Discourse

Experts can guide policy but they should not dictate it

Let the experts give their predictions regarding what will happen if we don't quarantine before we meet as a family, and let us, not a single politician, decide what to do with that information.
Tripp Parker
Tripp Parker Seattle, WA

Jay Inslee, the Democrat Governor of Washington State issued yet another decree from on high locking down the state based on the "experts" he has chosen to guide him in navigating the pandemic. This time, the restrictions aren't just on businesses and public gatherings. Private gatherings within one's own home with members who do not live with you are also prohibited unless you adhere to a quarantine period and receive a negative COVID-19 test within two days of the planned gathering.

You'll excuse me if I think this to be not only unconstitutional and a violation of our rights, but also a weaponization of the so-called "experts" he's using to justify such measures. While some (such as Tom Nichols) might decry the "Death of Expertise" and our collective unwillingness to recognize true expertise when presented with it, I am far more comfortable with a mistrust of expertise than I am the "tyranny of the experts".

The issue at hand is that experts are specialists. No one is an expert on everything. They tend to focus on optimizing very specific things that they study. My friend, a former director at Boeing, describes how planes would look different if all you cared about is one particular expert's opinion. A plane optimized by design solely for aerodynamics would be very inhospitable for humans, and one optimized for human comfort would look like a flying hotel and never get off the ground. And yet both of these areas have "experts" who, if they're not checked against each other, would produce something utterly useless.

This brings me to our current Covid situation, and the danger unfolding before us. Our politicians, particularly Democratic governors throughout the country (and presumably, soon, Joe Biden as President) love to cherry pick particular "experts" and use them to justify orders they have no right to give.

One might push back: aren't we supposed to "believe in science"? This is a pandemic, shouldn't the infectious disease experts be in charge right now? Here's the simple answer: we should absolutely trust the scientists regarding their expert predictions in their field. What we absolutely should not do is take their public policy prescriptions just because they're experts in their field. We have to consider other things that we care about that aren't a part of an infectious disease expert's training.

An epidemiologist might want to minimize the spread of a disease, the chamber of commerce might want to minimize the impact on businesses, therapists might want to minimize the impact on mental health of the population, churches and synagogues might want to minimize the impact on their ability to worship. I may want to have my parents over on Thanksgiving. There are experts in each of these areas. Each of them integral to human life, or life as it should be.

I have more than a little trepidation regarding the "listen to the experts" mantra: the public's blind deference to "experts" holds a special danger to those of us concerned with liberty. Politicians often want more power, more control over your life. Often they do this by appealing to authority especially in "emergency" situations. They're experts, after all. Never mind the effects on you and your family or your community. Trust them. Obey them.

This reminds me of a quote from CS Lewis in an article he wrote in The Observer in 1958. Prophetic as always, Lewis wrote:

"...the new oligarchy must more and more base its claim to plan us on its claim to knowledge. If we are to be mothered, mother must know best. This means they must increasingly rely on the advice of scientists, till in the end the politicians proper become merely the scientists' puppets. Technocracy is the form to which a planned society must tend. Now I dread specialists in power because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects. Let scientists tell us about sciences. But government involves questions about the good for man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a man's opinion no added value. Let the doctor tell me I shall die unless I do so-and-so; but whether life is worth having on those terms is no more a question for him than for any other man."

A balance must be struck, but that balance cannot be a blind "trust the scientists" policy. These are our lives. Taking away rights by fiat based on a self-selected set of experts is tyranny, plain and simple. We have a constitution and legislatures for good reasons, and one of them is balancing competing values and considerations. No single person can do that. No arbitrarily selected set of "experts" can tell us what we should do. The experts can present to us their predictions. It is completely within our purview to make our decisions regarding what to do with their predictions, and whether the price is worth the benefit for any particular policy in question.

Whatever one may think of the wisdom of having a dozen people in your home without quarantine, that's simply not the point. Jay Inslee, Joe Biden, and the like have absolutely no right to impose a restriction on what Americans do in their own home. Let the experts give their predictions regarding what will happen if we don't quarantine before we meet as a family, and let us, not a single politician, decide what to do with that information.

CS Lewis feared specialists in power, and that fear is reasonable. I am equally fearful of politicians who get to decide which specialists they listen to in order to justify taking away our freedoms by decree.

Ultimately, if we wish not to live under the thumb of the power hungry, we need to firmly send that message to our politicians and the "experts" who purport to run our country. Governing by fiat is antithetical to freedom, our rights do not cease to exist in a pandemic, and justifying it by an appeal to authority is no justification at all.

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