To live into adulthood in our era is to be in a constant state of amazement. Everything is in a constant state of flux and what seemed preposterous in one age is commonplace in the next.
I was reminded of that by a story in the Sunday Business section of The New York Times the other day. Headlined "Having a Little Work Done (at the Mall)," it described a trend of medical spas that have sprung up in shopping malls to offer services such as chemical peels, laser hair-removal, Botox shots and wrinkle-filler injections.
It's shop until you drop apparently and, once you drop, the spa technicians will take the strain lines away. All very convenient.
As for me, I doubt if I will get any cosmetic improvements done at the mall while taking a break from shopping. In truth, I am not much for malls. I think modern theologians who doubt the existence of limbo are in error. Limbo is the mall in the modern cosmos. Heaven comes when you get to go home.
I doubt, too, if mall medical spas could do much for me. I have too much to tuck. And if I did have any work done, I would like a team of crack doctors standing by in a conventional medical office with the traditional outdated magazines in the waiting area that could sedate me if the anesthetic were to wear off.
While these mall medical spas may have staff qualified to do the cosmetic tasks they are performing, the Times article did say some doctors and plastic-surgery trade groups have been wondering about the level of expertise. And then came this highly telling observation: "For many Americans, price and convenience come first, with few questions about the experience and qualifications of the person injecting the treatments."
It seems to me that this description is not limited to cosmetic medical centers in malls. Our whole culture is in open rebellion against the tyranny of expertise and qualifications.
Consider the realm of music. It used to be that a budding musician would spend years studying and practicing, perhaps finally going to a conservatory to perfect the craft. Now the conservatory is more likely to be a garage, where a couple of teen-agers gather to master one or two chords and a nasal whining.
This brings them fame and fortune, of course. Meanwhile, back at the conservatory, a lonely violin plays a plaintive air with a poignancy not seen this side of Christmas in the orphanage.
It's happened in journalism too — this disrespect for paying one's dues. Once journalists were considered crack professionals, highly trained in the arts of filling out expense forms after pursuing news tips with all the sartorial elegance of unmade beds. But, now, thanks to the Internet, all sorts of people think they are virtual journalists, even though they couldn't cover a one-alarm blaze if their own pants were on fire.
In the Internet age, everybody has a blog. Heck, dogs have blogs. (Even I have been reduced to having a blog, but my tail doesn't wag so it's hard to sustain interest). The central fact of this phenomenon is that it takes no expertise to write a blog beyond minimal computer skills and the assembly of some nouns, verbs and adjectives.
With the Internet, it seems to me we have managed to construct a Tower of Babel, where everybody is talking but few are comprehending. Just as well we didn't spend years at school learning how to do it.
I suspect the dissing of qualifications is the natural progression of democracy. Where Jack is as good as his master, Jack doesn't feel the need to get a master's degree. Good for Jack, but perhaps not so good for society.
The best example of expertise being put to flight comes from the world of politics. The presidential primaries now under way are an exercise in culling the candidates with obvious qualifications.
Democrats Joe Biden, Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd had the right experience for the White House (Biden also could talk the leg off a piano). But they are out and the charming but inexperienced Barack Obama is in, giving the all-too-seasoned Hillary Rodham Clinton fits. On the Republican side, the happily lightweight Mike Huckabee is giving real runs to Mitt Romney and John McCain and their heavy resumes.
The moral is: Forget the study and work experience. Go to the mall, get some work done, buy a guitar and go back to the garage where bloggers await you.
(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)post-gazette.com)