Expert opinions are important. There’s simply too much world out there for us all to become experts in everything, so we look to those who have devoted their entire professional lives to certain fields to help us to better glean the important wave tops, the broad strokes, of a topic.
If we’re not feeling well, we go to a doctor. If we want to get our finaninces in order, we go to an accountant. If we want legal advice, we go to a lawyer. Millennia ago, when mankind first developed rudimentary agricultural systems, it became clear that we, as a species, no longer had to devote every waking moment to the pursuit of a next meal, opening up possibilities for artists, thinkers, engineers and social leaders to devote themselves to other enterprises. As distant as we prefer to think those ancestors are from us… that system remains intact to this very day, and it could be argued, it’s the individual’s ability to pursue the field they choose to master that makes up the very fabric of our free society – not just in terms of personal liberty, but in particular, when it comes to navigating the incredibly complex cultural and societal system we’ve developed in the intervening years.
We need experts to way in on important topics. We count on them to have a better understanding of complex issues and boil down the important elements into digestible tidbits: pundits on your favorite news channel, scientists announcing a new discovery, former Supreme Court Justices wanting to tear apart the Constitution of the United States.
The thing about expert opinions is that they’re just opinions. As I’ve mentioned in previous pieces, outside of my service in the Marine Corps, I’ve worked a number of jobs in the private sector: from mechanic to marketing consultant, from grant writer to HR manager… in each of those roles I was expected to bring a certain level of expertise to the table, and in order to do that, it helped to be well read on the subject I was responsible for.
My bookcase is still filled with volumes about employment law, social media marketing, technical specs on four cylinder Dodge motors (like those run in the Formula Dodge series)… I’m certainly not an expert when it comes to all of these things, so I turned to the people that were. What I’ve found, however, is that being an expert doesn’t always mean you’re right – and it’s incredibly common to find two certified experts talking about the same subject with completely opposing views.
How can that be? Aren’t experts supposed to have the answers?
I realize that when I break it down in such a pedantic way, it seems like patronizing question. Of course experts disagree, of course people who devote their lives and professions to understanding subjects aren’t always right… of course people tend to allow their personal feelings to interfere with or inform their professional positions. That’s human nature, and people don’t become less human the further they climb in their respective fields. They remain fallible, opinionated, and driven by emotion. That’s not a criticism of any individual, it’s simply an observation about human nature.
Which brings us to former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and his recent OpEd in the New York Times calling on lawmakers to repeal the second amendment.
Even at the ripe old age of 97 years old, Stevens managed to draw the attention and affection of left-leaning writers and social media commandos alike, as a former Republican that now characterizes the right to bear arms as “a relic of the 18th century.”
“Overturning that decision via a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Second Amendment would be simple and would do more to weaken the NRA’s ability to stymie legislative debate and block constructive gun control legislation than any other available option,” he wrote.
I’d warn my Lefty friends to hold off on putting those Justice Stevens posters up on their walls quite yet, however. Stevens’ position on gun control isn’t a recent development born out of Americans mobilizing in the streets to demand gun reform. This position, and at least five others like it, were actually the focus of a book the man wrote four years ago… a book that’s still on shelves and is likely seeing a resurgence in sales thanks to his newfound popularity among young liberals.
That book, entitled, “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution,” is a framework for how Stevens wants the Constitution rewritten to better suit his own personal ideologies. Admittedly, some of what he calls for seems like it could potentially benefit Americans, but some of it seems born of academic and idealistic views that fail to appreciate how the real world world works: a common criticism of those who simply think about things, levied by those who actually go outside and do them.
While Steven’s new support for anti-gun movements like the March for Our Lives could be seen as a joining of ideologies, many of the changes to the Constitution Stevens champions are not in keeping with the progressive mindset – meaning that, well intentioned as his support may be, it’s more likely that he’s penning OpEds and giving interviews in the interest of book sales, rather than advancing the political agendas of those he’s throwing his support behind.
For instance, one change to the constitution Stevens calls for in the book, in the interest of ensuring states abide by federal firearms regulations, would be to get rid of a doctrine called “anti-commandeering.” In effect, that doctrine says that the federal government can’t force states to comply with laws established on the national level. Stevens claims this would help to prevent mass-shootings by making sure states followed federal firearms statutes.
Of course, in practice, doing away with this doctrine would also make marijuana illegal again in every state where it has been legalized for medical or recreational use. As soon as the anti-commandeering doctrine was done away with, the federal government could sue each state that has legalized marijuana and return the schedule one drug to its previous place as legally considered just as bad as heroin or cocaine. Not quite the cause most young liberals are hoping to champion.
Stevens also wrote at length about changing the Constitution to include language that bars the use of the death penalty in American justice systems, to end gerrymandering, and to permit individuals to sue the states they live in.
Honestly, some of the things Stevens opines about seem like a good idea – gerrymandering, for instance, is near the top of my list (along with lobbying) as among the biggest problems with our modern form of democracy, but at the end of the day, that just means this one man’s opinion of gerrymandering and my own sync; it really doesn’t mean anything more than that.
Eight weeks after doctors filleted my right leg to insert an ACL and PCL out of a cadaver, I was cleared to start walking again. Within two days, I had broken a the top of my tibia off, where the screw they had inserted along with an ACL that proved to be too short for my body had created a lever of sorts. In the doctor’s professional opinion at the time, of course, it should have been fine.
The doctor wasn’t inept, he had glowing reviews on all the important websites, a wall full of diplomas and certificates and decades of experience helping athletes get back on their feet. It just so happens that the guy was also a human, and therefore, capable of being wrong.
Law, like medicine, is complicated and full of variables – that’s exactly why both sides of most legal issues bring in experts to argue on their behalf. Complex as the subject matter is, however, most legal proceeding move forward based on two very basic understandings: first, that both parties believe themselves to be in the right; and second, that in the eyes of the law in most cases, only one truly is.
Even at the Supreme Court, where Stevens earned the accolades he’s being traded on in the mainstream media, most decisions breakdown to either a unanimous 9-0 vote, or a 5-4 vote based on party lines. That means that it is entirely common for the law of the land to reflect not the timeless wisdom of legal oracles ruling from high atop a moral and ethical throne… but rather the decisions of normal people swayed by the politics of their day. Stevens is no different.
So, when I see headline after headline talking about a 97 year old lawyer that thinks the Constitution should be rewritten to his liking, you’ll have to excuse me if I seem a bit dismissive. I’ve seen too many “experts” get too many things wrong throughout my life to simply trust in the experience of well intentioned retiree, and accept his argument at face value. When you read it, line by line, it sounds a lot more like what it is: The opinion of a well spoken man with no bearing on how the real world works.
I respect the service any Supreme Court Justice does for our nation, regardless of political leaning, and further, I even respect their opinions… but ultimately, opinions are just like assholes.
Everybody’s got ‘em, even retired Supreme Court Justices.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press