“Suddenly, everybody’s an expert.” We hear this every time we have a crisis of some sort. Before the current conflict, it was the war in Ukraine and epidemiology before that. I want to analyze what motivates someone to say this.
It is a cynical expression. Cynicism often masks insecurity. It could be that he doesn’t feel equipped to criticize you directly or feels guilty about his ignorance on the topic. Or, perhaps he is an expert and feels a sense of encroachment.
It may also be because, in the West, only “experts” are entitled to opinions, a Western prejudice against holistic thinkers. It may also be a relic of the patriarchy. Men were encouraged to specialize in their trades, while women saw the meaning of life more holistically. By privileging specialization, men could silence women, even though knowledge can be sliced vertically or horizontally, neither being inherently superior to the other.
When my wife sought medical advice for pain stretching from her shoulder to her wrist, she was referred to an elbow specialist who could not determine the cause. When my wife explained that the pain wasn’t just in her elbow, he said he could not comment on other areas. Maybe he heard a cynical voice saying, “Oh, everyone is a shoulder expert now?” This whole experience was idiotic.
Some may counter that studying a broad range of topics is commendable, but you should refrain from commenting until you are an expert. By this logic, students would be mere receptacles, absorbing information without ever synthesizing or challenging it—don’t write, just read. Why do they do both? Because forming your opinions and engaging others on the subject is how you make the knowledge your own. You cannot sit by the poolside until you know how to swim.
Besides, at what point do we become an “expert”? Is there a line we suddenly cross? Who decides where the line is? The infatuation with this idea of “expert” stifles learning. We should encourage everyone to study and engage others on any topic.
So, the next time you’re met with the sardonic quip, “Oh, you’re an expert now?” perhaps the apt response is, “Better than everyone remaining ignorant like you.”
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