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The Year That Expertise Collapsed
Jeffrey Tucker

Getting sick and getting well is part of the human experience at all times in all places. As with other phenomena of human existence, that suggests there is a great deal of embedded knowledge on the topic woven into the fabric of our lives. We aren’t born knowing but we come to know: from our moms and dads, experience of siblings and others, from our own experience, and from medical professionals who deal with the problem daily.

In a healthy and functioning society, the path toward maintaining personal and public health becomes embedded in the cultural firmament, just like manners, belief systems, and value preferences. 

It’s not necessary that we think about it constantly; instead it becomes a habit, with much of the knowledge tacit; that is, deployed daily but rarely with full cognizance.

We could know for certain that there had been a change in the matrix in March 2020 because, seemingly out of nowhere, all of this knowledge was deemed wrong. 

A new gaggle of experts was in charge, one day to the next. Suddenly, they were everywhere. They were on TV, quoted by all the newspapers, amplified on social media, and on the phone constantly with local officials instructing them on how they must shut down the schools, businesses, playgrounds, churches, and civic gatherings.

The message was always the same. This time is completely different from anything in our experience or in any previous experience. This time we must adopt a totally new and completely untested paradigm. It comes from models that high-level scientists have deemed correct. It comes from labs. It comes from “germ games” of which none of us are part. If we dare to reject the new teachings for the old, we are doing it wrong. We are the malicious ones. We deserve ridicule, cancellation, silencing, exclusion, and worse.

It felt like a coup d’état of sorts. It certainly was an intellectual coup. All wisdom of the past, even that known by public health only months earlier, was deleted from public spaces. Dissent was silenced. Corporate media was absolutely united in celebrating the greatness of people like Fauci, who spoke in strangely circuitous ways that contradicted everything we thought we knew.

It was exceedingly strange because the people we thought might have stood up to the flash imposition of tyranny somehow vanished. We could hardly meet with others at all, if only to share intuitions that something was wrong. “Social distancing” was more than a method to “slow the spread;” it amounted to comprehensive control of the public mind too.

The experts instructing us spoke with astonishing certainty about precisely how society should be managed in a pandemic. There were scientific papers, tens of thousands of them, and the storm of credentials was everywhere and out of control. Unless you had a university or lab affiliation and unless you had multiple high-level degrees attached to your name, you could not get a hearing. Folk wisdom was out of the question, even basic things like “sun and outdoors are good for respiratory infections.” Even popular understanding of natural immunity came in for hard ridicule.

Later it turned out that even top credentialed experts would not be taken seriously if they had the wrong views. This is when the racket became incredibly obvious. It was never really about genuine knowledge. It was about compliance and echoing the approved line. It’s astonishing how many people went along, even with the stupidest of the mandates, such as the distancing stickers everywhere, the ubiquity of Plexiglas, and the dirty masks on every face which were somehow believed to keep people healthy.

Once the contrary studies started coming out, we would share them and get shouted down. The comment sections of the studies started to be raided by partisan experts who would hone in on small issues and problems and demand and obtain takedowns. Then the contrarian expert would get doxxed, his dean notified, and the faculty turned against the person, lest the department risk funding from Big Pharma or Fauci in the future.

All the while, we kept thinking that there must be some rationale behind all this madness. It never emerged. It was all intimidation and belligerence and nothing more—arbitrary diktat by big shots who were pretending the entire time.

The lockdowners and shot mandators were never intellectually serious people. They never much thought about the implications or ramifications of what they were doing. They were just wrecking things mostly for pecuniary gain, job protection, and career advancement, plus it was fun to be in charge. It’s not much more complicated than that.

In other words, we’ve gradually come to realize that our worst fears were true. All these experts were and are fakes. There have been some hints along the way, such as when North Carolina Health Director Mandy Cohen (now head of the CDC) reported that she and her colleagues were burning up the phone lines to decide whether people should be allowed to participate in sports.

“She was like, are you gonna let them have professional football?” she said. “And I was like, no. And she’s like, OK neither are we.”

Another candid moment came five months ago, only recently unearthed by X (formerly Twitter) when NIH head Francis Collins admitted that he and his colleagues attached “zero value” to whether and to what extent they were disrupting lives, wrecking the economy, and destroying education for kids.

He actually said this.

As it turns out, these experts who ruled our lives, and still do to a great extent, were never what they claimed to be, and never actually possessed knowledge that was superior to what existed within the cultural firmament of society. Instead, all they really had was power and a grand opportunity to play dictator.

It’s astonishing, truly, and worthy of deep study, when you consider the extent to which and for how long this class of people were able to maintain the illusion of consensus within their ranks.

They bamboozled the media all over the world. They tricked vast swaths of the population. 

They bent all social media algorithms to reflect their views and priorities.

One explanation comes down to the money trail. 

That’s a powerful explanation. But it is not the whole of it. Behind the illusion was a terrifying intellectual isolation in which all these people found themselves. They never really encountered people who disagreed. Indeed, part of the way these people had come to conceive of their jobs was to master the art of knowing what to think and when and how. It’s part of the job training to enter the class of experts: mastering the skill of echoing the opinions of others.

Discovering this to be true is alarming for anyone who holds to older ideals of how intellectual society should conduct itself. We like to imagine that there is a constant clash of ideas, a burning desire to get to the truth, a love of knowledge and data, a passion for gaining a better understanding. That requires, above all else, an openness of mind and a willingness to listen. All of this was overtly and explicitly shut down in March 2020 but it was made easier because all the mechanisms were already in place.

One of the best books of our time is Tom Harrington’s “The Treason of the Experts,” published by Brownstone. There is simply not in the present era a more insightful investigation and deconstruction of the sociological sickness of the expert class. Every page is on fire with insight and observation about the intellectual juntas that attempt to rule the public mind in today’s world. It’s a terrifying look at how wildly wrong everything has gone in the world of ideas. A great follow-up volume is Ramesh Thakur’s “Our Enemy, the Government,” which reveals all the ways in which the new scientists who were ruling the world weren’t scientific at all.

Brownstone was born in the midst of the worst of this world. We set out to create something different, not a bubble of ideological/partisan attachment or an enforcement organ of the proper way to think about all issues. Instead, we sought to become a genuine society of thinkers united in a principled attachment to freedom but hugely diverse in specialization and philosophical outlook. It’s one of the few centers where there is genuine interdisciplinary engagement and openness to new perspectives and outlook. All of this is essential to the life of the mind and yet nearly absent in academia, media, and government today.

We’ve put together a fascinating model for retreats. We choose a comfortable venue where the food and drink are provided and the living quarters are excellent, and bring together 40 or so top experts to present a set of ideas to the whole group. Each speaker gets 15 minutes and that is followed by 15 minutes of engagement from everyone present. Then we go to the next speaker. This goes on all day and the evenings are spent in casual conversation. As the organizer, Brownstone does not pick topics or speakers but rather allows the flow of ideas to emerge organically. This goes on for two and a half days. There is no set agenda, no mandated takeaways, no required action items. There is only unconstrained idea generation and sharing.

There is a reason why there is such a clamor to attend. It’s the creation of something that all these wonderful people—each person a dissident in his own field—had hoped to encounter in professional life but the reality was always elusive. It’s only three days so hardly Ancient Greece or Vienna in the interwar years but it is an excellent start, and hugely productive and uplifting. It’s amazing what can happen when you combine intelligence, erudition, open minds, and sincere sharing of ideas. From the point of view of government, huge corporations, academia, and all the architects of today’s world of ideas, this is precisely what they do not want.

The difference between 2023 and, say, five years ago, is that the expertise racket is now out in the open. Vast swaths of society decided to trust the experts for a time. They deployed every power of the state, along with all affiliated institutions in the pseudo-private sector, to browbeat and manipulate the people into panicked compliance with preposterous antics that never had any hope of mitigating disease.

Look where that got us. The experts have been fully discredited. Is it any wonder that ever more people are skeptical of the same gang’s claims about climate change, diversity, immigration, inflation, education, gender transitions, or anything else pushed today by elite minds?

Mass compliance has been replaced by mass incredulity.

Trust will not likely return in our lifetimes.

There is, further, a reason why hardly anyone is surprised that the president of Harvard stands accused of rampant plagiarism or that election officials are deploying sneaky forms of lawfare to keep political renegades off the ballot or that money launderers for the administrative state are getting away with rampant fraud. Graft, kickbacks, bribery, misappropriation, nepotism, favoritism, and outright corruption rule the day in all elite circles.

In a few weeks, we are going to hear from Anthony Fauci, who will be grilled by a House of Representatives committee on exactly how he claimed to be so sure that there was no lab leak stemming from gain-of-function research being done at a U.S.-baked lab in Wuhan. We’ll see how much attention this testimony gets but, truly, does anyone really believe that he is going to be honest and forthcoming? It is pretty much a consensus these days that he has been up to no good. If he is “the science,” science itself is in grave trouble.

What a contrast to just a few years ago when Fauci-themed shirts and coffee mugs were big-selling items. He claimed to be the science, and science did rally behind him as if he had all the answers, even though what he advocated contradicted every bit of common wisdom that has always been practiced in every civilized society.

Three years ago, the expert class went out on the farthest limb one can imagine, daring to replace all social knowledge and embedded cultural experience with their off-the-cuff rationalism and scientistic razzmatazz that ended up serving the industrial interests of large-scale exploiters in tech, media, and pharma. We live in the midst of the rubble they created. It’s no wonder they have been completely discredited.

To replace them—and this is a long-term strategy and one that unfolds gradually with bold efforts such as that undertaken by Brownstone Institute—we need a new and serious effort to rebuild serious thought based on honesty, sincere engagement across ideological lines, and a genuine commitment to truth and freedom. We have that opportunity right now, and we dare not decline to take up the task with every sense of urgency and passion. As always, your support of our work is greatly appreciated.




I'm executive editor of Laissez Faire Books and the proprietor of the Laissez Faire Club. I'm the author of two books in the field of economics and one on early music. My main professional work between 1985 and 2011 was with the MIses Institute but I've also worked with the Acton Institute and Mackinac Institute, as well as written thousands of published articles. My personal twitter account @jeffreyatucker FB is @jeffrey.albert.tucker Plain old email is [email protected]

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