The 2018 Spring Life of the Mind Salon Series continues with Tom Nichols, Professor at the Naval War College. In his book, The Death of Expertise, he argues that people are now exposed to more information than ever before, provided both by technology and by increasing access to every level of education. These societal gains, however, have also helped fuel a surge in narcissistic and misguided intellectual egalitarianism that has crippled informed debates on any number of issues. Today, everyone knows everything all voices demand to be taken with equal seriousness and any claim to the contrary is dismissed as undemocratic elitism. Tom Nichols shows this rejection of experts has occurred for many reasons, including the openness of the internet, the emergence of a customer satisfaction model in higher education and the transformation of the news industry into a 24-hour entertainment machine. Paradoxically, the increasingly democratic dissemination of information, rather than producing an educated public, has instead created an army of ill-informed and angry citizens who denounce intellectual achievement. Nichols notes that when ordinary citizens believe that no one knows more than anyone else, democratic institutions themselves are in danger of falling either to populism or to technocracy-or in the worst case, a combination of both.
Tom Nichols is Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, an adjunct professor at the Harvard Extension School and a former aide in the U.S. Senate. He is also the author of several works on foreign policy and international security affairs.