The cult of expertise

An oddity of modern life is that experts run everything, nothing they do works, and obvious repeated failure makes no difference. Education and liturgy are everyday examples. Students learn nothing and act badly, people abandon the mass and faith, but no matter how bad things get nothing can be done. After all, the responsible way to deal with problems is to consult the experts, and the experts certainly aren’t going to make themselves the issue, so nothing can happen. The problem touches on basic philosophical questions. Today people regard formal objectivity, and not loyalty, tradition or faith, as the proper final standard for thought and action. That may seem rational, but it means people are stuck with whatever the experts tell them, no matter how mindless, because formal institutional objectivity requires them to treat expertise as knowledge. What grounds could they have for doing otherwise?

The same situation exists in architecture. The architectural experts tell us what’s good, and responsible officials have to accept what they say even though everybody hates it. Still, things are not quite as bad as in education and liturgy. The reason is that in architecture real money is involved, not just minds and souls, so it’s easier to get respectable organized backing for critical thought. And that’s what’s happening, according to a very interesting interview at with the mathematician and architectural theorist Nikos Salingaros (parts one, two and three have already been posted, parts four and five are to follow). While a lot of the discussion is specific to architecture and design (and is very interesting as such), what Salingaros says about the way dogma has established and maintained itself among experts on architecture applies to other fields, and is well worth reading on that account. He suggests, for example, that architectural dogma is a sort of cult and is guarded by cultlike behavior.