Ron Paul and the Empire of Experts

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What is it about Ron Paul that attracts as many and as diverse a group of people as are repelled?

For a number of people, right and left, it is his consistent opposition to the Iraq war.

It is a good reason. Moral courage allied with wisdom is as much in short supply these days as chastity at a political convention.

For others, it is Paul's fiscal responsibility.

Dr. No has been pursing his lips at every form of political candy offered by the junk food vendors at the Capital. While many of his colleagues are letting out their belts, the wiry obstetrician is running marathons at 71.

While they keep getting caught in what used to be called "indiscretions," he has been married for fifty years. We would be foolish to judge people by the externals of their lives, for saints and sinners, puritans and bohemians not only cohabit, they frequently snuggle under the same skin. Nonetheless, it's a relief to have a few people around in politics to remind us that it's also perfectly all right to live uneventfully, even stodgily.

I say this as someone who has spent a large part of her life among musicians, writers, and now, financial newsletter writers – whose professional lives depend on their eccentricity and even contrariness.

There is however one critical difference between selling financial advice and intellectual nostrums on the one hand and delivering babies on the other — which is what Dr. Paul has done for most of his professional life. The success of obstetrics is pretty easy to ascertain. Either the child breathes and lives — or it doesn't.

One can't be a good obstetrician on theory alone. The practice is all.

Check the track record of the average stock tout and you might find nothing but bankruptcy filings and credit card debt. That, of course, will count for little with the tout's avid customers who would mortgage their four walls and roof for his advice. And toss in their wives as a bonus.

As for the pedant, you wish he'd trip over one of his obtuse, meandering sentences and break his scrawny neck before he stuck it into the real world. But does anyone care? No. His pet theories may have driven the nation into premature recession if not down-right impotence, but the expert will be given not only an Institute of his very own at some Ivy League, but the whole Earth along with it to run as he wishes.

There, winsome coeds will no doubt ornament every step of his way to a Nobel Prize.

Theory is easy. Any biped with a larynx and functioning synapses can come up with one.

It is practice that separates the goats from the sheep.

And that is the principal reason that the pundits are afraid of that revolution of the people that is the rise of Ron Paul.

Ron Paul wants to put the practice of citizenry back in the hands of citizens and take it away from the theorists.

Oh, the critics will tell you differently. They will tell you that Ron Paul is a theorist himself — and a crack-pot theorist as well. A patron of fringe economics. A gentlemanly loon. Or at least, dangerously far out on the right bank of the mainstream.

Since the mainstream has just finished wrecking a whole country abroad in a manner that Genghis Khan would have been proud of and is busy adding yet another to its sights; and since, in the meantime it's also managed to find the time to dismantle several centuries worth of legal structure at home, you wonder why anyone would worry about that anyway.

But there you have the sad truth about man. He isn't much concerned about anything besides how other people think of him. That's all he thinks about all day long. For that he sweats and schleps, roils and toils. Status. Image. In groups. Out groups. Pariahs. Brahmins. The sum total of it all is — what does the other fellow think of me?

Right or wrong counts for far less. His conscience or soul for nothing at all. If he feels a pang, he swigs gelusil and turns on the hypnotic lights of his TV set.

And why? Because with no real, concrete practical knowledge anywhere between his ears, his skull rings with the lethal chatter of newspaper headlines and talk shows.

The patter of Those Who Know Better.

Hedge-fund managers who promise that all risk can be ironed out of your portfolio and make you pay for the wrinkles that aren't.

Political scientists who invade a country from their desktops but don't know how to boot it up again when it crashes.

Hucksters who dream up great stories for their products — and make a punch line out of the patsies who buy them.

We live in an empire run by experts.

But in the empire of experts, the man with horse sense is king.

And Ron Paul has horse sense.

The horse sense of mustangs, not geldings.

The kind of horse sense that bucks and sends you for a toss just when you thought you have everything under control. The horse sense that stops you from thinking about things so far off you couldn’t possibly have spotted them – while tripping over things so close by you shouldn’t ever have missed them.

The experts would have you believe that they can control your life and the life of entire nations by thinking long enough and hard enough about it. This is a theory so full of holes, it puts Swiss cheese to shame.

Studies have even shown (Philip Tetlock, Expert Political Judgment — How Good Is It? How Can We Know?) that canny laymen do as well as experts when it comes to predicting the future. In fact, many do even better.

But it's the experts who have broken us in.

The reason is simple. Experts promise us a simple sharp tool to dissect the complexity of the real world. But a dissection that thorough can only be a post-mortem. Cut through the warm body of society that fiercely and you turn it into a cadaver.

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Gray is all theory, says Mephistopheles, in Goethe's Faust. The golden tree of life is green.

We will improve on the devil. Between book covers, theory may be gray — but it is an intricate gossamer of gray — like the tracery in a Gothic cathedral or the mysterious depths of an engraving by Gustave Dore.

We have no quarrel with it. Indeed, we have a weakness for it, as for all rich, superfluous things.

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But a map is not a road, and a silhouette is not a human being. The trouble begins when experts begin to take their expertise so seriously that they forfeit their own road sense and their readers’. When they are so neutered by their reasoning that they cannot act — or worse yet, cannot desist from acting. And the trouble grows into disaster when their credulous followers, junkies of every news and TV show, rush behind them like rats behind the Hamelin piper — into every frippery and fad, every financial folly and military madness.

And that is what we have today in our empire of experts.

Worse than any war — which must at some point end — is the ideology that makes for war.

For that can go on forever. That tells us that "what is" is also "what must be." You see, empires are made for experts as experts are made for empires. Without their theories to hold it up, the flimsy scaffold of government would fall of its own feebleness. And without that scaffold, the little men on top would be cut down to the same size as the rest of us.

And that, my friends, is the real reason why the experts fear Dr. Paul and the people love him.

September 4, 2007