Friday, November 26, 2010


Witch doctor of the Shona people close to Grea...Image via Wikipedia
"I'm an expert, head of my local Tea Party group,
and a pretty good cook. So shut up and listen!"

Department of Fantastic Thanksgiving Dinners
My friend, Chris Carrdus, loves to cook. He says that cooking calms him and wonders why we aren’t all taught to cook well. Good cooking starts with locating superior raw materials – a skill unto itself - largely frees one from the dubious merits of the processed foods industry, and results in a tastier, more nutritious and generally healthier end result.

Yesterday, he produced a perfect Thanksgiving Dinner. We are all in awe.

He believes that if you don’t learn to cook at your mother’s knee, the chances are that one will never learn to cook competently. I fear my situation supports his theory. I am no better than an adequate cook. Food at home was prepared by our housekeeper, a lovely woman, whose culinary skills topped out at frying an egg. Food away from home was the product of my boarding school’s kitchen and no better than one might expect under such circumstances. 

My mother could write, paint, spoke excellent French, was a pretty fair opera critic and a compelling conversationalist but there it stopped. When I once remarked that the food at school, unlike that at home, was, at least, edible, she deployed the full power of her extraordinary personality to render me silent and terrified. But I was telling her no more than the truth. Still, through experiencing the really bad, I have come to truly admire the outstanding. 

Thank you, Chris.

Department of Experts, Witch Doctors & Earthly Gods
When I was young, I had the notion that by a certain age, I would be an expert in something or other, and would have the air of confidence, respect, rewards and defensive armor that go hand in hand with such a lofty status.

Over time, I have seen so many experts in so many fields get it wrong so often that I have become skeptical of the societal convention that causes us to largely accept the pronouncements of experts in an unquestioning manner.

This doesn’t mean that I reject the concept of expertise – clearly there are many people who have considerable knowledge and experience in their own subjects. It is more that I deplore the way so many of us abdicate our ability to think clearly and cogently in favor of the pronouncements and posturings of witch doctors (whether they be business leaders, politicians, medical doctors, academics or the military). In fact, it is a favorite journalistic practice to write something like: “Experts say that …” instead of evaluating the evidence.

It is so much easier to pass the buck intellectually.

Perhaps I would adore the rewards and accolades that come from being inside the club that is a professional association – I’m probably no less venal than most – but I find it very hard to believe that they would equal the satisfaction that one gets through retaining one’s intellectual integrity by thinking for oneself.

Because that is what some of us writers do. And regardless of our circumstances, we love it.

Thanksgiving indeed.

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