Fauci’s Not a Man of Wisdom, But He Plays One on TV
Psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a book a few decades ago titled Whatever Happened to Sin? I’ve got another question: Whatever happened to wisdom? My best answer: It’s been replaced by expertise — which is extremely unwise. Nothing proves it like our nation’s handling of COVID-19, especially putting one man, one expert in one limited field, in charge of it all.
It was foolish from the start. And nothing proves the point like a blog post from March, 2020 by Mark Goulston a psychiatrist and leading business consultant, who got it exactly backwards. He called it “Making the World Safe for Humanity: The Return of Wisdom.”
I’m frankly surprised he hasn’t followed it up with another article titled simply, “Oops.” Back in 2020, Goulston gushed,
When I hear Dr. Fauci I hear honesty, candor, zero ego, wisdom and strategy that is informed by it. What catches my attention is his wisdom. Wisdom is knowing what is important and what isn’t, what is worth fighting for. … When I hear Governor Cuomo, I also hear honesty, candor, strategy and tactics. I believe that he also possesses wisdom, in that he appears to know what is important.
Oops. If Cuomo’s killing thousands by COVID in nursing home counts as what’s important, then Goulston’s “return of wisdom” is more like the return of Jack the Ripper.
Fauci at His Best Would Still Have Been a Foolish Choice
This isn’t just hindsight speaking, though. Goulston should have known better from the beginning, and so should the rest of us.
Set aside everything we’ve learned since then about Fauci — his flip-flops, his conflicts of interest, and all the rest. It was still foolish to put him in that position of power. It Donald Trump’s biggest mistake by far in handling COVID, probably his most obvious blunder in his entire presidency.
Fauci was the wrong choice, and I think obviously so, because even at his best, he was a virologist and epidemiologist. He made his mark as a man of expertise, when we needed a man of wisdom instead.
What would wisdom have done differently? Many things. One in particular seems obvious. Think of all the voices that have shouted, “Listen to the science!” Wisdom would have cried out, “Yes!” But it would have added, “Listen to all the science!” Wisdom would have gathered experts from all the relevant sciences: not just virology and epidemiology, but psychology, sociology, economics, pedagogy, and a host of other medical fields.
Wisdom would have sat them all down and listened to them. Then it would have challenged each one of them with the question, “Who’s a qualified expert in your field who disagrees with you? Give me their contact info. I want them in this room by noon tomorrow.” Because wisdom knows better than to be blinkered by one discipline or by one person’s view in a discipline.
Wisdom Needs More Than Expertise
That by itself wouldn’t have guaranteed wisdom, as wisdom also needs a strong ethical foundation, high integrity, and a solid understanding of what’s good for the nation in the long run. It needs the fear of God, “the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10), to keep it from vaunting its own purposes higher than it ought.
So a roomful of experts wouldn’t have made wisdom a certainty but it would at least have blocked the rank foolishness of giving one expert in one discipline so much power in leading our response to the virus. Wisdom for such a cataclysmic crisis needs more than full expertise; it does not need less.
I’m Not a Man of Wisdom, But I Play One on TV
Similarly, I wonder why the Centers for Disease Control should have had so much control over masking and vaccination policies. The apostle Paul asked the Corinthian church, “Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers?” (Note the implication: Wisdom ought not be so very hard to find.) I’ll borrow some of his language and ask, “Can it be that there is no outside the CDC wise enough to offer information that matters to COVID policy?
There’s real concern now, for example, that masked-up parents and teachers have hindered children’s language and emotional development. It may not be the CDC’s job to keep track of those things, but that’s precisely why it shouldn’t have as much power as it has.
This is the age of the expert, though. I wish we’d handled COVID more wisely from the start. I wish Fauci would have taken on a role more appropriate to himself. So I’m going to suggest a completely new one for him, this time in a TV commercial. A revival of the one that started out, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV”?
Fauci’s version would be, “I’m not a psychologist or an education specialist or an economist or a sociologist, or any other sort of -ist besides the one specialty I’ve been absorbed in my whole life long.”
Or the short version: “I’m not the man of wisdom you’d want to have in charge of this mess. I just play one on TV.”
It’s not too late, though. He could still choose to be wise. He could give up acting, and go back to his day job.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the recently released Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.