The Real Reality-Based Community

“Hatewatch” over at Winds of Change has a nice roundup of links, including one called Idiotarian Seethings. Control-F twice on that phrase to get to the meat, though the whole thing is fun, as usual. I particularly liked this bit:

Early in July, NRO’s Jonah Goldberg did his part to entertain the right-wing blogosphere by tracking down this piece of comedy gold, wherein an ambitious DU denizen attempts to demonstrate that 9/11 was a conspiracy by failing to collapse steel rabbit fencing. The true entertainment only starts, as is often the case in these swamps, when other budding scientists attempt to explain why they too are moved by his demonstration. By all means, enjoy yourselves.

But there’s a serious point here for political discourse, one that often gets lost in the growing populism on both the left and the right: experts are good. Not everyone can do or know the things that they do. It’s not just that being an expert causes you to have the knowledge that you need to evaluate things within your field – it’s that immersion in a way of thinking that seems to be related to particular objects gets you in the habit of thinking a certain way. It’s why chess masters can ‘see’ a board and topologists can ‘see’ a knot. Not to be overly pedantic, but it seems like certain objects are easier to understand by thinking in certain ways. An expert has developed cognitive habits as well as broad knowledge. That why an amateur and an expert can know exactly the same amount of things and can be exactly as smart, and the expert might have insights that the amateur might never stumble into.

Of course, that’s beside the point in two ways. First, this guy isn’t an amateur in anything – he’s just an tool (click through if you want some entertainment). Second, however, this anti-expert populism (most often expressed in blog triumphalism) isn’t distributed evenly across the left and right of the political spectrum. To be more specific, when the right challenges ostensible experts, it seems that the people doing the challenging are actually better at the matter at hand than the people being challenged: Allahpundit and Dr. Shackleford are very, very good at Photoshop and that Reuters idiot is very, very not.

Meanwhile, on the left, we’ve got American Apparel checkout workers and Starbucks baristas going toe to toe with MIT architects on the weight that reinforced cross-sections can bear – a matchup hilarious but for the passion with which the checkout workers and baristas insist that they have an opinion that they’re entitled to. The urge to debunk the reasoning of experts is dangerous across the board, a seed that can blossom into full-blown anti-intellectualism. It just seems that when the right does it, they end up being right. And that’s a difference worth noting.

Of course, expect the usual idiotarian seethers in the comments section to seethe at this.