J.E. Dyer’s reaction to my post on the “Sputnik moment” theme prompts this reflection: as a conservative, you can cite examples like the academy’s treatment of the Cold War all day long. If you’re a historian, you can point to the Arming America saga, which revealed that a few Second Amendment supporters and amateur historians had a better grasp of historical methodology and reality than the distinguished committee that awarded the Bancroft Prize to that faked book (and then was forced to take it back). If you’re interested in climate change, you can point, today, to the UN report on the non-melting glaciers of the Himalayas, and the shabby way that the UN panel — headed by a railway engineer — cribbed its so-called data from the World Wildlife Fund.
But always, the center-left returns, with mule-like stubbornness, to its default position: conservatives are stupid, probably on the corporate payroll somehow, and all the hubbub is just sound and fury around what are basically minor and unimportant issues. It’s J.E.’s disillusioning Cold War story all over again, in other words. The consensus on the value of often-politicized expert opinion — a consensus that derives from the Progressive Era — is so strong that even when the Cold War ended, and the so-called experts were demonstrably proved to have been wrong about it, the consensus endured. It’s not really a belief, per se. It’s a default mentality.
I’d like to go with J.E. and say this is the result of the educational system. But, unfortunately, while I agree that higher education isn’t helping, I fear — perhaps she agrees with me — that it’s as much symptom as it is cause.