As much as we can, the Chimps try to be nice to ignorant rubes, mostly because we seek to bring them over to the light side with appeals to their lizard brains. But from time to time, we lose our patience, especially when one of the rubes passes himself off as cerebral.
The New Yorker recently ran a cartoon employing an apt metaphor. The cartoon depicts an untrained passenger on a commercial airliner complaining about smug pilots who had lost touch with the people. The random passenger asks other passengers whether they wouldn’t prefer that he rather than the pilots fly the plane. We suggest that the idea meant to be conveyed, in light of recent events in American politics, should be self-evident.
The cartoon drew commentary from some hack at USA Today called David Mastio. Mastio, it seems, is anti-expert:
The fact is that American government is far more complex than landing a passenger jet, and the experts have shown again and again that they are not up to the job. Who was in charge at the Department of Veterans Affairs when its scandalous treatment of veterans blew up? Experts. When retired four-star general Colin Powell mistakenly made the case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, was there any more expert consumer of intelligence information on the planet? No. How many experts were on hand for the birth of Obamacare, and how many highly trained minds worked on the disastrous launch of Obamacare’s online portals? The American people have, not unreasonably, decided there were a few too many.
The Chimps propose that this blurb be displayed on an overhead projector in front of every incoming law-school class in America from now until the sun swallows up the Earth. And then, after each such display, the following points should be made:
If you find this ‘argument’ to be persuasive, then you are unsuited not only for the study or practice of law, but for any undertaking whatsoever that requires a functioning intellect. This tripe is ignorant and lazy on a stratospheric order of magnitude. Whoever wrote it is beset by cognitive occlusions layered deep. And if you read it and thought, that makes sense — well, the Chimps suggest that you might consider a career in shoelace aglet repair.
The crux of Mastio’s ‘argument’ is this: there is anecdotal evidence that mistakes are sometimes made when experts are in charge. Therefore, we’d be better off if the people in charge were not experts. The underlying assumption appears to be that mistakes are caused by the expertise of the experts in charge when those mistakes happen rather than by the inexpert bumbling of incompetent underlings. If a 747 crashes while the world’s best-trained pilot is flying it, for example, we must blame the pilot even if it turns out that the plane was felled by the failure of a badly hung-over baggage handler to properly latch a luggage compartment door.
How dumb is Mastio’s argument? Let’s start with the obvious omission of the ample empirical evidence that when experts are in charge, things are far more likely to go well. It would be a special species of moron who would argue that one story about one plane crashing while one expert pilot was at the controls overcomes statistical evidence that, when other expert pilots are at the controls, more than 100,000 flights per day around the world still have living human cargo on board when they land at their scheduled destinations. To say that the one failure is better evidence against expert competence than the millions of successes are for it would be idiotic — as idiotic, in fact, as the suggestion that a fucking reality TV host should be made president of the United States because some I.T. bureaucrat crashed an internet healthcare website.
Most of the time, a court case goes better for you if a legal expert called a lawyer is in charge, notwithstanding that some lawyers are idiots. Most of the time, surgery goes better for you if a medical expert called a doctor is in charge, notwithstanding that some doctors are idiots. Most of the time, a financial transaction goes better for you if a money expert called an accountant is in charge, notwithstanding that some accountants are idiots. Most of the time, an experiment goes better if an expert called a scientist is in charge, notwithstanding that some scientists are, well, a bit mad.
All of this is apparently lost on poor Mastio, who has made the astonishing discovery that sometimes, even when an expert is in charge, bad things happen. Mastio has noticed (metaphorically) that once in a while a plane crashes while a trained pilot is in control without asking how many planes might crash were trained pilots not in control. It’s hard to grasp, let alone describe, the depth of this vacuity.
The New Yorker cartoon threw a metaphorical left hook, and this dope David Mastio ducked right into it.
To make matters worse, one of the supposed exemplars of Mastio’s inane point, when viewed through the lens of clear thinking rather than the astigmatism of disabling ideology, proves precisely the opposite of the proposition for which it was cited. We’re talking about the Colin Powell reference. Mastio would have us believe that Powell’s trouble was in his reliance on his own expertise rather than in the abdication of his expert judgment in submission to that knuckle-dragging mouth-breather George W Bush (who, in turn, answered to an inexpert Mephistopheles called Dick Cheney). The example of Colin Powell, who famously admonished the manchild Bush, “If you break it, you own it,” teaches that experts, rather than being subservient to unlettered incompetents, should probably be in charge.
There is a certain level of stupidity that cannot be overcome by any means. It can only be shamed into silence (or, failing that, disrepute) through mockery and derision. To that end, we award David Mastio his very own Laughing Chimps Salute.