The Age of the Expert
( July 2006 )

"Experts built the Titanic. Amateurs built the Ark."
(Vintage anon Usenet sigline)

I don't know if you're like me, but I've noticed that every time I see a television programme debating some issue, at some point some talking head gets introduced as "an expert" on the subject under discussion to tell us what we should think about it.

The ascent of the Expert is a fascinating phenomenon and I believe it is something which can only happen in a civilisation which is in terminal decline. In fact, so sure am I about this that I suggest it could actually be used in future as an aid to historical analysis. If you felt like calling it Gaughan's Postulate, that would be OK with me. Oh, don't mention it, my pleasure.

We are now living in the Age of the Expert. I should explain that, according to Gaughan's Postulate (see above) the Age of the Expert is the stage in the decline of a society which comes between The Lunatics Taking Control of the Asylum (which immediately follows the stage called The Return to Traditional Values) and the final Terminal Collapse.

I haven't yet determined the precise relationship between the number of experts and the stage of decline but give me time, I'm working on it. I'm certain it's calculable given sufficient data.

With the loss of employment caused by the wholesale closure of manufacturing, all the people not employed in actually making anything but employed to oversee those who were, and who would have happily spent their lives sharpening pencils and sending memos to other pencil-sharpeners, have been let loose on the general populace. Their employment opportunities not exactly being thick on the ground, those who didn't become style consultants, hospital administrators, pop stars or drug pushers have become Experts.

It seems there is nothing so inane, trivial or inconsequential but we must have a battery of Experts who can tell us why it's vitally important that we should give a thimbleful of donkey's effluence about it, and what colour of thimble we should be using to collect it.

For example, whenever there's a report of some politician having pronounced words of wisdom upon some topic or other, we have an Expert to repeat what they just said and assure us that it was terribly important, another Expert to explain to us what the first Expert actually meant, another to tell us what effect it will have on that politicians's rating in opinion polls, one more to report on the effect it is having on betting in that ultimate gambling casino, the Stock Market, and another Expert to comment on the fashionability or otherwise of the politician's clothing and hairstyle.

Without The Experts to guide us, it seems, we would be in terrible danger of falling into the awful trap of imagining we could think for ourselves. And we all know where that would lead.

A cautionary word for those of you who aspire to being television Experts. The defining element in becoming established as an Expert is that you must not and must never have actually participated in the activity which is your area of expertise.

If you are an Expert on politics, you must never have stood for election, or if you have, make sure you lost your deposit and you might just get away with dismissing it as "youthful naivete" or "research".

Actually being able to play a musical instrument is an absolute no-no if you ever want to be taken seriously as an Expert on music. Knowing who gave Schubert syphilis will qualify you to make learned pronouncements on Classical Music and having blagged your way backstage at a Bob Dylan gig will definitely qualify you as an Expert on songwriting and anything which happened in the 1960s.

But if you have ever, say, run a successful business, you are automatically disqualified from ever being given a television slot as an Expert on the subject. Having run a failed business is acceptable but only if you did time in prison for fraud, reformed, and have since become a practising Buddhist with a pet leopard who does cross-stitching while listening to Mozart.

Sometimes I think God either has a bizarre sense of humour or has just read too many Ben Elton novels and foolishly thinks she can write this stuff better than he can.

Incidentally, I'm prepared to be called an Expert on all this Age of the Expert stuff (perhaps even a "Celebrity Expert" if the fee is high enough) and as soon as I get round to doing what Experts normally do and hiring someone to ghost-write the "Reading This Will Change Your Life" book for me, I'll be available for television trivia shows - like Jonathon Ross or that dreadful Channel 4 afternoon Punch and Judy show or whatever it's called - and those slots on news programmes which are meant to pad out the time between the latest casualty figures from whatever bit of the Middle East the Yanks and Brits are bombing into rubble this week and the usual cheery wee "and finally ..." closing item about the stray dog who found a loving owner after saving her from walking under a bus. Call my agent.

Celtic knotwork

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