The Picture of the Ideal Expert

plastikworterp. 79–83

The seeming inevitability of expert pronouncements

The expert attributes human decisions to the force of circumstances—nolens volens. [...] But there is more: history seems to have come to an end for him. [...] The analyses he produces of situations, the perspectives he develops, the help he offers as a consultant, and the practical actions he recommends serve to make concrete, as representations of value, his silent certainties.

plastikworterp. 79

Pretensions to objectivity

Just as he has been undermining the independence of jurisprudence for a long time, the expert is destroying the independence of moral and political decision,making. Our natural sciences have an ethos that can, not be distinguished from the absence of responsibility. They are his model. The domain of planning demonstrates that the expert has become the determining factor and that he "functions" in the way described here. He offers extensive data as the necessary basis for political decisions without noticing that he is only confirming the power of the categories he has created. The data and the needs calculated from them only continue the current condition and its inborn "trend." They replace politics and dissolve democracy. Do we need atomic energy? A highway through the Black Forest? A better traffic connection with the industrial north? A war in the Persian Gulf? To the degree that the answers to such questions are made to appear as the forceful, inevitable dictation of circumstance, it makes sense that decisions are increasingly entrusted to computers. Politicians no longer monitor the data that is entered and the consequent processes of calculation. Decisions are reduced to trend, lines determined by data.

plastikworterp. 80

cf seeing-like-a-state.

Maybe this needs a tag/handle: the phenomenon where the results of an analysis turn out the way they do because of the biases implicit in the processes of data collection, the way the classification schema and metrics are set up, the priors of the analyst, etc.

To give concrete examples: why does one privilege [CMIO][], or female/male classifications over other non-binary gender designations? or why do we choose to measure (and then/hence optimise) GDP over, say, happiness indices?

Authority via scientific/technical terms

The expert understands something of his field; but he derives his strongest authority from the language belonging to it, from the stance of the nonpartisan scientific specialist. He throws the mantle of scientific language over himself and disappears beneath it; he gains distance from the layperson and through this distance wins effectiveness. Three characteristics of scientific speech serve his purposes:

  • the prestige [...]
  • the increasing opacity of specialized vocabularies [...]
  • the capacity of scientific speech for imitation [...]


The language of economics is known to be impenetrable; the business section of the newspaper makes sense only to initiates. The widely accepted fairy tale that economics is as complex as its language seems to indicate is one of his great allies.

plastikworterp. 80

On the last, cf Bullshit Jobs.

Confusion of the two spheres: knowledge (unlimited) vs real life (limited)

For he transmits that which has been newly accomplished in the world of knowledge into the social world, without acknowledging the yawning chasm that exists between them. [...] He erases awareness that two fundamentally different spheres-the sphere of the unlimited expansion of theoretical and technical capacities and the limited sphere of daily life-are pinned together with a metaphor.

plastikworterp. 81

All change is progress

His most convincing argument is name-calling. Anyone who refuses to get involved is hopelessly backward. Such a one is sleeping through development. The expert replaces the pair "good" and " bad" with the pair "progressive" and "backward" and in this way instills his order of values. Here he has a rich vocabulary available to him. On the one side the electrifying suggestion of the "modern," " the current," "the coming thing" -on the other the feeble appearance of the "old-fashioned," "the anachronistic," the "out-of-date," the "ancient." In fact it is quite possible that what is progressive in one domain will be a decided step backward in another. But he blithely transmits the basic metaphor of the sciences-their conception of a river of progressive discoveries-unaltered into society, as though change were always progress.

plastikworterp. 81


plastikworter Pörksen, Uwe. 1995. Plastic Words: The Tyranny of a Modular Language. Pennsylvania State University Press. ↩︎ 1 2 3 4 5 6

seeing-like-a-state Scott, James C. 1998. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale University Press. ↩︎ 1