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Amateurs, Professionals and the Make-Believe Meritocracy

G. K. Chesterton argued that it was better to be an amateur than a professional. In Chesterton's view, an "amateur" is what the name declares: "a lover."

The "professional" - as defined by Webster  is "engaged for livelihood or gain in an activity pursued, usually, or often, for non-commercial satisfaction by amateurs." Typically, professionals  even if motivated by love at the outset -- become mercenaries. Over time, they often act not for love but for money. Because their livelihoods depend on their profession, professionals must ply their trade regardless their fondness for doing so.

Recently, at Dad's 85th birthday party, I chatted with Ken Scarciatta, a retired deacon and music enthusiast. Ken participates in an amateur orchestra and notes that "amateurs are interested in the effect of what they do on their own subjective outlook, whereas professionals are concerned with the effect of their work on the world of objectivity."

Ken's distinction came as an epiphany.

As modern life grows increasingly subject to the ministrations of professionals and experts, the vital spirit that informs each individual's viewpoint is sapped.

Having spent large chunks of time in the "third world" where professionals and experts hold far less sway, I wonder if the attraction which equatorial peoples often exert on "northerners" isn't attributable to the intrinsic power of lives unmediated by professional intervention, lives that are lived fully each and every day, lives that are lived "in the round."

By "unmediated", I refer to non-experts' ability to engage life without circumspection, without, for example, first reading "Consumer Reports"; without consulting the doctor; without checking the E. Coli count at public beaches; without undertaking decades of professional training before embarking life, without molding personal life to
professional opinion.

Where has "professional opinion" gotten us? In northern latitudes, society has been engineered to create a bi-level "meritocracy" comprised of "those who know" and "those who don't."

"Those who know" are honored and well-recompensed. They also tend to be alienated people, prone to obsession, fixation and irascibility.

Often, "those who don't know" feel ill at ease -- or even self-deprecating -- in the presence of professionals. At the same time, these same simple souls are unwilling (or unable) to criticize the "stacked deck" of an information society that erodes the self-respect of "the poorly informed," of anyone making a living by brawn not brain.

This structurally-mandated demotion of individuals not dedicated to "information grazing" (or other intellectual pursuits) is rooted in a culture that has transformed intellect into a false god. Concerning this idolatry, it is remarkable that Christian orthodoxy never mentions the Sacred Head, but only the Sacred Heart.

This is not a trivial transposition.

Chesterton pointed out that "religion is putting first things first".

Conversely, if The Proper Order of human affairs becomes disordered, hell breaks loose.
Nevertheless, it is also true - at least mythically - that God created the world (of which intellect is an integral part), and then "He" affirmed its goodness.

So what is the proper function of intellect?

Is the transformation of intellectual accomplishment into professional certification intrinsically "evil"?

One fundamental impetus underlying certified professionalism is the human urge to heal the sick, or, if healing is impossible, to palliate chronic or terminal pain. Anyone confronted by toothache or earache is delighted that medical professionals have paid sustained attention to the development of technologies that alleviate these plights.

The raw fact of excruciating pain countenances no argument against its relief.

Faced by physical pain, human subjectivity is suddenly overwhelmed by the unstoppable intrusion of consuming physicality. Once pain pushes the human subject to the margin of misery, the psyche, the spirit, the soul and the personality are irrelevant until the disease (or injury) has been relieved. Gandhi ventured that "God would not dare appear to a starving person except in the form of bread." Perhaps it is fair to say that God dare not (or may not) appear to a person in extreme pain except in the form of analgesic or cure.

Yet, "not by bread alone does humankind live."

Therein lies the rub.

By becoming clever at constituting - and reconstituting  the "material envelope" of the human soul/psyche/spirit/personality, we have - through progressive idolatry of the human intellect - come to view "the materiality of humankind" as its essence.

In consequence, the non-material aspects of human personality have become "immaterial." While this de-humanization -- this trivialization of the integral human person  has been taking place, Matter has become increasingly central to our world view. In fact, "matter" has become "the heart" of the matter, while The Heart (which "has reasons Reason knows nothing of") is progressively marginalized.

There is nothing wrong with the orderly pursuit of medical technology. However, as is true with all technology, if humankind does not occupy the driver's seat -- thus obliging technology to serve fully human ends -- then humans devolve into servo-mechanisms of their machines.

In the end, another false god - useful and promising as it may be  has seduced us into placing the cart before the horse. 

To remain human, we must treat technology as the derivative servant it is ordained to be. Professionals dedicated to science and technology should be viewed - indeed, they should view themselves - as servants. Without this re-ordering of human values, an apocalyptic event is inevitable.

I don't make these claims as an uppity non-professional, but as a human being who recognizes that disproportionate adulation of science, and especially technology, will  eventually make the biosphere unlivable.

By demoting the relative importance accorded to science and technology, human beings can assign to themselves the dignity needed to "stare down" Technopoly.

The human truth is that any professional can become an amateur - whereas not every amateur can become a professional.

Amateur enthusiasm elevates everyone to the common platform of divine childhood, that universal portal of heaven

Amateurs are, by nature, enthusiasts. Literally, enthusiasm means being "en theos", "in God." Through the prioritization of amateur status, all humans suddenly stand on equal footing as "amateurs who love."

With equal suddenness, they are no longer 'divided and conquered.' No longer must they assign superiority to "the professionals who know."

As my college sweetheart used to say: "everyone is a genius at something," and the liberation of everyone's genius is the best way to honor the plentitude of humankind's unique ecology.

If amateur enthusiasm is primary, all human beings may engage their greatest love as their principal focus. No longer will love-smitten amateurs be cowed by the plodding professionals who slog away - day after day  primarily to make a living. When amateur enthusiasms are primary, people's worth will not be calculated by "what they know," but by the ardor of their love.

Canadian songwriter, Bruce Cockburn, has written: "Little round planet in a big universe, sometimes it looks blessed, sometimes it looks cursed. Depends on what you look at, obviously, but even more it depends on the way that you see."

We all look at the "same" "things."

Those who thrive most heartily see these "same" things in the light of love. To phrase it somewhat differently, these lovers see "things" in the wondrous light of amateur enthusiasm.

For those who love, "all things are made new again."

For those who "profess to know," all things get old fast.

To the extent that professionals objectify the world, they tend to reify humanity. However, people are not, essentially, objects, but subjects. Christianity's insistence that God is "personal" - and that a personal relationship with God is primary - is an essential affirmation of enlightened subjectivity, and an enduring reminder that "objectivity" is, as scientist Werner Heisenberg pointed out, beyond human perception if only because human perception is substantially - and ineleuctably - subjective.