‘The Death of Expertise’: Tom Nichols offers great read for understanding our slow-motion cultural implosion

Death of Expertise cover
A book called The Death of Expertise came out not too long ago. The best way to describe it for regular readers of this blog is as follows: It’s as if author Tom Nichols read my mind and then put all my disparate thoughts on Western civilization’s slow-motion car crash into a nice package. His understanding of how modern technology, social media, and left-wing academics exacerbate the problem is, unfortunately for future generations, on point.

I spend a lot of time on social media for work, and over the years I have seen a disturbing trend take place on the internet and college campuses. A toxic brew of left-wing “social justice” indoctrination on American campuses mixed with digital echo chambers, available to men and women of all political stripes, slowly boiled. (We’ve seen the effects of this during the U.S. presidential inauguration protests, the Berkeley riots, and the insanity at Evergreen State College in Washington state.)

Mr. Nichols, however, is one of the few people I’ve seen who has a firm grasp of the dangerous social dynamics at play beneath the surface. Like your friendly neighborhood blogger, he seems to think a miracle is needed to stave off an ugly future.

“I fear we are witnessing the death of the ideal of expertise itself, a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laypeople, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers — in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all.

Attacks on established knowledge and the subsequent rash of poor information in the general public are sometimes amusing. Sometimes they’re even hilarious.  Late-night comedians have made a cottage industry of asking people questions that reveal their ignorance about their own strongly held ideas, their attachment to fads, and their unwillingness to admit their own cluelessness about current events. […] When life and death are involved, however, it’s a lot less funny. […]

The overall trend is one of ideological segregation enabled by the ability to end a friendship with a click instead of a face-to-face discussion.

Underlying much of this ill temper is a false sense of equality and the illusion of egalitarianism created by the immediacy of social media. I have a Twitter account and a Facebook page, and so do you, so we’re peers, aren’t we? After all, if a top reporter at a major newspaper, a diplomat at the Kennedy School, a scientist at a research hospital, and your Aunt Rose from Reno all have an online presence, then all of their viewers are just so many messages speeding past your eyes. Every opinion is only as good as the last posting on a home page.

In the age of social media, people using the Internet assume that everyone is equally intelligent or informed merely by virtue of being online. — Tom Nichols,The Death of Expertise (Oxford University Press, 2017). Pages 3, 129.

Boom.

Across every personal and professional level of my life I have witnessed the proliferation of this mentality. Google gives people a false sense superiority. A five-second search that allows a man to throw out a random factoids convinces him that he’s an expert when, in reality, his depth of breadth of knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep.

Social media offers a one-two punch of perniciousness: It encourages people to dehumanize the guy on the other side of the screen while simultaneously fostering false pride and moral superiority. That, dear reader, is a recipe for violence.

Mr. Nichols’ book is by no means perfect (he sometimes shows off his own ideological blind spots by unfairly framing certain political issues), but it is still highly worth your time. It’s the perfect book to sit down with for a few hours by the pool or at the beach. Check it out if you want to better understand our widening political divide, or if you just like slightly terrifying reading material.

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Twitter: Death threats get a pass, but users who question that decision will be suspended

Twitter blocks Douglas Ernst

FINAL UPDATE: Twitter lifted my suspension after one month. To learn more about how it all unfolded, you can read more about it here.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said earlier this year he was “ashamed” and “embarrassed” at how the company deals with bullying. Apparently they haven’t made much progress, because these days Twitter allows death threats to slide. Worse, if you’ve been the target of a death threat and you question how on earth the user responsible can get away with it, then Twitter Support will ban you. I know from first-hand experience.

Twitter unrealI wrote a story for work on March 31st on Iranian aircraft that buzzed a U.S. Navy helicopter in the Persian Gulf. I often have incredibly shady people follow me or tweet strange things in response to anything I write on the Middle East, but that story actually generated a death threat.

Twitter threatTwitter’s policy on threats of violence seem pretty straight forward to me: “You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence.”

Perhaps my logic is lacking on this one, but I’ve always been under the impression that something like “We will find you and kill you — death to America,” is a direct threat of violence. If you agree with me, then you too are wrong! Twitter Support “could not determine” if such tweets constitute a violation of its terms of service.

Twitter RulesHere is the email that Twitter Support sent me on Monday, April 6, 2015:

Twitter noticeKind of frustrating, isn’t it? To Twitter Support, my account must be suspended for publicly bringing attention to the fact that a guy making death threats is currently allowed to do so with impunity.

Twitter suspend appealQuestion for Twitter CEO Dick Costolo: If you’re “ashamed” at how Twitter deals with online bullying, then what emotions do you feel now that your support staff are suspending the accounts of people who are the target of death threats?

If Twitter is going to be suspending accounts, then maybe it should start internally with employees who are unsure if threatening to kill someone is a violation of the company’s terms of service.

Update: It is now May 4 and my suspension began on April 6. I have put in four appeals — all ignored by Twitter. The social media manager at my place of employment sent three emails to Twitter’s press account, and all of those were ignored. A coworker of mine had a contact at Twitter who helped her with a story — Nu Wexler — but when my employer’s social media manager reached out to him the silent treatment continued. This is the weirdest situation on social media I have ever encountered. Thank you to everyone who has been sharing this story on my behalf.

Press Inquiry

Twitter AppealRelated: WND has reported on my story. Give it a read if you get a chance.

Pakistan Calls for Mark Zuckerberg’s Head. De-Friendings Expected.

Apparently, Pakistan is intent on winning the “Allies” Who Want to Kill You Award. They’re  backing up their “holy war against websites” threats by calling for the head of Mark Zuckerberg:

“Muhammad Azhar Siddique filed an application for a First Information Report (FIR), claiming that the owners of Facebook had committed a heinous and serious crime under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code. In essence, an FIR launches a criminal investigation. But no charges have been filed.

According to the paper, Section 295-C of the penal code reads: ‘Use of derogatory remark etc, in respect of the Holy Prophet, whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable for fine.’

…The site also says that the Deputy Attorney General told the High Court that Pakistan’s United Nations representative has asked to escalate the issue in the UN General Assembly. (emphasis added)

Remember: this is a country that is an “essential” ally in our fight against

Mark Zuckerberg: I'd continue my presentation, but these angry Pakistani guys keep trying to kill me. Can you guys issue a fatwa for someone else's head so I can finish?

worldwide terrorism (or “man-made disasters” if you work in the State Department). However, it might be worth looking into a Plan B when a key ally seems to draft their penal code after the voiceover material provided by jihadi head-chopper snuff videos.  One might conclude that Pakistan’s ruling body isn’t so much against the worldview the permeates terrorist training camps in its ungovernable tribal regions as much as it’s against not controlling when and how insane Islamic radical edicts are doled out.

I’ve written about the Dawn of the Dead nature of a citizenry that goes ballistic over “any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation,” but I can’t help but revisit the topic on a regular basis because a.) Pakistan keeps proving a certified jihad-crazy club card is hidden in its back pocket, and b.) The average American doesn’t know how many billions of dollars we’ve supplied our “allies”.  Allies who only deliver big fish terrorist bottom feeders when their back is against the wall.

It says quite a bit about any culture, country, religion, or political party that would execute people over an insinuation.  The next time your liberal friend tells you that all cultures are the same and need to be embraced, ask them to touch down in Pakistan and break out a collection of South Park videos. If they make it out alive after the feeding frenzy for infidel flesh, ask them if they still feel the same way.  My guess is…they won’t.