Expert-Citizen Paradox#

In a democratic society people are broadly encouraged to participate in a free exchange of ideas.

Within reason, there is no apparent impediment to an individual expressing views on a variety of issues affecting society at a given time.

As someone develops a degree of specialisation, however, they may find they have a diminished capacity to engage in popular or political discourse.

  • An executive may be reminded of the consequences of damaging their company's reputation.

  • A scientist may be advised that their particular expertise only allows them to speak on a narrow set of topics.

  • A professional may be referred to a code-of-conduct that explicitly disallows speech of a certain kind.

  • An athlete may be told to "shut up and dribble".

Specialism or expertise becomes a kind of baggage, affecting one's ability to comment privately and publicly on matters of societal importance. Rather than constraining themselves to their domain, the individual may undergo a professional distortion in which aspects of reality are filtered inappropriately through the lens of their work.

Most industrialised democracies emphasise specialisation among their citizens. If the resultant specialists are constrained in their speech, conditions of inhibited democratic discourse may arise.

This compels us to question what is lost when the lives of citizens are shaped so completely by the nature of their specialisms, and explore the general characteristics shared by processes of mastery, rather than their particular outputs.


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