Sunday, August 02, 2020

Thomas Frank Like Savoir Faire - He's Everywhere - Now On Healthcare...,


lemondediplomatique |  The great underlying political crisis of this plague year, it is often said, is the stubborn refusal of Americans to respect expert authority. There’s an epidemic raging... and just look at those people frolicking in a swimming pool at the Lake of the Ozarks, repeating stupid conspiracy theories, spreading non-peer-reviewed medical advice on social media, running errands without a mask on, setting off roman candles in the street. And just look at their idiot of a president, dismissing the advice of his own medical experts, blaming everyone but himself for the disaster, suggesting we inject ourselves with Clorox because it’s effective on countertops and toilet bowls.

In truth, this grand conflict between the ignorant and the enlightened has been a motif of our politics for years (1). Liberals, we believe, are uniquely attuned to objective reality; they dutifully heed the words of Nobel laureates and Genius Grant winners. But Republicans are different: they live in a world of myth and fable where the truth does not apply.

Ordinarily our punditburo plays this conflict for simple partisan point-scoring. Us: smart! Them: stupid!

But the pandemic has given the conflict an urgency we have not seen before. These days, right-thinking Americans are tearfully declaring their eternal and unswerving faith in science. Democratic leaders are urging our disease-stricken country to heed the findings of medical experts as though they were the word of God.

Our ‘thought leaders’, meanwhile, have developed a theory for understanding the crazy behaviour we see around us: these misguided people are not merely stupid, they are in the grip of a full-blown philosophy of anti-expertise called ‘populism’. These populists are the unlettered who resent the educated and sneer at the learned (2). They believe in hunches instead of scholarship; they flout the advice of the medical profession; they extol the wisdom of the mob. Populism is science’s enemy; it is at war with sound thinking. It is an enabler of disease, if not a disease itself.

So sweetly flattering, so gorgeously attractive is this tidy little syllogism that members of our country’s thinking class return to it again and again. Medical science is so obviously right and populism so obviously wrong that celebrating the one and deploring the other has become for them one of the great literary set pieces of the era, the raw material for endless columns and articles.