Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Tyranny of the Professions


We are all indebted to professionals.  The ‘professionals’ that I have especially in mind are those people who work in political, educational, healthcare, welfare, legal and other services.  Through their knowledge, expertise and commitment, they help us when we are in need, they make our lives easier, safer and more fulfilling, and they smooth the way forward for us to achieve our potentials and our goals in life.  The same may be said for managerial and administrative staff in private organisations such as financial and commercial enterprises.

But could it not also be this? That rather than assist us they can too often be a hindrance?  That without their intervention we can sometimes make a better job of things by ourselves?  That they may even at times undermine our own ability and confidence to determine what is in our best interests and carry out what is required (and if necessary learn how to)?  That some may be no more ‘experts’ in what they do than non-professionals or people simply possessed of reasonable intelligence and common sense?  Is it possible that too often their own needs take precedence over those of the people who are supposed to be benefitting from their attention?  And could it not be that there are just too many of them?

Is it reasonable to speak of a modern ‘tyranny’, one that is having a malign effect on our society, and which we may call ‘the tyranny of the professionals’?  Indeed, my current pipedream is to have a book published entitled The Tyranny of the Professions.  Another apposite title would be Disabling Professions, but a book of that name already exists, authored by Ivan Illich and others (London: Marion Bowers, 1977; accessible online at:


I seriously invite anyone who feels an immediate and strong affinity to this title to consider joining me in my enterprise. 

3 comments:

  1. Hi Mike, this is a very good idea! The word "professional" is totally empty. I am ready to join your project. Tomasz W.

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  2. I'm not certain if you want to scrap the word professional. The way we now make professionals professionals is by paper: the certificate. And if you don have the certificate, you're no professional. (btw, I've heard people say it like this). In this day and age of the internet, it's a true paradise for the autodidact. With youtube, multiple wikipedia's and google I can learn a lot by my self. However, I don get any certificate from google nor from youtube or wikipedia.

    On the other hand, society makes people experts. You can think of yourself as an expert, but when nobody sees you that way, you can not fulfill an expert role. The way we see experts, I think, is as an all knowing human being.
    So what's the cure?
    1. A new standard on what constitutes a expert.
    2. Education in critical thinking
    3. more, but don't know what at the moment.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for your comments on my blog. Speaking for myself, I have no problem with the concepts of the professional and the professional-as-expert. Their necessity and importance are huge and can hardly be contested. But each profession is like an industry and, whatever else they do, industries are self-serving and endeavour to expand, whether or not this is in the interests of the public at large. Education is just one example, from early schooling all the way through to higher education. That we must have more schools, more teachers, more university students, more lecturers, etc. are assertions that rarely go unchallenged; but how much of all of this do we really need? Could it not be that we are being over-educated? Relatedly, for example, we are now very concerned about the growing frequency of mental health problems suffered by schoolchildren. The stock reaction seems to be that more mental health professionals should be involved in screening, assessing and treating these problems. But before we do all of this maybe we should be asking the question ‘What is being done wrong that results in these problems?’ (e.g. overstressing schoolchildren) and changing what is being done. So what I am endeavouring to do is to highlight these wide-ranging concerns about the power of professions, question what seems to be the consensus, and suggest that we might be just as well off, or even better, doing things differently. Naturally the relevant professions, which are powerful and influential, will resist such questioning. But I am really pleased to learn that some medical professionals have banded together and formed a group called ‘Too Much Medicine’ (http://www.bmj.com/too-much-medicine).
      I have written up my thoughts in a paper on my website at: http://www.mheap.com/Tyranny1.pdf.

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