This recent post by Professor Cocks relates to something I wrote recently at Throne and Altar.
Contemporary society is unofficially organized by two principles.
- Authority, competence, and trustworthiness is established solely through the possession of credentials testifying to a relevant education and training.
- Ultimate authority over the entire social order belongs to the media, which adjudicates social status of both individuals and groups and tells people what their opinions on all matters of the day should be.
These two principles are not obviously in harmony. What training do opinion journalists have to justify their vast power? What credentialing process qualifies one to be a philosopher king?
The question will probably strike readers, as it would have struck Plato, as grotesque. Surely the qualification to be a philosopher king, or more generally to have one’s opinions on all subjects taken seriously, is wisdom, something more likely to come from hard experience than from any university degree. That’s not the point though. The point is, if you were on board with the program of the modern world, you would respect only credentialed expertise. You would also read the New York Times religiously and believe whatever you read there. However, it is quite doubtful that the writers at the Times can boast any expertise that would justify such credulity.
We could easily look up the degrees and academic publication history of the writers at the major journals. Some would be impressive, although I expect most wouldn’t be. However, as soon as one poses the question, one realizes that no list of degrees would justify the obeisance these journals receive.
The Times and other big newspapers could claim expertise as journalists. It’s what some of their employees were trained in, and they have interviewed their subjects and thus have the “expertise of direct witness” to report what they’ve seen and heard. If they were humble newsmen just reporting what they’ve seen and heard, this would be enough. But they also endorse political movements and candidates, propose an authoritative interpretation of American history, declare scientific hypotheses off limits, and in many other ways behave as if possessed of a universal competence of judgment.
Amusingly, one of the things they do with this universal competence is ridicule people who defy expert opinion. Only experts are qualified to have opinions according to the most influential people, who have no relevant expertise on most of the subjects they write on.