Shaya Cohen -


My Irrational Failing – Rejecting Experts

I am often found criticizing others for not recognizing the assumptions and presuppositions that go into their thinking – the erroneous assumptions that then lead to erroneous conclusions. Garbage in, garbage out.

Today, I feel like fessing up. I, too, rely, in my arguments, on a basic assumption that is essentially a religious belief: I think every concept can be grasped by any normal person. Which means that I reject overly complex answers as being surely incorrect.

In part, I suppose, this is because I have always rejected the “High Priest” method of preserving status and authority. I have no special respect for experts, and I know full well that I am a reasonably competent electrician, plumber, writer, theologian, carpenter, handyman, father, husband, engineer, inventor, entrepreneur, speaker… even those things that take years of specialized training (e.g. brain surgeon) can and should be understandable in principle even to a layman.

So I have a simple BS-detector. If I cannot follow the argument of an expert, then they are wrong. Take CO2 and Global Warming. The ice record shows that Global Warming precedes rising CO2 levels by decades in every single case. But today we are told that rising CO2 drives climate change. Why? The answers are positively gobbledegook, and come down to, “we are smarter than you, shut up.” How do I know the answers are nonsense? Because I cannot make sense of them.

I should make it clear that I am not claiming that everything is simplistic. I am claiming that everything should be within our grasp: simple. The difference is important, because even things that we can comprehend require us to think, to be engaged with the topic. By way of contrast, simplistic answers seek to get to the end without respecting the need for process. Process has deep value, because it is the process, not the product, that invariably helps us to grow. Any process to gain understanding requires mental engagement, but that process is available to all of us, whether the topic is freedom or Covid, climate change or the Torah. “Shut up and trust me” is against my faith.

I find the High Priest school of thought is found in every area of human expertise and scholarship. Within Judaism there is a deep and abiding love for Talmudic Logic – so convoluted that mere mortals could never grasp it. For centuries, women were told they could not learn the Gemara (part of the Talmud), because it is just too challenging for the female brain. It IS complex. And it reinforces the expectation that we cannot know something unless we rely on an expert to answer every question.

I don’t believe in frontal assaults: they cost too much and they usually fail. They certainly fail at convincing people to change their minds, because people too-easily dig in their heels when they find themselves on the defensive. So my preferred approach is to make my contribution in the relatively untouched area of “why does the text say that?” And I work under the assumption that any explanation I offer for textual understanding has to be simple enough to be grasped – or it must be wrong. This assumption is itself an unprovable assertion.

I do, however, have some textual support for the assumption:

For this commandment which I command you this day is not concealed from you and it is not far off. It is not in the heavens, that one would say: Who will go up for us to heaven and take it for us and make us hear it that we might do it? And it is not across the seas, that one would say: Who will cross the seas for us and take it for us and make us hear it that we might do it? For the thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart to do it.

If the Torah – the expression of G-d – is within our grasp, then I think everything else must be, too. But I accept that this could be false.

If, on the other hand, my assertion is basically correct, then I think mankind has much more potential for growth in holiness. Less reflexive respect for so-called “experts” means higher expectations for ourselves.

Comments are welcome!

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