In Times of Rapid Change, Turn and Face The Strange.
Two short riffs on the same key point:
“This is the epistemological crisis of the moment: There’s a lot of expertise around, but fewer tools than ever to distinguish it from everything else. Pure credentialism doesn’t always work. People have self-published a lot of terrible pieces on Medium, but some of the best early ones that explained stuff to laypeople were from tech guys.”
– Zeynep Tufekci, University of North Carolina sociologist
“In a pandemic, the strongest attractor of trust shouldn’t be confidence, but the recognition of one’s limits, the tendency to point at expertise beyond one’s own, and the willingness to work as part of a whole.”
— Ed Yong, The Atlantic
The systems we use to encode expertise tend to depend on relatively slow processes of collective computation and don’t typically work as measures of an individual’s actual extra-institutional networks or their ability to respond to novelty. Organizations and metrics tuned to slow and stable periods that favor efficiency and specialization tend to suppress generalists and improvisation.
In times of crisis, we want easy answers and that means looking for simple and certain ways of verifying the authority of our sources or of the people who present them. But it is precisely in these times that the relatively slow processes that produce credentials and confident claims can fail us, because the conditions of our environment move faster than those processes (peer review, degree programs in established fields of knowledge, electoral cycles, folk wisdom that encodes generations of firsthand experience). In these times we have to make the uncomfortable choice to listen to the marginal perspectives that are far enough from settled facts to draw connections others don’t; the very individuals and institutions that we can’t afford to listen to in periods of equilibrium that favor narrow specialization and economies of scale.
Paradoxically, this is its own cliché: the digital native kids know how to operate Jurassic Park’s computer system, not the expert consultants; only a child sees the emperor without his clothes; jesters were…