for is that people's arguments should be judged at face-value.  Arguments should be determined by how persuasive they are in themselves.  Yes, the better arguments do not necessarily equate with the right opinions, yet it is better I believe, to consider everyone's opinion as equally valid from the start, rather than force someone to prove himself first before even considering what he has to say.  The elitist control of opinion must be stopped.  Lets consider what everyone has to say.  I guarantee that all the "experts" would be surprised what brilliance average people can possess.

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