‘Experts’ Need to Embrace The Politics of Emotion

2016 has very much been the year where experts have been proven wrong, first in the case of Brexit and now in the man himself Trump. I hate to quote the lizard Michael Gove but “I think people have had enough of experts”. The idea that experts and academics are thoroughly divorced from reality seems to be everywhere.

In his letter to New Zealand the esteemed scientist and writer Richard Dawkins said “There are top scientists in America and Britain – talented, creative people, desperate to escape the redneck bigotry of their home countries”. He also points out “Science in both Professor Richard Dawkins Promotes His New Book "Appetite For Wonder: The Making Of A Scientist"countries (the UK and US) will be hit extremely hard: in the one case, by the xenophobically inspired severing of painstakingly built-up relationships with European partners; in the other case by the election of an unqualified, narcissistic, misogynistic sick joke as president.”

I’ll be honest, his last sentence seems a bit rich given that he has stirred up controversy himself with his comments on Down’s Syndrome and date rape. His comments do not cast academia in a good light.

I can see his point about the decline of science. I don’t really see science as a whole benefitting from recent events. However I object to how he proposes to fix this, by making scientists flee to more ‘progressive’ countries.

It would seem that Dawkins is suggesting that scientists should retreat to the ivory tower of New Zealand. This only increases the image of experts as snobs who look down on the rest of the world.

This banging on in the liberal media about “post-truth politics” is yet another brand of
this deeply belittling worldview. I understand what they are getting at, considering donald-trump-got-only-8-words-into-his-campaign-before-we-found-a-seriously-questionable-factTrumps comments on global warming as a Chinese plot. However the language they use is
ridiculously patronising. If the Left is to win converts it must be sensitive and wise with how it uses it’s words. The brushing aside of millions of people as ‘bigots’ or ‘rednecks’ will not help anybody.

The rise of the new politics of emotion is dangerous. Things like Nigel Farage’s promise for 350 million extra spending money to be channeled into the NHS show the extent to which no one really knows whats going on. The grasping for for vague but comforting ideas seems to be the norm.

The Left needs more emotion.

Hang on. I don’t mean we need a leftie Trump. However liberals need to worth consider how to reconnect with people.

Where do liberals come from then? How do we make a start? Much of the liberal intelligentsia finds its roots in academia, universities and colleges. Surely this is a good place to start? A brilliant place to start if we are to deal with the likes of Dawkins.

In my own experience of the academic world I was often struck by the specificity of the things we studied. It depended on the seniority of the professor but case studies and specialties were the norm. The concept of a grand narrative spanning a nation’s history was not particularly fashionable. No single person could possibly know enough to authoritatively tell the story of an entire peoples history.

And surely that’s what everyone longs for? A story. A story in which your family and the places you love feature.

winston_churchill_statue_parliament_square_london_croppedI for one was fascinated by Winston Churchill as a child, a biting wit and stoic attitude I thought he was an example of Britishness. “We shall fight them on the beaches…” is slightly cliched now but I found it very inspiring as a child. My grandfather regaled me with stories of the blitz and then Mr. Churchill’s voice would come on the wireless. The bomb ravaged streets suddenly seemed safer, his voice was immensely encouraging to my young grandfather. A fantastic and haunting statue of Churchill stands outside the Houses of Parliament Surely a great British hero?

Academia taught me a different story. As I studied History at university a new, aggressive, upper class, drunk, and imperialist vision of Churchill entered my mind. He was not the hero of my childhood. His white mans burden attitudes were shocking to me and immediately I disowned him. How could a hero of mine hold such views I found offensive to my own?

My hero, and part of my story, was dead.

Now what my university taught me was true. Part of academics job is to argue about what the truth is. This is vitally important to our world since a huge amount of problems are caused by peoples lack of knowledge. So much prejudice would go away if everyone was on good terms with some people from another country.

But academia and the intelligentsia it produces need something more than truth. Experts need to embrace emotion.

The way people feel is a truth. It is not the whole truth but it is a neglected part of it.

For all of Churchill’s views and ideas, I am thankful that he comforted my grandfather in his time of need. My grandparents and their generation had their minds of rest because of his speeches. I have a deep respect for my grandparents and even though I don’t agree with them on many things, I respect their story. Because its part of my own.

I have used history as an example because it is my field. However the likes of Dawkins would do well to understand human emotion in their work and how best to appeal to it.

Embracing emotion will be a slippery slope, every story has its heroes and villains. Academics must be sure to maintain balance. However what people want to hear is a story. Trump is, Farage is.

Experts must captivate us once again.


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