The Varieties of Anti-Intellectualism

One of the recurring features of American intellectual life is hand-wringing over “anti-intellectualism” by, of course, intellectuals.

One of my regular commenters has pointed out that the term and concept of anti-intellectualism are used to describe several distinct phenomena that are relatively easily confused. He’s right, and I think it could bring some clarity to the murkier corners of the culture wars to develop the point.

Note: The term “intellectual” is not infrequently applied to me. By the end of this essay it should be clear why, though I recognize the justice in that application, I’m not completely happy with it.

One kind of “anti-intellectualism” is opposition to “intellectuals” considered as an interest group or social class in the Marxian sense – what Russian writers called the intelligentsia. The only more specific term I can think of for this is anti-intelligentsianism, an ugly coinage which will have to do for the duration of this essay.

Another kind is what I’ll call traditionalism. The traditionalist believes that intellectuals discard or undervalue what Russell Kirk called “the organic wisdom of institutions” (in England and continental Europe this position is associated with Edmund Burke). The traditionalist opposes intellectuals not because they form an interest group but because he believes their ceaseless questioning carelessly damages the organic fabric of society, woven by history and supporting human happiness in ways not understood until it is torn asunder.

Next we come to what I’ll call the epistemic-skeptical anti-intellectual. His complaint is that intellectuals are too prone to overestimate their own cleverness and attempt to commit society to vast utopian schemes that invariably end badly. Where the traditionalist decries intellectuals’ corrosion of the organic social fabric, the epistemic skeptic is more likely to be exercised by disruption of the signals that mediate voluntary economic exchanges. This position is often associated with Friedrich Hayek; one of its more notable exponents in the U.S. is Thomas Sowell, who has written critically about the role of intellectuals in society.

Less commonly, we encounter what might be called totalizing anti-intellectualism. Where the traditionalist wishes to preserve what is or was, the totalizing anti-intellectual wants to remake the world by any means necessary. He is a partisan for a specific totalizing system of thought which regards the methods and habits of intellectuals (and possibly the traditionalist’s fabric of society, too) as its enemy. In Europe the totalizing system is likely to be romantic blood-and-soil nationalism, Marxism, or Fascism; in the U.S. it is likely to be fundamentalist Christianity. Elsewhere, under the influence of the anti-rationalism of Al-Ghazali, Islam teaches a particularly violent and exclusive variant of totalizing anti-intellectualism.

Finally, we have what I’ll call the thalamic anti-intellectual. The thalamic anti-intellectual’s opposition is not ideological but personal and gut-level. There can be many reasons for this, but one that will stand for all is that intellectuals make him feel inferior and personally threatened.

These are five different phenomena with different sources. So, when American intellectuals rail against “anti-intellectualism”, it’s important to pin down which kind they are actually talking about. And a major, related problem is that intellectuals sometimes pretend to be talking about one kind of anti-intellectualism as a way of discrediting another against which they don’t actually have good arguments.

For example: when an intellectual is attacking traditionalist anti-intellectualism, he or she is quite likely to pretend that the opponent’s position is totalizing or thalamic. Secular intellectuals in the U.S. frequently dismiss religious traditionalists in exactly this way.

Two red flags to watch for are the words “idiocracy” and “Dominionist”. When an American intellectual speaks of the former, he is very likely to be trying to tar a traditionalist as a thalamic, while the latter is usually an attempt to mischaracterize a traditionalist as a fire-breathing zealot for fundamentalist Christianity.

Mind you, real Christian Dominionists do exist; it should be no news to any of my regular readers that I think Christianity is totalizing and evil at its core. Nevertheless, in our historical moment that tendency is well enough suppressed that accusations of Dominionism are almost always false, revealing ignorance and (often) rhetorical dishonesty on the part of the accuser.

Because it’s extremely difficult to make people like F. A. Hayek or Thomas Sowell look stupid enough to be thalamic or totalitarian enough to be totalizers, the usual form of dishonest attack intellectuals use against epistemic skeptics is to accuse them of being traditionalists covertly intent on preserving some existing set of power relationships. Every libertarian who has ever been accused of conservatism knows about this one up close and personal.

But the most pervasive form of dishonesty in intellectuals’ attacks on anti-intellectualism is to pretend that anti-intelligentsianism doesn’t exist, anything that looks like it has to be one of the other four kinds, and the history of the intelligentsia as a political interest group is not even a legitimate topic of discussion.

But it needs to be. Because the intelligentsia has displayed a consistent political pattern over the last 150 years: believing in its own intellectual and moral superiority, it has sought a leading role in politics, promoting a vision of itself as benign philosopher-kings who can steer society to virtue, equality, and fulfillment.

The vehicles of this belief have been many. At its worst, it has led the intelligentsia to endorse and propagandize for totalizing systems like Communism, which the intelligentsia conceived could be guided to good ends in its use of power by – who else? – intellectuals. It is forgotten, but true, that before World War II many intellectuals were attracted to Fascism for the same reason. In this way much of the intelligentsia of the 20th century became accomplices in and apologists for the most hideous mass murders in human history.

This is why I am not entirely comfortable with being called an intellectual. To many people who never went to college, “intellectuals” still equates to “those people who tried to betray us to the totalitarians”. There is enough justice in that charge to make me flinch. And it is not yesterday’s charge, either; the intelligentsia’s determined persecution of refugees from Islamic oppression and anyone else who dares speak truthfully about it are as disgraceful today as Walter Duranty’s paeans to Stalinism were in the 1930s.

I have argued elsewhere that the West’s intelligentsia were successfully subverted by Soviet memetic warfare, and I believe that Gramscian damage remains a central problem in Western politics. But my charge here does not depend on that model. The desire of the intelligentsia to become philosopher-kings predates the Soviets or even Marxism per se; it is already visible in the early 19th century, tangled up in debates about meritocracy and the establishment or disestablishment of religion.

Even where the intelligentsia has not attached itself to totalizing political ideologies, the effects of its belief in its own superiority have been consistent. Technocratic, credentialist, and statist – the intelligentsia perpetually urges us to cede control of our lives to the smart people, the educated ones, the experts, the selected elite – if not the intellectuals, then the bureaucratic machines guided by intellectuals.

There’s a nearly extinct political tendency called “clericalism” which held that society should be guided by priests, considered as a disinterested non-hereditary elite with better education and morality than possessed by mere laypeople. The intelligentsia’s political instincts can be best described as a sort of neo-clericalism in which education substitutes for ordination.

To every action, a reaction. Much “anti-intellectualism” is a reaction against intellegentsian neo-clericalism. Of course the intelligentsia, sensing this, caricatures the opposition as yokels, know-nothings, and reactionaries. But the uncomfortable questions won’t go away. If you’re so bright, why the constant sucking up to dictators? If you’re so bright, why are modern art and literature such a depressing wasteland? If you’re so bright, why do so many of your grand social-engineering schemes end in corruption and tears?

If “intellectuals” really want to understand and defeat anti-intellectualism, they need to start by looking in the mirror. They have brought this hostility on themselves by serving their own civilization so poorly. Until they face that fact, and abandon their neo-clericalist presumptions, “anti-intellectualism” will continue to get not only more intense, but more deserved.

289 thoughts on “The Varieties of Anti-Intellectualism

  1. I see a fair amount of the charge of “anti-intellectualism” to translate to “You yokels don’t get to pick and choose among the wonderful benefits we intellectuals bestow upon you”. But then, I’ve got four degrees, two of them post-graduate, and I get called “anti-intellectual” all the time …

  2. Believing your own ideas are superior and the best isn’t a phenomenon limited to the intelligentsia. Indeed you’d be hard pressed to find anyone with any kind of political view who didn’t have at least a fairly firm assurance that their belief was the best one for society. Also this could be read, though I doubt you meant it that way, as encouraging ad hominem arguing, like we can dismiss out of hand the ideas of academics because they’re part of a group who have a higher than average rate of conforming to at best naive and at worst very dangerous political belief systems.

    And yes I understand the irony that intellectuals are some of the most likely people in the world to use ad hominem arguments to bolster their own positions rather than actually thinking ideas through and doing some analysis.

  3. This essay just underscores the sadness I have with the passing of Christopher Hitchens. Having wandered through Youtube reliving many of his past moments, I watch with glee as he cuts through BS and argues a point with a sudden clarity that makes you forget about intelligentsia and anti-intellectualism.

  4. Believing your own ideas are superior and the best isn’t a phenomenon limited to the intelligentsia. Indeed you’d be hard pressed to find anyone with any kind of political view who didn’t have at least a fairly firm assurance that their belief was the best one for society.

    By definition, everyone believes that each of her opinions is correct; otherwise, she’d be holding different opinions. Some, however, are able to acknowledge that some of their opinions are likely to be wrong to various degrees, even if they don’t know which ones, and therefore they need to maintain at least a smidgen of humility in their pronouncements. Additionally, there is a facial difference between the sorts of claims of infallibility that you get from most totalizers and some other intellectuals (not to mention the Roman Catholic Church) and the claims of traditionalists and libertarians that fallibility is an unavoidable constraint in any human endeavor.

  5. “The desire of the intelligentsia to become philosopher-kings predates the Soviets or even Marxism per se;”

    Look to the origin of the term philosopher king, and the man who promoted that idea. It appears to be an impulse as old as humanity itself. It may even be that thalamic anti-intellectualism is the first faint impression of an instinct (however blind) to defend society against exactly that type of influence.

    One of the things that struck me when reading a history of the Franco-Prussian war, was how well the various political groups within France at the time mapped to similar ideological groups today, and how they all somewhat tragically conspired to destroy their republic and launch another charismatic dictatorship. Marx was contemporary to all this, however, it seems the impulses driving the French left/communist/intelligentsia wing predate any of the philosophy that was later painted onto them by historians. Ideas didn’t drive the movements, ideas rationalized the desires of people who already thought that way.

  6. Are you sure you’re not overthinking this?

    > To many people who never went to college, “intellectuals” still equates to “those people who tried to betray us to the totalitarians”.

    Might be that this is what people are talking about when they say “anti-intellectualism”.

  7. PS – I’m anti-intellectual type #1 and #3.

    I have extreme respect for intelligence, and view the history of science and technology as one of the most wonderful and profound things in the universe. If there is anything worthy of awe, it’s the limitless promise of the things we can do and discover, because we can look at the universe and *understand*.

    On the other hand, the people who love to be thought of as intelligent, as opposed to actually attempting to solve technical problems and understand the world – these people are as dangerous as any other type of fanatic grasping for power. I’ve often found that these intellectuals, while attracting large followings, have philosophies that are a grab-bag of disconnected assertions and rationalization every bit as sloppily thought out as the religious dogmas they set themselves up in opposition to.

  8. G. K. Chesterton called Tradition “The Democracy of the Dead”. In that some things have always worked. If you buy propertu=y and there is some building, gate, fence, etc. you are better off if you understand the purpose before tearing it down.

    Are the people you know that are sexual libertines (assuming they aren’t among the 1/4 who have incurable STDs – germs are apolitical) happier? The children of open marriage and divorce?

    You might like CS Lewis “Abolition of Man” about the implications of controlling nature if we are part of nature.

  9. Hell, now that I think about it, I recall some ancient Egyptian pean to becoming a scribe, and how much better and higher a purpose in life that was, than to be a common laborer from the hinterlands. How much wiser and more fit to rule were the priests and scribes!

    In ancient Egypt, a priest couldn’t have had that much better an idea of how the world worked than any random bricklayer or milkmaid, the vast majority of “knowledge” they possessed being religious mythology, but the arrogance and certainty were the same.

  10. ESR:

    If “intellectuals” really want to understand and defeat anti-intellectualism, they need to start by looking in the mirror.

    It occurs to me that the mere fact of being an “intellectual” tends to make one prone to many beliefs that have long been proven false. And this tends to make many of us suspicious of intellectuals as a class. (An example might be the belief in the desirability/effectiveness of central planning, and not just economic central planning, but essentially *any* form of CP).

    “Intellectuals can’t stand the free market because the free market works without the supervision of intellectuals.”
    – George F. Will

  11. paean – stupid spellcheck! :-P What I get for attempting sesquipedalian loquaciousness when criticizing the arrogance of the intelligentsia. :-P

  12. I have some general sympathy for this post, but it is too obviously tainted with your political prejudices. Unwarranted confidence in knowledge and in the importance of truth is what concerns me. Life is much happier when you’re conscious of how little you know. For example, you don’t need to argue socialists, libertarians, atheists, feminists or Christians who have arrogated for themselves the role of designing society. At least the Christians have enough shame to pretend it’s God doing the designing.

    The modern approach to decision-making seems to be to try really hard to find some truth or theory, and then infer the “right” decisions based upon it. Like Nassim Taleb, I think we should do things the old-fashioned way: the bridge builder has to spend time under the bridge, the pilot has to be on the plane, etc. People who make decisions should have something to lose. The bottom line is that law and ethics are set up such that intellectuals can push ideas with no consequences for themselves.

  13. Speaking of neo-clericalism, is it an accident that David Brin, who fancies himself an heir to the enlightenment, has called for a return to medieval-catholic inspired show-trials against ideas that his political tribe finds distasteful?

  14. Eric -

    Thank you. Thank you for validating what my BS detector was certain was a fancy way for self-styled intellectuals to say “Shut up, that’s why.”

  15. “There’s a nearly extinct political tendency called “clericalism” which held that society should be guided by priests, considered as a disinterested non-hereditary elite with better education and morality than possessed by mere laypeople.”

    It’s plenty alive and well in the Islamic world. Tired of dictators, the people there cry for the establishment of ‘Islamic Republics’. It’s probably a stage that a lot of countries are going to have to go through before the people learn better. Once they learn, though, they’ll discover that the priests are harder to get rid of than those secular dictators.

  16. As an aside, anyone who considers themselves epistemic-skeptical anti-intellectual should be a regular listener of Russ Robert on Econtalk. Like ams, I’m a type 1 and 3. I wonder how many are type 1 only or type 3 only, and if they should be merged…

  17. >[Clericalism is] plenty alive and well in the Islamic world.

    Indeed it is – velayat-e-faqih and all that. Pardon, I was writing in a modern, Western, American context.

  18. >I wonder how many are type 1 only or type 3 only, and if they should be merged…

    Speaking as a type 1 and 3 myself, I think 3 tends to imply 1 but that you can have 1 without 3 – from a different set of motives, as it were,

  19. Beware of over-generalization and hubris. This applies to you, esr, as well as anybody and everybody else. The hubris of the some of the intelligentsia is their vulnerability, as you say, but not all are tarred by the same brush.

    Just as consensus is usually numerically meaningless, the 99% is not actually 99%, most populations fit into a normal distribution.

    nuff said.

  20. Intellectual, bah. I’ll take the label Engineer.

    IMHO there are far too few engineers involved in politics. Engineers (of a all types) get bit (and hard) when their ideas don’t work properly. Intellectuals just seem to get determined to try again harder when they fail, engineers actually figure out why they failed.

  21. It’s not entirely clear to me that “traditionalism” and “epistemic-skeptical” are seperate as opposed to flip sides of the same coin.

    The “traditionalist” critique says the intellectual undervalues the knowledge of others. The “epistemic-skeptical” critique says the intellectual overvalues his own knowledge. Those statements seem equivalent in the sense that the both equate to “intellectual > everyone else”. Which side of the inequality is “wrong” seems like a distinction without a difference. In both cases, it’s really just “intellectual hubris”.

    Comments?

  22. >Which side of the inequality is “wrong” seems like a distinction without a difference.

    One reason I think there’s a difference is that I’m an epistemic skeptic but not a traditionalist. And I’ve known people who were the reverse. These are distinguishable positions because they have distinct consequences.

    As a subsidiary point, I don’t think you have traditionalism quite right. The traditionalist doesn’t necessarily value “knowledge of others” at all. The wisdom of institutions, in the traditionalist’s view, is a set of acquired habits of behavior which are conducive to happiness despite the fact that nobody really “knows” them – that is, their generative logic is not clear, or may be concealed behind a smokescreen of myth.

  23. I’m not sure I have it quite right either, only that it’s not all fitting into place quite like it should.

    When you describe “commit society to vast utopian schemes” how is that not the same as abandoning traditionalism? in both cases one says to the (so-called) intellectual: STOP! You are not so smart!

    How is “the organic wisdom of institutions” so much different than a Hayekian understanding of the market? In both cases the neuron imagines itself smarter than the brain.

    As you say – it may be true that the traditionalist doesn’t -know- he is valuing the knowledge of “the market”. That only convinces me they are MORE similar.

    The distinction you’re drawing seems mostly one of self awareness – they both value the knowledge diffused throughout the system. The only difference is that the Traditionalist doesn’t know why, while the epistemic skeptic can clearly articulate the reason.

    What are the distinct consequences you are describing? The form of the argument they use?

  24. @BioBob

    but not all are tarred by the same brush.

    I think that was the point of the post.

  25. @esr

    The traditionalist doesn’t necessarily value “knowledge of others” at all. The wisdom of institutions, in the traditionalist’s view, is a set of acquired habits of behavior which are conducive to happiness despite the fact that nobody really “knows” them – that is, their generative logic is not clear, or may be concealed behind a smokescreen of myth.

    I think traditionalism might also (better?) be called golden-ageism. The belief that some time ago – usually just about a generation or two ago – the world was in a quasi-natural state of bliss before everything started to go to hell.

  26. >The only difference is that the Traditionalist doesn’t know why, while the epistemic skeptic can clearly articulate the reason.

    If that were the only difference it would still be a significant one. The epistemic skeptic has a generative theory about what he values. The traditionalist has a set of acquired habits and conservative reflexes, but no theory. Which one do you suppose will cope with novelty better?

    >What are the distinct consequences you are describing?

    Let’s take an easy case. Blasphemy. A traditionalist is likely to be disturbed by it even if it’s not his religion. An epistemic skeptic, not so much.

  27. @esr

    Let’s take an easy case. Blasphemy. A traditionalist is likely to be disturbed by it even if it’s not his religion. An epistemic skeptic, not so much.

    It seems to me that the epistemic skeptic will naturally tend to be anti-statist, while the traditionalist will be vulnerable to authoritarian thinking.

  28. “The epistemic skeptic has a generative theory about what he values. The traditionalist has a set of acquired habits and conservative reflexes, but no theory. Which one do you suppose will cope with novelty better?”

    That depends. If the new thing fits the skeptic’s model, then he’s riding high. If it doesn’t, chances are that a new tradition is going to be born….

  29. I think there’s another part that goes along with these, maybe not another type of anti-intellectualism but more of a co-morbid behavior. There is this tendency among politicians, statists, and really anyone else who wants to tinker with society to appeal to the authority of their degree or education as their qualification, or conversely claim that their education makes them unflawed and therefore whatever has shown them to be flawed is what is actually flawed (for an example of the latter, see here where a person with degrees takes a state mandated standardized test and fails miserably and then complains that the test must be flawed because he has “degrees” http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/when-an-adult-took-standardized-tests-forced-on-kids/2011/12/05/gIQApTDuUO_blog.html). After seeing enough of this, people tend to be reflexively weary of anyone who starts or ends their argument with a listing of their credentials.

    Or now that I’m writing this out, maybe this behavior appears along with and like anti-intellectualism because we have (at least in the US) mistaken a degree for education, and education for intellectualism.

  30. >because we have (at least in the US) mistaken a degree for education, and education for intellectualism.

    Perhaps. But it is at least interesting that I have no trouble getting anyone to take me seriously as an intellectual despite lacking a sheepskin. It suggests that we haven’t completely succumbed to credentialitis.

  31. @esr

    I have no trouble getting anyone to take me seriously as an intellectual despite lacking a sheepskin. It suggests that we haven’t completely succumbed to credentialitis.

    What?! I just assumed you had a CS degree. Bah! Why am I even reading this blog?

    ;)

  32. @Tom:

    … while the traditionalist will be vulnerable to authoritarian thinking.

    Not if the “tradition” he’s defending is skepticism of authority. There is (or perhaps was) a considerable amount of that in US traditionalism. But it appears to be on a fast track to obsolescence.

  33. @Michael Hipp

    Not if the “tradition” he’s defending is skepticism of authority. There is (or perhaps was) a considerable amount of that in US traditionalism. But it appears to be on a fast track to obsolescence.

    Right, but I was careful to say that he would be *vulnerable* to authoritarian thinking, not that he would necessarily adopt it. Whereas the epistemic skeptic will naturally oppose such thinking as potentially a grand utopian scheme or as hostile to the free market.

  34. As someone who fits into types 2 and 3 above, I think that they are distinct, though closely related, and that you’ve done a decent job of articulating the differences between them.

    However, I don’t quite agree that the traditionalist necessarily has no theory and therefore no adaptibility. The traditionalist begins from the presumption that traditional social institutions are functional and healthy, and from there he may generate all sorts of theories about how the whole thing works. I’ve read plenty of traditionalist conservative writing that proceeds in just this manner. The only reason why it may seem otherwise is that trads these days spend most of their time defending their core assertion against the widespread counter-assertion that traditional social institutions are dysfunctional and unhealthy. Also, a traditionalist with a well-articulated theory may be reclassified as something else (a religious fundamentalist, an environmentalist, a localist, etc.) depending on what his theory turns out to be.

  35. >Also, a traditionalist with a well-articulated theory may be reclassified as something else (a religious fundamentalist, an environmentalist, a localist, etc.) depending on what his theory turns out to be.

    That makes sense. But there’s still a difference in style; the traditionalist has more tendency to start from sentiment, then develop theory.

  36. >As someone who fits into types 2 and 3 above, I think that they are distinct, though closely related, and that you’ve done a decent job of articulating the differences between them.

    Oh, and thank you, by the way. I went to some effort to present the traditionalist position in an even-handed way, even though I’m not one. Nice to know that somebody who is thought I got it right.

  37. “Believing your own ideas are superior and the best isn’t a phenomenon limited to the intelligentsia. Indeed you’d be hard pressed to find anyone with any kind of political view who didn’t have at least a fairly firm assurance that their belief was the best one for society.”

    Of course. Everyone believes that his or her views are correct. The difference is that as a rule, the intellectual is intolerant of dissenting views, and displays arrogance, condescension, and scorn toward anyone who dares to express those views. In fact, intellectuals often dismiss anyone outside their narrow circle of like-minded true believers as stupid, ignorant, or evil. Their reasoning runs like this:

    “My educational credentials prove that I am one of the most intelligent and well-informed people on the planet. Therefore, it is not possible for me to be wrong. My beliefs are not opinions; they are objective facts, and anyone who disagrees with them is simply wrong. Such people are either liars or ignorant morons. In either case, those who disagree with me deserve no respect or tolerance whatsoever. What they have to say can only mislead or confuse people. Therefore, they should be silenced by any means available.”

    In other words, the intellectuals are dogmatic fanatics who brook no opposition from anyone. (In other words, they’re still practicing medieval clericism, but won’t admit it.) They pretend to be thoughtful and well-informed, but in fact they do very little thinking at all, since they never question their own beliefs or examine the ideas of anyone who doesn’t already agree with them. The dirty little secret of the intellectuals is that their education is really just indoctrination, and the main intellectual skill they learn from it is sophistry: the ability to manipulate language in order to generate propaganda in support of their dogma.

  38. In “The Magician’s Nephew,” C.S. Lewis painted an excellent portrait of the modern intellectual — the character Andrew Ketterley, who is the magician of the title. In truth, he is really just a dabbler in magic, playing with dangerous forces he doesn’t begin to understand. But he makes sure that the danger is all borne by other people, including the children whom he uses as guinea pigs. One of those children is his nephew Digory Kirke, who begins to understand what sort of person his uncle is after Digory’s friend Polly is tricked into touching a magic ring that sends her to an unknown world. Digory then learns that Ketterley began his researches by breaking a promise he made to his godmother as she lay on her deathbed.

    “Well, then, it was jolly rotten of you,” said Digory.

    “Rotten?” said Uncle Andrew with a puzzled look. “Oh, I see. You mean that little boys ought to keep their promises. Very true: most right and proper, I’m sure, and I’m very glad that you have been taught to do it. But of course you must understand that rules of that sort, however excellent they may be for little boys — and servants — and women — and even people in general, can’t possibly be expected to apply to profound students and great thinkers and sages. No, Digory. Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.”

    As he said this he sighed and looked so grave and noble and mysterious that for a second Digory really thought he was saying something rather fine. But then he remembered the ugly look he had seen on his Uncle’s face the moment before Polly had vanished, and all at once he saw through Uncle Andrew’s grand words. “All it means,” he said to himself, “is that he thinks he can do anything he likes to get anything he wants.”

  39. “Technocratic, credentialist, and statist – the intelligentsia perpetually urges us to cede control of our lives to the smart people, the educated ones, the experts, the selected elite – if not the intellectuals, then the bureaucratic machines guided by intellectuals.”

    Is there really a problem with wishing your leaders were the best and brightest? If the guy in charge is no brighter or skilled than I am then we’re lead by fools and that outcome is never good. I don’t want Mr Regular Guy to be POTUS. I sure don’t want someone posing as Mr. Regular Guy to be POTUS.

    If you don’t want a smart, educated person for leader who do you want? You don’t think that an elite POTUS is every bit as important as an elite SEAL? What we don’t want are posers. Those that look smart and can talk a good game but can’t execute on the field.

  40. Is there really a problem with wishing your leaders were the best and brightest? If the guy in charge is no brighter or skilled than I am then we’re lead by fools and that outcome is never good. I don’t want Mr Regular Guy to be POTUS. I sure don’t want someone posing as Mr. Regular Guy to be POTUS.

    There’s a difference between saying that some sort of management function is necessary and that we should put the best people we can in it and saying that because someone lies at the upper end of a very limited spectrum of ability he should be endowed with the sort of powers that no human or committee can handle appropriately.

    We pick tall people who can jump to play in the NBA. We don’t pretend those people can launch satellites by hand.

  41. @Nigel:

    Is there really a problem with wishing your leaders were the best and brightest?

    I don’t particularly want a leader at all. I should just stop there.

    But if I must have some, I most assuredly don’t want them to be the “best and brightest”. I want them to be the wisest. This is often the near opposite of best and brightest. One of the requirements of wisdom is to be humble and fully aware of one’s limitations, as well as not given to pride, narcissism, arrogance or hubris. The b&b can seldom manage any of this.

    I’ll quit there, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of why the b&b seldom make good leaders.

  42. Indeed. History includes many instances in which the intellectuals were put in change of a country and given total power to do whatever they thought was best. The usual result is a bloodbath. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 is probably the best-known example, but there are plenty of others.

  43. I think it’s worth pointing out that, in the Middle Ages, a Bachelor’s degree *was* ordination into the Catholic church, and modern university degrees are directly descended from the medieval versions. So the historical connection between clericalism and intellectualism is a bit closer than you indicated.

  44. Very thought provoking thread. I’ve sat here for 1.5 hrs starting and erasing responses and considering it.

    Ultimately I think this is a better taxonomy for motivations or arguments than for individuals.

    Individuals seems to change categories situationally and I have often seen them switch to intellectual arguments when to their advantage. I’ve met very few who even stuck to “anti-intellectualism” but rather they assume the position when it works for them.

    Ultimately these are all strategies with a common thread that genes use to survive into the future.

    An interesting question to me is: why is a recurring anti-intellectual strategy successful in America?

  45. @michael I am happy to add “wise” to the list of requirements. Given the large pool to choose from, I’d hope we could find as many smart and wise folks to elect as tall people for the NBA.

    @christopher I have no desire to equate smart and wise with Übermensch.

  46. (side note: repeatedly typing “epistemic skeptic” reminds me why acronyms were invented!)
    > That makes sense. But there’s still a difference in style; the traditionalist has more tendency to start from sentiment, then develop theory.

    I don’t know.

    The Traditional starts from the position that what we have, whatever it’s flaws, works. Meddeling is more likely to make it worse, He doesn’t know why the system is so resilient and stable, he just knows it is. He has enormous respect for a proven system and is reluctant to let anyone change it.

    The Epi-skep’s “complaint is that intellectuals are too prone to overestimate their own cleverness and attempt to commit society to vast utopian schemes.” Ie, the intellectuals meddling is likely to make it worse. He has low respect for the changer, and is reluctant to let him loose on a working system.

    Those seem incredibly close to me.

  47. Then, there’s those who oppose intellectuals because they get in the way of their ambitions. Francisco Madero led the Mexican Revolution, then his rivals shot him. His ideas got in the way. In Iraq, after the American takeover, many Iraqi intellectuals surfaced with ideas about a democratic society; the insurgents hunted them down and killed them, one by one. What name do we give this type?

  48. >I think there’s another part that goes along with these, maybe not another type of anti-intellectualism but more of a co-morbid behavior.

    I think that gets at the real heart of it.

    Most of the time the term anti-intellectual is bring thrown out, it;s not descriptive, but pejorative . Its because they are relying on an appeal to authority, rather than addressing the substance of the argument.

    Relying on appeals to authority and calling your opponent an anti-intellectual as a pejorative is really a fundamentally anti-intellectual behavior. A true intellectual wouldn’t do it.

  49. > as a sort of neo-clericalism in which education substitutes for ordination.

    It’s not so much education as credentials.

    > If you’re so bright, why the constant sucking up to dictators?

    This is one that they get correct, where “correct” means “effective plan to accomplish goals”.

    Sucking up to dictators is an easy and relatively clean way to get power. Plus, a dictator is less likely to object to “breaking a few eggs”.

    And, it’s easy to convince yourself that you can “trick” a dictator.

    > If you’re so bright, why do so many of your grand social-engineering schemes end in corruption and tears?

    Because they don’t understand the limits of their information and knowledge, or rather, the consequences of those limits. Plus this stuff is really hard.

  50. > If the guy in charge is no brighter or skilled than I am then we’re lead by fools and that outcome is never good.

    Quite right.

    > If you don’t want a smart, educated person for leader who do you want?

    I do want such a person. However, that person isn’t especially likely to be an “intellectual”.

    > What we don’t want are posers. Those that look smart and can talk a good game but can’t execute on the field.

    Bingo – that’s pretty much the definition of intellectual in this thread.

  51. > >because we have (at least in the US) mistaken a degree for education, and education for intellectualism.

    > Perhaps. But it is at least interesting that I have no trouble getting anyone to take me seriously as an intellectual despite lacking a sheepskin. It suggests that we haven’t completely succumbed to credentialitis.

    However, you do have some of the trappings. Plus, you’re technical. The folks who are qualified to judge you on that basis don’t give a rip about credentials and the ones that aren’t are easily cowed wrt technology.

    Don’t underestimate the trappings. As David Brooks wrote about Obama “I remember distinctly an image of–we were sitting on his couches, and I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant,” Brooks says, “and I’m thinking, a) he’s going to be president and b) he’ll be a very good president.”

  52. Continuing with Brooks

    Moreover, after the Bush years, Brooks seems relieved to have an intellectual in the White House again. “I divide people into people who talk like us and who don’t talk like us,” he explains. “Of recent presidents, Clinton could sort of talk like us, but Obama is definitely–you could see him as a New Republic writer. He can do the jurisprudence, he can do the political philosophy, and he can do the politics. I think he’s more talented than anyone in my lifetime. I mean, he is pretty dazzling when he walks into a room. So, that’s why it’s important he doesn’t fuck this up.”

    “I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging,” Brooks recently told me, “but usually when I talk to senators, while they may know a policy area better than me, they generally don’t know political philosophy better than me. I got the sense [Obama] knew both better than me.”

    from http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/the-courtship .

  53. > I have argued elsewhere that the West’s intelligentsia were successfully subverted by Soviet memetic warfare

    While this was in a sense true, the reason that Harvard and the state department was so comfortable with people on Stalin’s payroll in crucial government and private jobs was that while Stalin believed he was using Harvard and the State Department to destroy America, Harvard and the State Department believed that they were using Stalin to defeat the Pentagon and the American business class. In this interpretation, Vietnam was a proxy war between the Pentagon on one side, and the State Department on the other.

  54. >“I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging,”

    Pfah. Brooks is a clown; if one set out to do an intentional parody of the modern courtier-intellectual one could hardly do better than him. The crease in Obama’s pants leg, indeed.

  55. >What name do we give this type?

    If they’re not totalizers they’re pretty close to it.

  56. I have only read a few things by Brooks, when following links that looked as though they might be interesting, but do not think he knows much political philosophy, at least how I use the term. To me political philosophy is an attempt to understand the foundations of government, and collective action in general, mostly an extension of ethics and social psychology. Brooks, on the other hand, is a classic Leftist intellectual who interprets “know political philosophy” as how well the other party agrees with him.

  57. > @ Tom Says:
    >I think that was the point of the post.

    Perhaps so. However, ever a cursory scan of the comments demonstrates the reason for my point in spades, LOL.

    > @ Dewey Says:
    > Individuals seems to change categories situationally

    Very good point !

  58. >Is there really a problem with wishing your leaders were the best and brightest?

    Aside from the points others have made, there’s also the argument that no, you want your best and brightest out in the world doing the things that they are the best and brightest at. In general, you want your leaders to have a knack of finding the best and brightest and pointing them at problems and then getting the hell out of the way. I heard once a saying that the mark of a great leader (I think in this case it was referring to a boss of a company) was how long he could be dead at his desk before anyone would notice.

    Or put another way, I look at a leader as something of a conductor of a band. A very critical role to be sure, and certainly a skilled conductor is better than one who isn’t, but ultimately, when it comes down to creating the music, the conductor is just waving his hands, the band is actually doing the playing and the conductor could simply up and walk away and the music would keep playing. In this respect, I don’t want the best and brightest trumpet player as my conductor, I want him playing trumpet.

  59. But Roger Phillips, libertarians don’t want to design society. We believe in societal evolution. It’s the *intellectuals* who are creationists.

  60. Nice essay. Provides a helpful framework from which to consider the rationale for anti-intelligentsianism today.

  61. I personally overlap the epistemic-skeptical and traditionalism categories: the former because I have come to conclude that the intelligentsia, no matter how intelligent, can never know enough to justify any form of overconfidence (which is really the bed partner of ignorance, which says something :); and the latter because I believe that structures and institutions that are working well or well enough (an important qualifier) shouldn’t be casually dabbled with unless one has a track record of actually doing things better. Yet at the same time, I do recognize a place for totalizing anti-intellectualism but that would only be in extreme, totally hopeless situations where a revolution is all you’ve got left.

  62. In “The Magician’s Nephew,” C.S. Lewis painted an excellent portrait of the modern intellectual — the character Andrew Ketterley, who is the magician of the title.

    Albus Dumbledore was another such — funny too that he should be a magician. To Rowling’s credit she paints a gently parodic picture of the modern optimistic liberal do-gooder in Dumbledore and Grendelwald, who agitate for wizard rulership over muggles, believing that such rule would be benevolent.

    Difference is, great age and experience with Voldemort had conferred upon Dumbledore a certain wisdom, such that he knew the wages of power and, in later life, was content to headmaster a prominent wizarding school rather than heed the call of his peers and accept the position of Minister of Magic.

    I do wonder if Rowling has perhaps a closet libertarian outlook.

  63. Something I’m disturbed by is the tendency of some intellectuals to promote their values under the guise of their expertise. Here’s an example that is near and dear to my heart:

    David Mech spent years studying wolves, and is one of the foremost wolf biologists in the world at this time. He thinks that wolves should be “managed” (i.e. hunted), and gets annoyed when the general public wants to take wildlife management out of the hands of game agencies (“the professionals”). Those who support trophy hunting like to wave this in the face of animal advocates, implying, “Science says that wolves should be hunted!” But here’s the problem: science can’t tell us whether wolves *should* or *shouldn’t* be hunted. It can only try to predict what will happen if we do or don’t hunt them. Whether the results of wolf hunting are actually good/favorable results is more of a moral question. Mech traps mink, and I get the distinct impression that he values a usable pelt over the life of an animal. So when he says, “Wolves should be hunted,” Mech the Scientist isn’t the only one talking; I think Mech the Trapper is also putting his oar in. But he and the hunting advocates like to pretend that it’s just Mech the Scientist, and anyone who discounts his opinion is defying Science.

    This sort of behavior accounts for much of my suspicion of experts. I respect their knowledge of the facts, but knowledge does not automatically confer wisdom, as other commentators have pointed out. Dr. Mech knows more about wolves than I do, and would be more qualified to give a lecture on wolf biology — but I’m just as qualified as he is when it comes to making a value judgment about whether killing a wolf for its head and hide is morally right. Interpretations may be akin to value judgments in this sense. For example, the fossils we’ve dug up are objective realities that everyone can look at and agree upon — their existence and nature are facts. However, not everyone agrees about the interpretation of the fossil evidence, i.e. what those fossils *mean* for the history of life on earth. Of course, I have no problem with the idea of an expert making value judgments or forming interpretations; what disturbs me is the attempt to disguise value judgments and interpretations as objective, bias-free facts, science, or what-have-you, which the common folk must agree with or be denounced as ignoramuses. What sort of anti-intellectualism would you call my reservations?

  64. When I think of anti-intellectualism, I think of creationists claiming that some spurious nonsense is equivalent to real science; I think of the protectionists on the left who claim that they can suspend the operation of supply and demand and comparative advantage and so argue for “fair trade not free trade”; I think of anti-vaxxers; I think of the people who promote SOPA because they refuse to understand the internet or general-purpose computing.

    I think that the essay is interesting and has identified a correct set of phenomena, but comes from a completely different prototype of the anti-intellectual. I suspect that the borders of the definition are similar for both myself and ESR, but our prototypes and thus our visceral reactions are completely different.

  65. As a leftist self proclaimed intellectual. I find this blog quite useful for exploring opposing points of view, but can’t help but wonder if initial post is nothing more than an eloquent attempt to justify the position that “My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” The initial post makes quite clear distinctions between various kinds of anti-intellectuals, without actually defining what an intellectual is. While it is fairly easy to understand why anti-intellectuals would oppose the various forms of corrupted intellectuals described here, it makes little sense to oppose uncorrupted intellectuals, by which I mean someone who merely try to figure out the meaning of things, rather than repeat stuff without understanding what they mean.

  66. @ esr
    > I have argued elsewhere that the West’s intelligentsia were successfully subverted by Soviet memetic warfare, and I believe that Gramscian damage remains a central problem in Western politics.

    You’ve argued, yes, but not very persuasively. That sort of soft hand-wavy “all liberals are commies who hate America” line is frankly beneath you. It makes you sound a lot more like a conspiracist crank than you deserve.

  67. One of the things that struck me when reading a history of the Franco-Prussian war, was how well the various political groups within France at the time mapped to similar ideological groups today, and how they all somewhat tragically conspired to destroy their republic and launch another charismatic dictatorship. Marx was contemporary to all this, however, it seems the impulses driving the French left/communist/intelligentsia wing predate any of the philosophy that was later painted onto them by historians.

  68. Good post. I believe in intellectual pursuits, I believe that an awful lot of people are idiots – but I also believe that the biggest idiots of all are those self-styled intellectuals who think they know enough to tell other people how to live their lives, when most of them can’t even manage their own life.

  69. ESR,

    Is there a significant difference between the traditonalist and the epistemic-skeptic approach? I tend to view both favorably, because the “organic fabric of society” at the end of the day is just the _result_ of the _process_ described by the skeptics: choices made on personal and local level, informed more by circumstantial knowledge, first-hand experience and pattern recognition than by theories and data etc. etc. After all “organic” means something that grows from cells in a bottom-up, not top-down way, and it rhymes well enough with epistemic skepticism.

    I don’t really know that much about Kirk, he was a bit of a weird and way too romantic guy (calling cars “mechanical Jacobins” and other such nonsense) but the “Burkean” approach is not against questioning, it is against too speculative _answers_ not supported by actual experience. Kirk might have been too extreme in this regard, I consider him unrepresentative of the traditionalist camp. Eric Voegelin’s analysis of the Gnostic nature of modern intellectualism is so much better.

  70. @Jan

    >by which I mean someone who merely try to figure out the meaning of things

    Plain simply this isn’t what being an intellectual means. What I would recommend you is to look a bit into the role intellectuals played in politics in the last 150 years and derive a definition from that. The best definition of an intellectual I’ve heard is someone who has an expertise in one thing, and uses it to comment completely unrelated things he knows little about from a position of authority.

    The classic textbook example of intellectualism is Einstein on socialism – it is a painfully bad article, E. apparently did not bother to read a bit of economics or sociology, yet it comes through as an authoritative text, as being a famous physics genius lends a weight to a text completely unrelated to physics too.

  71. BTW isn’t intellectualism getting extinct anyway? Chomsky is 84, Hobsbawm is 95 and there is nobody like them in next generations – i.e. there are no writers under 60 or so who have the same cult-like following and powerful influence as they do. Young political activists no longer have such prophets, the OWS guys see Graebner or Zizek as more of a curiosity than a leader.

  72. It figures that you’d go ahead and try to paint religious people as anti-intellectuals. Sorry Eric but you’re kafkatrapping us and therefore can go scratch.

  73. >It figures that you’d go ahead and try to paint religious people as anti-intellectuals.

    Oh, no, that’s way too simple.

    First, I don’t consider being “anti-intellectual” necessarily a bad thing. I’m an epistemic skeptic myself.

    Second, religious believers can be effective intellectuals themselves, just as other sorts of nutters can be effective intellectuals in areas far enough removed from their delusional systems. There was the classic case of that early major contributor to the OED who did his work from within an asylum for the criminally insane. Religious-believer scientists are a similar testimony to the human mind’s a ability to adapt even around profound derangements of its own function.

  74. Just the other day, I was thinking that artists and scholars have historically supported dictators from time to time, simply because from time to time, dictators *help* the arts and scholarship.

    Soviet Russia’s record on economic well-being is uniformly dismal. If you own a grocery store, you know for sure you don’t want to live in Soviet Russia. But when it comes to the arts and sciences, it’s quite a bit more uncertain. They produced Lysenkoism and propaganda posters, but they also produced Kolmogorov and the Bolshoi Ballet. They put a man in space. If your goal is to create the best art or science possible, you might at times have made a case that the real “action” was in the Soviet Union.

    Monumental projects, whether of art, science, or scholarship, have historically required patronage. Kings and emperors would commission works. Mozart needed the Emperor, Tchaikovsky needed the Tsar, Leibniz needed the Electress. If you want to work on a monumental project, you need a powerful man who appreciates your work. Of course, creative people may also fear despots because they can grow unfriendly to the wrong artistic vision; but an absolute ruler who’s a patron of the arts is, in general, an artist’s dream.

    The other day I saw “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” The character who’s spying for the Soviets said “It’s an aesthetic as much as a moral decision…the West has grown so ugly.” And there’s something to that. A society where people more or less do what they want is aesthetically “ugly”, if you have a specific taste, because most people’s tastes will disagree with yours. If your passion is a specific academic field, then you’ll be disappointed by the stupidity of a society where that field’s importance is not enshrined by political authority. People “should” be reading Blake instead of watching TV — but in a free society, nothing’s stopping them from watching TV all the time. One of the things I had to grapple with, as I became a libertarian, is that in a free society most people won’t give a damn about the things I care most about, and I won’t be able to force them to. That’s kind of sad, viewed in a certain light. You have to give up on the (childish) dream of having things just the way you want them.

  75. @Jan Hornbøll Hansen

    I’m not sure anyone is really against scholarship and research.

    The problem comes when those scholars and researchers try to tell the rest of us what to do.

  76. “And there’s something to that. A society where people more or less do what they want is aesthetically “ugly”, if you have a specific taste, because most people’s tastes will disagree with yours.”

    Part of the problem with intellectuals is that they never seem to comprehend that the people composing society, which they wish to use as raw materials to achieve their visions for it, inevitably have goals of their own which are usually crushed or sidelined to acheive the goals of the intellectual.

    It seems that they fundamentally don’t understand that the “goals of society” are not a simple or monolithic thing which is “decided” by anyone, but merely the average behavior of a vast aggregate of individual agendas. When people object to being cogs in a utopian scheme, even one launched for “their own good”, they are labeled as being “selfish”, “narrow”, “stupid”, ect. If people have their own purposes respected, they can’t very well be used as a tool to accomplish the purposes of someone else with a grand vision for what “society” should become.

    As far as patronage, the extremely rich who patronize art and science don’t necessarily have to get that way through taxation, oppression, or rearranging the lives of their neighbors into tools for a utopian scheme. Bezos and Branson have begun playing the part of classical patrons to the space industry, for example. Carnegie was a past example.

    And as for the relative ugliness of the Soviet Union/Communist China in full utopia mode (burning every artifact of culture and education they could lay their hands on)/ect vs. America, it’s hard to imagine a starker contrast.

    America has wonderful and triumphant art, and a glorious aesthetic, for those who can appreciate it. It just isn’t any one vision, and it doesn’t hijack its people as a raw material!

  77. You’re right — I forgot about private patronage. (In Europe, Grand Central Station would have been built by an emperor; but here it was Vanderbilt.)

  78. It reminds me of those lifeboat problems in school where people gather around and decide on what the “best” composition of people to survive some contrived disaster are. They never get around to asking “best for who”?

    The problem posers are dumbfounded at the idea that the participants might object to being sacrificed for their schemes, that such situations are something to be avoided at all costs, rather than deliberately constructed as a moral exercise; because they force mortal conflict, not compliance with the plans of a disinterested third party, and that the “greater good” vanishes as a coherent concept (if it ever was one) when individual interests are turned against each other like that.

    I suppose from one never-used perspective, how you evaluate these toy problems can be used as a test for whether or not you grok the autonomy of individual goals or not. The readiness with which most people adopt some outside perspective that never once considers the desires of the people involved as an independent object, seems to suggest that most don’t.

  79. “One of the things I had to grapple with, as I became a libertarian, is that in a free society most people won’t give a damn about the things I care most about, and I won’t be able to force them to. That’s kind of sad, viewed in a certain light. You have to give up on the (childish) dream of having things just the way you want them.”

    This is somewhat poignant for me. I’m an astronautical engineer in a nation where space exploration is “the national hobby”, and currently going nowhere fast. When I was younger, space was pretty much the center of my world, because it was what occupied my attention and studies. I was struck with the same grand visions of getting mankind out into colonizing the solar system, and the lack of sweeping progress, much less attention, grated. But, frustrating as our lack of progress has been, I eventually realized that you can’t hijack the country’s resources to pursue these goals in any great way (well, you *can*, but you *shouldn’t*). If we spent a trillion dollars on NASA a year, I could be posting this from an internet cafe on Mars, but whose lives would you have to hijack to do that? Whose businesses, art, associations, would sink beneath the tide of taxation that would lift a state run rocket program of that magnitude?

    Right now I’m focusing on developing technology, and hoping that one day we’ll be rich enough (and have a good enough approach to the problem) to achieve these goals with willing patronage.

  80. a very interesting thread, but again one that to me looks distinctly American-centric (or at least anglo-saxon centric).

    The main problem I see in applying these observations to Europe (especially Catholic Europe) is that it would under-estimate the systemic power of clericalism and over-estimate the existence of ‘intellectuals’ as a social group. More subtly, it would miss the point that the discussion between the two is far from being “intellectual” in the anglo-saxon sense.

    In catholic countries (but to my suprise this is true of Germany as a whole) the degree to which ‘clericalism’ dominates the intellectual discussion and constraints social habits is difficult to overestimate: it is simply not possible to propose an argument to make a point, if that point is not accepted; correspondingly unaccetable social behaviours are simply stigmatised and persecuted, not discussed.

    An easy example is homosexuality. For clericals, homsexuality is bad. Problem is, it has become increasingly accepted even in Catholic countries. Solution? You keep retitirating that homosexuality is bad. The point here is that it would be wrong to conclude that this is position is “traditionalist” or “conservative”:that would ascribe to these positions an intellectual content that they lack and are not interested in.

    “Clericalism” in catholic countries is not simply the catholic church, or catholic dogma: it is, to simplify, a very real self-perpetuating system of social conditioning that no other social actor or individual is strong enough to disrupt. The actual content may vary, and it does adapt to changing hanits, but the system has to stay in place. Tipically, the system is accepted even by those that do not agree with it or even get to loose from it and therefore manages to self-perpetuate (the classic example being long-time gay couples being considered officially “friends” by the families concerned)

    That’s why “clericals” are not interested in intellectual discussion, of the type that anglo-saxon countries like so much (“is home-sexuality a moral sin in a non-religious ethic?”): to accept that kind of discussion would mean to concede that clericalism, the overall system, can be discussed publicly, rationally, by any random individual, and that cannot be accepted.

    But perversely, that means also that the criticims of the clerical system is non-intellectual. In Italy, Spain, but also Germany, criticism of the clerical mind-set (which can be largely secular, rememeber) comes mostly in the form of provocation, gay parades in front of churches, to continue the examples, “drag Jesuses” at Christmas and the like. That’s the only form of criticism most people know in these countries. The anglo-saxon attitute of tackling the problem rationally and empirically is a very new trend in these countries, and still a very small one. Most people would consider it ineffective – and rightly so.

    To put it into one sentence: in southern europe we don’t have public intellectuals, we have full-time provocateurs. That’s why the books of Christopher Hitchens sell so much.

  81. @Nigel: Is there anything wrong with wanting to limit how much power we cede to our leaders? Intellectuals call for having such control over our lives as would be unwise to cede to anyone, no matter how smart, or good, or wise they are. Furthermore, the fact that intellectuals do call for people to cede that much power to them shows that they are not nearly as smart, or good, or wise as they claim to be or think they are.

  82. If we spent a trillion dollars on NASA a year, I could be posting this from an internet cafe on Mars, but whose lives would you have to hijack to do that?

    At the peak we were spending around $33B in 2007 dollars for NASA. Apollo cost us about $136B in 2007 dollars. The estimated return on this investment is around 33% according to a couple studies (to be taken with some salt eh?).

    $33B is what? 5% of the $683B DoD budget or less than half of Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation budget of $79B.

    As much as I think the F-35 is strategically important to us I’d trade its $11B cut of the budget along with some other R&D to develop a permanent moon base and then onward to mars.

  83. I think that much of the vitriol toward “anti-intellectualism” stems from the intelligentsia losing its power due to the Internet. The irony is that what they interpret as hostility to knowledge is actually the widespread dissemination of knowledge. Even if they were right in most of their opinions, their power and influence would be declining, since individuals would be able to get the facts without gatekeepers. As it is, they’ve been not only factually wrong on everything, but morally cretinous as well, and there is a huge backlash against them.

    I can’t help noticing that, like the clerics you compare them to, the intelligentsia is mostly trapped in the past. This isn’t so obvious in their social settings like Hollywood and pop music–Barack Obama probably seemed “hip” to many people due to his support from musicians and actors–but when you look at the actual people who make the ideas, mostly college professors, there is a great attachment to the past, and specifically the most hideous things of the past.

    For instance, most of the gun control leaders (all six of them) subscribe to the view, based on totalitarian Continental ideas, that the very nature of a government makes civilian disarmament necessary; that a government that allows its citizens the right to defend their lives, rather than have the government do so, is not a government at all, and is therefore illegitimate. Ladd Everitt, spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, has actually advocated prosecuting pro-2A activists for treason. Note that this is not only (obviously) a hideous view; it is also an *outdated* hideous view, based on the Treaty of Westphalia philosophy that states are individuals and inviolate. The whole trend since at least the 1960s has been toward a realization that states are only as good as their human rights records; this has been central to the philosophy of both parties (examples being the Carter human rights agenda, and the Reagan pro-democracy agenda), yet the intelligentsia rejects it in favor of the “state is everything” view.

    Even the literary tastes of the intelligentsia are remarkably backward-looking. They tend to read the same dreary post-WWI books, framed by disillusion after that war, that basically stress a tired and gloomy view. They reject hard sf, which actually attempts not only to ask questions but also to answer them, mostly by lying about it (that is, by characterizing it as being about bug-eyed monsters, rather than about social and political issues stemming from technological advances).

    Also, I can’t help but see in the “cult of the bookstore,” the idea that physical books are morally superior to online writing, a similarity to the relics of the Church that were so popular in the fading days of the Dark Ages. I personally can’t stand 20th century “serious” literature, such as D.H. Lawrence or James Joyce; but if I did like it, I would be perfectly happy reading a paperback copy of SONS AND LOVERS from 2005, rather than a first edition copy of the book. The fact that self-styled intellectuals invariably prefer the latter indicates to me that they realize that they are more about style than substance, and that they are really part of the past rather than the future.

  84. @Nigel

    Is there really a problem with wishing your leaders were the best and brightest?

    I don’t want to have to care. I want government to be relatively unimportant. My relations with the government are involuntary. I want to limit them as much as I can.

    Statists dismiss the cognitive load that government imposes. They pretend that “regulatory uncertainty” is trivial. I suggest that in fact government is a major distraction to people who could contribute more than they do. esr himself says that he is not interested in a startup because of all the hassles involved.

    Consider that someone with slightly less than average IQ, say 95, can operate a cash business. If you can read and write, count money, tell time, run a tally sheet, and balance a checkbook you can operate a small business. Only you can’t, because you can’t navigate the tax system, particularly if you have employees.

    More nearly on topic: When smart people screw up, they screw up bigger and better than the rest of us. When they are in government they screw it up for everybody. The bigger the government the bigger the mess.

    More important though is the steadily accumulating load of straw on the camel’s back, as the oh-so-smart people add yet another trivial bit to our burdens.

  85. @Nigel

    I don’t want NASA involved any more. NASA has become a money pit. NASA is the cuckoo laying eggs in the space travel nest. The shuttle was a prime example of that. I did a term paper on the history of NASA relations with Congress in the decade following Apollo 11. NASA did everything they could to make certain the shuttle had no competition.

  86. > As much as I think the F-35 is strategically important to us I’d trade its $11B cut of the budget along with some other
    > R&D to develop a permanent moon base and then onward to mars.

    Nevermind a moon base; inefficient and not especially useful. Just put a large station at Earth-Moon L1 or L2 suitable for storage and maintenance and use it as the jump-off point. Maybe construct a smallish moon station later to allow the Lagrange crew to (relatively) easily get into a situation with at least some gravity for R&R.

  87. > When they are in government they screw it up for everybody. The bigger the government the bigger the mess.

    Regulation is systemic risk.

    Regulation is also a monoculture, with all of the vulnerabilities that implies.

    And that’s before we add in corruption. Fannie and Freddie just announced (as part of their agreement to avoid more prosecutions) that they’d lied about the mortgages that they held.

    That’s relevant because the “the crash happened because of deregulation” folks claimed that fannie and freddie weren’t part of the problem because they didn’t do much subprime. Wrong. They did far more than anyone else, and lied about it, which meant that everyone’s risk analysis of the market as a whole was wrong.

  88. @deeplurker

    Is there anything wrong with wanting to limit how much power we cede to our leaders?

    No, there’s nothing wrong with this. On the other hand there are a obvious needs to be met that are better as collective works. National defense is one. I am also not a believer in the purity of the free market so I want to limit how much power we cede to companies as well. I’m for protecting the environment, consumer rights, etc.

    There’s a reason that these laws and agencies exist. That we no longer have rivers that burn is not a result of free market forces. That we HAD rivers that could burn was.

    I have no idea why folks would trust DuPont any more than the EPA. At least with the EPA you can vote in someone to fire the political appointee head of the agency. I sure as hell prefer having the USDA and FDA over what China has which is pretty much nothing governing their “free market”. Thanks, but I prefer knowing the milk I give my kids isn’t tainted with melamine or aflatoxin M1.

  89. @Nigel
    > I have no idea why folks would trust DuPont any more than the EPA. At least with the EPA you can vote in
    > someone to fire the political appointee head of the agency. I sure as hell prefer having the USDA and FDA
    > over what China has which is pretty much nothing governing their “free market”. Thanks, but I prefer knowing
    > the milk I give my kids isn’t tainted with melamine or aflatoxin M1.

    I’d say the costs of giving government that kind of power still outweigh the benefits, especially in the long run. I hate DuPont with a passion, but at least with their crimes I might still have a choice. EPA, USDA, FDA might be on my side in one instance, but the moment they’re no longer on my side suddenly I’m a state criminal.

  90. @jsk I’m not sanguine about viability of Lagrangian habitats against solar particles events and long term exposure to galactic cosmic rays. I’d prefer a few meters worth of regolith worth of shielding if it were my skin at risk…

    The estimates are 5 meters of regolith would reduce GCR particles to effectively null and 1-2 meters would meet current NASA requirements of 25 rem/month. That limit is for relatively short term habitation and probably not all that great for women.

  91. @jsk You might have a choice against DuPont dumping random stuff into the environment? What kind of choice?

    The Chinese choice is apparently to buy western food products if they can afford it and actually find the real thing. I frankly don’t want to be paranoid about my food supply.

    I am 99% certain that you’re never going to violate some USDA edict unless you’re actually in the food production business. Likewise FDA. As for the EPA, if you’re doing something stupid like dumping used motor oil down the storm drain I have no sympathy for you. Even then it’s just a fine and no one is going to toss you in the gulag.

  92. Shenpen,

    Sounds about right. Someone who realizes that absolutist do-gooder-ism can lead to tyranny, but who also understands that libertarianism doesn’t bloody work in practice. Utmost respect to Ms. Rowling.

  93. @Nigel
    > You might have a choice against DuPont dumping random stuff into the environment? What kind of choice?

    It’d be hard for them to have stuff to dump if their consumer base were to completely dry up. But sure, it’s an example of one area where gov’t agency has seen positive results. Not denying that.

    > I am 99% certain that you’re never going to violate some USDA edict unless you’re actually in the food production business.

    Like, say, growing my own food, for my own use (which may include providing to others)? Cause that never happens. Just like over-zealous regulators never decide to push their weight around and clamp down on people who do just that.

    As for EPA, don’t make false arguments for me. As I stated, there are benefits to these kinds of agencies. But to me the negatives outweigh those benefits. I say, long term, the solution is worse than the problem.

  94. @BobW Commercial manned space has been a dream for several decades. Even now it’s still a decade away, Branson selling tickets for sub-orbital flights not withstanding. When Virgin Galactic offers point-to-point sub orbital flights then commercial manned space flight will finally be here.

    That’s still an iffy future. Note that originally SpaceShip 2 was supposed to have it’s first commercial flights this past year. Now it’s 2013. Probably. Maybe. They still haven’t had their first sub-orbital flight test. Or even reached their subsonic test phase.

    2013 strikes me as highly unlikely for first commercial flight. I think by then they’ll have their first couple suborbital flight tests and maybe get their commercial launch license in 2015. Even that feels tight.

  95. @jsk I’d rather live here than China even ignoring the freedom issue. Giving more power to the oligarchs seems like a worse deal than giving more power to bureaucrats appointed by democratically elected leaders.

    Don’t think for a moment that if you defang the government that the power magically evaporates or returns to your control. Anyone telling you that is selling something.

  96. Is there really a problem with wishing your leaders were the best and brightest?

    Honesty and accountability are much more desirable traits in a political leader than intelligence. However, as we Americans found out from 2000-2008, the worst is to have a dishonest, unaccountable, idiot as leader.

  97. @Nigel
    You seem to be conversing with someone else, because you certainly aren’t with me.

  98. “Is there really a problem with wishing your leaders were the best and brightest?”

    The best and brightest, by which I mean people with actual technical competence, usually can only barely tolerate the office politics of a medium sized business if they haven’t built it themselves. Why would any of them subject themselves to the backstabbing zoo that national politics is when there are infinitely more interesting/rewarding things they could be doing with their time and talent?

    In practice, you never end up with the best and brightest in politics. What you end up with are power-hungry aesthetes with the lensless frames that want everyone else to *think* they are brilliant. If you’re exceptionally unlucky, they’ll want to prove how brilliant they are by rearranging everyone’s lives, rather than being content with power, status, and personal wealth.

  99. Don’t think for a moment that if you defang the government that the power magically evaporates or returns to your control. Anyone telling you that is selling something.

    Indeed. One of the points I made in the SOPA thread is that if you restrict government power, the power vacuum will be filled by corporations who are accountable only to their own profitability. We see this in the telecoms industry in the United States. In Europe, extensive regulations keep the corporations weak and create an environment that fosters competition. European telcos accordingly offer better service for less money.

    Libertarians are fond of hypothesizing scenarios where the functions of the state are taken over by multiple competing bodies, like the burbclaves in Snow Crash or goðorð in the Icelandic Commonwealth. I’ve yet to see such a thing actually work at scale.

  100. @Jeff Read
    > One of the points I made in the SOPA thread is that if you restrict government power, the power vacuum
    > will be filled by corporations who are accountable only to their own profitability.

    How would that be any different (read: worse) than what we have now? As it stands, people, through corporations, use government as a weapon against competitors. The people in government may be accountable come election time, but once the captured laws are in place how do you hold the law itself accountable when abuses take place? How often are those laws repealed?

  101. >We see this in the telecoms industry in the United States. In Europe, extensive regulations keep the corporations weak and create an
    >environment that fosters competition. European telcos accordingly offer better service for less money.

    By comparison, when we allowed the government to run things, they gave us AT&T. Also, every time I’ve ever looked at service plans in europe, they are usually fairly consistent with plans available here, so cite please?

  102. This post has bugged me for reasons that I have been struggling to put my finger on.

    After marinating overnight I’ve concluded it has to do with how cleverly Eric has played the pea and thimble trick here.

    In one short post Eric has managed to both draw together the disparate threads of what might otherwise be generally termed the American right (the TEA party cranks, the FOX News talking heads, the Christian fundies and the “conservative” republican base) and unite them under the proud banner of anti-intellectualism, whilst reclaiming the banner itself from his ideological opponents.

    The trick here is that Eric wants us to equate “intellectuals” (or at least “intellectualism”) with liberals and liberalism. In other words, Eric’s post, clothed in a suit of serious discourse, is little more than fodder to advance his ongoing memetic war against the cultural left.

    This is disappointing, not least because anti-intellectualism (properly understood) is a problem for the right as much as the left. The result of anti-intellectualism is a failure to engage seriously with an alternative view – which is one of the great problems of contemporary politics.

  103. Pingback: First thing we do, let’s kill all the intellectuals » Cold Fury

  104. I think you’ve overlooked an entire category of intellectualism: the mandarin tradition of China, under which the entire ruling class was selected on the basis of intellectual credentials.

    “Mandarinism” has migrated into Western countries. France in particular is noted for the enormous influence of “énarques” – graduates of the elite École Nationale d’Administration.

    Another point: the traditional role of intellectuals was defense of the cultural tradition and the existing political order. However, some became critics, and they were the most effective critics. It was intellectuals’ criticism which brought down hereditary aristocracy and established churches, and established the philosophical basis for democracy. Intellectuals, wielding science, broke down the arbitrary impositions of tradition on personal liberties and made things a lot better for a lot of people.

    By the later 1800s and early 1900s, the position of critic and enemy of tradition became de rigeur for intellectuals. The most aggressive became Communists, seeking total power to remake the world. That didn’t end well. Others settled for control of Western academies and welfare-state bureaucracies, displacing the old “Establishment” from the inside.

    (It is highly ironic that the “Occupy” protesters claim to represent “the 99%” against the “1%”. Their demands are for increased power for the regulatory state and more wealth transfer to the academy – at a time when the richest counties in the U.S. are all around Washington DC, teachers and professors collect upper-middle-class salaries, and lavishly paid educational administrators proliferate like weeds. Just who is “the Establishment”?)

    The utopian horrors perpetrated by Communism are well-known, but many lesser follies were inflicted by non-Communist know-it-alls who were quite certain they knew better than any traditionalist.

    Rebecca West, who knew these people as well as anyone could, summed them up brilliantly:

    “The foundation of their creed was the assumption that there was nothing in the existing structure of society which did not deserve to be be razed to the ground, and that all would be well if it were replaced by something as different as possible.”

    Faced with such implacable determination to destroy traditions, regardless of others’ wishes or the actual merits and demerits of any practice or institution, is it any surprise that a large element of society rejects intellectualism?

    I will close with a quote from George Orwell. During World War II, one of his leftist colleagues told him that American troops were not coming to Britain to fight the Nazis, but to crush the Revolution in Britain. Orwell said “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.”

  105. @TomM
    > The trick here is that Eric wants us to equate “intellectuals” (or at least “intellectualism”) with liberals and liberalism.

    Only after defining various forms of ‘anti-intellectual’, and by thus doing he also paints a very specific definition of ‘intellectual.’

    I argue that the error of definition is in fact on anyone who would use the word ‘intellectual’ when they actually mean something more like ‘rationalist.’

  106. > At least with the EPA you can vote in someone to fire the political appointee head of the agency.

    When’s that last time that happened for something having to do with an EPA screwup?

    Heck – were any regulators fired as a result of BP’s gulf-oil spill?

    How about as a result of the banking melt-down?

    How about as a result of Madoff?

    Do you have any instances of regulators being fired for failure?

    The closest that we’re going to get on any of these is that some Fannie and Freddie execs are going to do some time for lying to congress.

  107. > One of the points I made in the SOPA thread is that if you restrict government power, the power vacuum will be filled by corporations who are accountable only to their own profitability

    Remind me – how can a corporation shut down my website without govt assistance?

    How does a corporation throw me in jail for failing to buy their products? How does a corporation stop me from buying a 100W incandescent lightbulb?

  108. The problem is that nearly every single person in this thread comes out sounding like the intellectual they so despise themselves.

    And I, for one, don’t see where the line between “self-appointed experts” and “intellectuals” is.

    http://www.uwgb.edu/dutchs/pseudosc/SelfApptdExp.htm

    The lowest point of this thread was probably reached when Shenpen and BobW tried to lecture Jan Hornbøll Hansen about what was meant here, as if that wasn’t clear, and as if his concerns were meaningless. Oh yes, those obscure nationalistic (this is a vice when you defend your turf where your ancestors have provably lived thousands of years, yet “patriotism” is a virtue when you do the same when, provably, your ancestors have robbed natives their turf starting 500 years ago, go figure…) blood-crazed Europeans! When will they ever learn?

    I, for one, can state that my views on most things are hopelessly wrong. I think I know a bit about gravity. I also know that what I know is some basics of basics of gravity. Most of my knowledge is like that. I don’t have a clue how to run things in any society or state or city or town…

    But… (isn’t there always a but?) …I do see the concerns of the people here (how could I not?). I despise those people whose ideology involves mingling in my affairs (the stated goal of [some of] the [worst] intellectuals), too. The thing is that outside obvious things (Communism bad!), I really don’t see better expertise here.

    @TomM: Hear, hear!

  109. > The result of anti-intellectualism is a failure to engage seriously with an alternative view – which is one of the great problems of contemporary politics.

    I’ll bite – how seriously should we engage with these folks? Why should we engage with them at all?

    The great problem of contemporary politics is that it includes too much, not that it excludes things.

  110. >The trick here is that Eric wants us to equate “intellectuals” (or at least “intellectualism”) with liberals and liberalism.

    Not necessarily. The failure mode that anti-intelligentsians are reacting against is not exclusively a phenomenon of the left, it just happens to be so associated at this time in history.

  111. > The problem is that nearly every single person in this thread comes out sounding like the intellectual they so despise themselves.

    Oh really? Where, exactly, have I said that I want to tell you how to run your life? I’m not alone in that.

    If you want to go along with what someone says, that’s your biz as far as I’m concerned. I reserve the right to object when you insist that I go along as well. And no, I don’t care if your plan requires my cooperation/participation.

  112. > Eric, speaking of “anti-intelligentsianism”, have you read Mencius Moldbug’s analysis of american politics as caste alliances? See for instance
    > http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2007/05/castes-of-united-states.html

    There’s no analysis at that link. It’s a list of named groups with some members assigned to each group.

    However, there’s nothing that suggests any reason to use those those group definitions as opposed to, say, grouping folks by height.

    Any “depth” comes from using Indian names for the groups, which resulted in preening comments.

    Then the spammers came in, so it wasn’t a total loss.

  113. @Andy Freeman

    I quote you:

    ===

    > The problem is that nearly every single person in this thread comes out sounding like the intellectual they so despise themselves.

    Oh really? Where, exactly, have I said that I want to tell you how to run your life? I’m not alone in that.

    ===

    Well, obviously just there. You just say that my interpretation of your thoughts is not right. “Don’t do that! Run your life like some of my written stated interpretation of my thoughts is the right interpretation!” Besides, I have lurked here a long time, but that is not important. Let’s say you exemplify, up to a point, the person who wants to dictate how other people should run their lives.

    Didn’t bother to read (again) post your first post in this thread. Some other information to back my case:

    ===

    > If you’re so bright, why do so many of your grand social-engineering schemes end in corruption and tears?

    Because they don’t understand the limits of their information and knowledge, or rather, the consequences of those limits. Plus this stuff is really hard.

    ===

    Oh, Mighty Andy Freeman gets to pick and choose where his expertise lies! And sure, those other fields of study are really easy! (i.e. “Run your life as this is the whole truth!”)

    ===

    If you want to go along with what someone says, that’s your biz as far as I’m concerned. I reserve the right to object when you insist that I go along as well. And no, I don’t care if your plan requires my cooperation/participation.

    ===

    What?! I’m trying to understand this as positively as I can. So, you’re the idi…, ehem, uninformed person that does everything like he wants in an emergency. I’m sure other people are mighty gratefull…

    This is fun! Although, I am beginning to feel like a troll… Nothing I wrote here takes the serious discussion forward as is evident for everyone. I’ll stop this mode of writing just now and here. Andy, maybe you have something to say about the crux of the matter?

  114. > The problem is that nearly every single person in this thread comes out sounding like the intellectual they so despise themselves.

    “Oh really? Where, exactly, have I said that I want to tell you how to run your life? I’m not alone in that.”

    For many people, an intellectual is anyone who likes to read, and is much smarter than they are. (Political and social views are irrelevant.) Most of the readers of this blog fit that definition.

  115. Remind me – how can a corporation shut down my website without govt assistance?

    If the corporation is your ISP, then “sudo rm -rf /path/to/your/site/”

    How does a corporation throw me in jail for failing to buy their products? How does a corporation stop me from buying a 100W incandescent lightbulb?

    Ever hear of company towns?

  116. Why is anti-intellectualism a recurring theme in the U.S.?

    If you believe you will go to heaven by believing in some particular dogma, then you will naturally feel superior to those arrogant unbelievers who think for themselves — possibly including intellectuals.

    And polls show around 90% of the U.S. population believes in god. Although I may be incorrectly equating intellectuals with atheists.

  117. Or it could be nothing more than insecurity — feeling threatened by those who claim to be smarter.

  118. My problem with “intellectuals” is that they’ve detached themselves from reality. They mistake sophistry for sophistication, nihilistic navel-gazing for knowledge, and “consensus” and certification for certitude. They recite meaningless pandering platitudes as their catechisms of correctness, appealing to (their own) authority, absent actual evidence to establish confidence in their canned conclusions. When reality comes into conflict with their fundaments of faith, they reject reality as “racist”, “sexist”, “homophobic”, “eurocentric”, “unfair”, or some other epithet enabling epistemological evasion.

    Then they have the gargantuan gonads to call themselves “the reality-based community”.

    [Damn, I could have written for Spiro Agnew.]

  119. “[Damn, I could have written for Spiro Agnew.]”

    Well, you do sound like a nattering nabob of negativism….

  120. A good example of non-political credentialism is the following:

    The engineering licensing organizations that want to set themselves up as “gatekeepers to the profession” and always emphasize that professions are “self **regulating**”, and not just any old schmo with job experience/employer satisfaction and a degree should be allowed in without their say so. I submit the engineering licensing boards as an example of intelligentsia attempting to colonize the technical professions. They even look enviously on the limiting that medical boards place on the number of doctors as a goal to aspire to.

  121. Jan Hornbøll Hansen Says:
    December 30th, 2011 at 6:45 am

    > As a leftist self proclaimed intellectual. I find this blog quite useful for exploring opposing points of view, but can’t help but wonder if initial post is nothing more than an eloquent attempt to justify the position that “My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

    Let us take a look at some officially endorsed Ivy League intellectuals:

    Nobel prize winning Economist Krugman: About as bright as the average graduate of a typical bush league university, if that.

    Ward Churchill: Thick as brick, well below average IQ, conspicuously incapable of performing any of the activities normally required at university.

    Mann of Hockey stick fame: Bad at statistics compared to the typical STEM graduate. Has his undergrads do stuff he should be doing himself, which suggests that he cannot in fact do that stuff.

  122. @Jeff Read says

    if you restrict government power, the power vacuum will be filled by corporations who are accountable only to their own profitability.

    Corporations are ultimately accountable to their customers. Without customers, THERE IS NO PROFITABLITY. Look at how quickly Verizon Wireless backed off on the $2 online payment. What probably happened was that a whole BUNCH of people immediately called to cancel their contract. They have the right to unilaterally change your contract, but you also have the right to refuse to accept the new contract. With NO termination fee.

  123. @Nigel says

    That we no longer have rivers that burn is not a result of free market forces. That we HAD rivers that could burn was.

    Nigel, if that’s your best imitation of intellectualism, do PLEASE crank the generator faster. Let me ask you just two incisive questions: 1) who owned the river, and 2) who allowed people to pollute their property? Oh! It was the government! So … you’re suggesting that the government saved us from itself. Whoop-te-doo. I save myself from tripping myself every time I take a step. YAY ME! It wasn’t the free market that kept me from tripping, was it??

  124. Let us take a look at some officially endorsed Ivy League intellectuals:

    [...]

    Ward Churchill: Thick as brick, well below average IQ, conspicuously incapable of performing any of the activities normally required at university.

    Had a look at his bio on wikipedlo, ain’t nothing I recognise as Ivy League there.

  125. ESR,

    >Second, religious believers can be effective intellectuals themselves, just as other sorts of nutters can be effective intellectuals in areas far enough removed from their delusional systems.

    Or even in things that are not at all removed from their beliefs. Check out http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/ – he is the first contemporary religious thinker whom I may admit he is actually doing it well enough to give some serious homework exercise to the contemporary secular philosophers – for example http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/01/against-neurobabble.html – you might want to take a crack on it, Feser is one of those rare “worthy foes” in this context.

  126. @ams regarding aesthethics (and equality):

    this reminds me of the (unconfirmed) story when Bertolt Brecht was asked why does he support the Soviets even though they banned his works, while in the West his works made him a wealthy man: “Because they at least take me seriously!” I.e. for a person with sufficient vanity it is intolerable to be seen as merely a vendor of products on a marketplace, even though a celebrated and well-earning vendor, but in essence not different from any manufacturer of a popular brand of soap. The Soviets admitted that he is politically relevant and dangerous, by banning his works, which in a certain way shows more respect or recognition. Strangely enough, to the Brecht kind person what makes Capitalism intolerable is precisely that it is a lot more egalitarian in any other aspects than money (say, in respect or power or influence, in “being taken seriously”) than other political systems.

    One of the things I suspect but cannot prove is that inequality in money tends to cause equality in other things and the other way around too, and money-egalitarians are all too often inequalitarians in other respects. For example we Europeans tend to dress in a lot more class-conscious ways than Americans, where you often see millionaires and movie stars running around in the mall in commoner-class clothes (jeans, tennis shoes, baseball caps), while it is rare for a middle-class European and absolutely unknown for a European movie star… (I am not an exception: I rarely leave my home without at least a shirt and a sports jacket, after all, I am middle-class and I intend to show it… t-shirts are for “proles”. While I hardly make twice as much as a “prole”… but class is classiness, not money, over here. In other words, I make up for the money-egalitarianism I am forced into by trying to be inequal in other ways.)

  127. @russell

    1) everybody owned the river thus no one was specifically responsible for protecting it and so no one did. Also since “everyone” owned the river then anyone could dump whatever they liked into it.

    2) the government was not tasked nor empowered to protect the river. Thus the need for successive environmental protection laws and an agency to enforce those laws against polluters. The government protected the commons from predators. For an open source proponent not to understand the tragedy of the commons is amusing and sad. And no, the argument that local polices can protect something like air or a river ignores the fact that pollution effects are not local. Upstream communities may so no problems with dumping chemicals into the water supply of downstream users since they gain significant economic benefits by doing so.

    Finally, your verizon example is faulty. First people aren’t going to protest against dumping chemicals in a river in the next state because most people are lazy and it doesn’t immediately affect them. Second most are not likely to protest dumping chemicals in their own river if it’ll cost them money in terms of higher prices even if in the long run they’ll pay in ways they don’t immediately see (cancer, etc). The fact that folks could “rise up” against the $2 fee is due to the fact that governmental regulations promoting competition and against price fixing empowers them to do so. People felt that rising up could make a difference and second the threat that customers could shift to AT&T or Sprint was a viable one that Verizon had to take seriously.

    In comparison Comcast could have been successful in implement such a fee since they have no effective competition in many markets. Only where FiOS is a viable competitor is Comcast very responsive to consumer needs.

    Russell, if that’s your best imitation of civil discourse then I suggest you revisit what it means to not be a pompous ass on the internet. I recall you’ve had problems with this in the past. Your questions were not incisive but actually showed ignorance in a topic of importance to the open source community. Namely, the protection of the (software) commons from would be predators. To that end we use IP protection laws (namely copyright) and the courts (hey the judicial branch of the government) to do so. Thus, Oracle cannot simply take GPL code and use it in a proprietary manner. Google, well, that’s a different story.

    Closer to home (heh) without the government and governmental agencies that you seem to hate, much of the public data we enjoy in the open geospatial community would be locked behind a paywall or provided with significant strings attached (google) in their use. No USGS maps, no USGS arial photos, no Landsat imagery, no Blue Marble, etc. Local governments and users would have to contract private companies to generate the needed data for their region. This data would be fragmented, likely in incompatible formats and most likely not be available to the general public.

    Yes, some governments do lock this up behind a paywall to the benefit of companies. I find this reprehensible. Fortunately ours largely does not…although I recall the FAA or someone being annoying about it. I still got the data anyway without going through their approved commercial clearing houses. It was either air tracks or ships…can’t remember now.

    However, expecting the free market to adequately manage the commons for the good of the little guy flies in the face of historical examples in this country and current examples in China and elsewhere.

  128. @Federico

    >But perversely, that means also that the criticims of the clerical system is non-intellectual.

    I am from a somewhat similar background (Hungarian in Austria) and I think I get what you are driving at, and it is a very interesting point, but I think you missed the real point.

    I think in Continential Europe esp. in Catholic countries that kind of “cool, skeptical, thinking moderatism” which is a core component of BOTH Liberalism and Conservatism within the Anglo-Saxon cultures. We have a tendency to be extreme romantics and emotionalists (or utterly passive and pragmatical in an unthinking way), and f.e. while I define myself as “a Conservative of the Anglo-Saxon type” half of the Hungarian Right basically considers me a closeted Liberal, because I am too skeptical and moderate to be carried away by nationalist romanticism or suchlike. Ortega y Gasset would have been considered a Conservative in Britain (in the Oakeshottian sense) while probably considered a Liberal at home.

    To understand the real point, read please Joao Carlos Espada’s “Neoconservatism in Europe” where he asks the crucial question: “Why have the idea of John Locke produced a conservative revolution in 17th-century England, a moderate revolution in 18th-century America and an extremist revolution in 18th-century France?” Anglo-Saxon culture has a certain knack for being moderate, down-to-earth and skeptical, stopping to think, not getting carried away with emotions, which is a prerequisite for a proper intellectual way of thinking (not intellectualism in the sense mentioned here, that’s a different matter), and this tends to “cross the aisle”, this is there both on the Centre-Left say Karl Popper and Centre-Right say Edmund Burke and Irving Kristol. While we tend for a certain kind of unthinking, emotional extremism on both sides. Or for its opposite, for an unthinking “anything goes” pragmatism – being “meh” about everything that does not directly affect our private lives in the short run.

    My first guess would be that it is caused by a too big _power distance_ between governor and governed, which means politics becomes an all-or-nothing game, as you can do everything with power (no proper libertarian limits to power) and nothing without it, which fosters extremism.

  129. >However, expecting the free market to adequately manage the commons for the good of the little guy flies in the face of historical examples in this country and current examples in China and elsewhere.

    LOL. Expecting the government to adequately manage the commons for the good of the little guy flies in the face of historical examples in this country and current examples in China and elsewhere.

    There is no sustainable way to manage a commons – not via markets, and not via governments. (The worst ecological disasters in history were in the Soviet Union.) The latter failure mode is because “good government” has exactly the agency problems of free markets, and worse ones of its own. This is exactly why private property rights are critically important for ecological sustainability.

  130. @Ken

    >They reject hard sf

    An interesting corollary to this is that Heinlein in his very first short story, Life-Line (1939) gave the bird to the intellectual class, declaring a strict separation between the scientific method (based on experiment) and the scholastic or academic method (based on authority), where pretty much all of the official academics in the story belonged to the second one… I figure the hostility is mutual :-) This is a very interesting thing, as it means everybody who grew up in this subculture of SF (f.e. ESR) must have a bit of split view of science, respecting the scientific method as such very much but always having some suspicion for established academics as a class (compare: AGW)…

  131. >In comparison Comcast could have been successful in implement such a fee since they have no effective competition in many markets.
    >Only where FiOS is a viable competitor is Comcast very responsive to consumer needs.

    It’s worth mentioning that this is another artifact of government interference where many cable companies were granted similar exclusive rights as AT&T was, with the same predictable results.

  132. >This is a very interesting thing, as it means everybody who grew up in this subculture of SF (f.e. ESR) must have a bit of split view of science, respecting the scientific method as such very much but always having some suspicion for established academics as a class

    You got that exactly right, Shenpen.

  133. @tmoney — are you talking about the 2005 Supreme Court decision, or what exactly?

  134. In comparison Comcast could have been successful in implement such a fee since they have no effective competition in many markets. Only where FiOS is a viable competitor is Comcast very responsive to consumer needs.

    Comcast, Cox, Time Warner, etc. had legally enforced monopolies on the provision of cable TV in nearly every market they serve. This was done via an exclusive “franchise” granted by local governments. Similarly, the incumbent telcos had a franchise to provide telephone service. That “cable” companies now sell telephone service, and “telephone companies” sell TV channels is due to very recent changes in the regulatory environment at the state and national level. There still exist local-government-imposed barriers to entering either business, which only a big player like Google is positioned to hurdle.

    There are some who consider the building of networks of transmission wires/cables as a “natural monopoly,” which would never have been built without the franchise arrangement. We never got a chance to find out otherwise.

  135. >split view of science

    On reflection, the fact that you would use this language at all – and I would not – reveals a great deal to me. Or perhaps I should say it reminds me of some things I had half forgotten.

    Having great respect for the scientific method, but reflexive suspicions about academics as a class, doesn’t strike me as a “split” view of science at all. What is worthy of respect is the self-correcting process of science, not the fallible and sometimes corrupt people who happen to be practicing it at any given time.

    Now, you may say that I am merely echoing Heinlein here, and in a certain sense you’d be right; Heinlein did more than anyone else to transmit this attitude to me. But I think Heinlein was merely reflecting and amplifying a characteristically American view of the matter, one rooted in differing ideas about class and egalitarianism which you have yourself previously noted.

    Americans are not, in general, deferential to authority derived from institutional position. We respect ability, accomplishment, and personal charisma, but we have little patience for people who wave around titles or credentials that merely mean they have won a status game inside some hierarchy. Even American military officers have to demonstrate personal leadership ability before they will get the kind of obedience that is routine in militaries from more socially stratified cultures.

    Thus, we have a subtly different attitude towards credentials of all kinds, including scientific ones. Say you have a Ph.D in physics. This will earn you some respect from many Americans, but mainly because many Americans think a Ph.D in physics probably means you’re pretty smart and know how to work hard. But it’s not like being French with a degree from the École Polytechnique – the respect is for the imputed personal quality, and you can easily blow it by failing to live up to the standard of intelligence expected from physics Ph.Ds. If you do that, you look worse in an American’s eyes than if you had no sheepskin; you’re a fake.

    European deference towards credentials per se and the social standing that goes with them puzzles Americans. We wonder why you would do that to yourselves, that is when we grasp the difference in attitudes at all. Even I, who have lived in Europe, have to work at remembering and grasping it.

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  137. ESR,

    This is easy enough to understand if we historically see science as the successor of religion, and especially education and academia as a successor to religion (universities were at one period of history ran by the Church), and cultural attitutudes to it too – compare the American Puritan – Neo-Protestant attitude to pastors who are hired and paid by the community, judged, criticized and dismissed whenever the community thinks they are not doing their job well enough, and generally are doing a job in a pinch everybody could do who can read the King James Bible, everybody can check up on what they say whether it is scriptural enough etc. (note: there is something very Jewish in this at some level, the American-Puritan pastor is more of a rabbi than a priest), to the Euro-Catholic and Old Protestant approach of having a priestly clerical class appointed and judged and dismissed from above, engaging in mysteries laypeople cannot even begin to understand (they normally cannot read Latin nor do they have the philosophical training to understand say Aquinas), and generally everybody who did not graduate from a seminar cannot do much else than accept what they say, with no chance of checking up on it. This is not a forced parallel but a very real historical process, looking at how universities and academia evolved out of medieval religious institutions of learning.

    The important part of the parallel is accepting what the priest says vs. opening a translated Bible and checking what the pastor says – similarly, accepting whatever academics say vs. checking the evidence yourself – more importantly, the kind of _self-confidence_ that any layman who devotes sufficient amount of his free time to learning a field of science feels confident to be able to check (at least some) evidence without holding a degree.

    I think it is not a far stretch to say that you at least partially inherited this attitude from Puritans who generally did not trust the Anglican clerical hierarchy but wanted to read the Bible themselves and draw their own theological conclusions.

  138. @esr:

    This is exactly why private property rights are critically important for ecological sustainability.

    I think part of the confusion is that government usually plays a role in actually defining the property rights, and, more to the point, redefining them when situations change.

    How much water can you take out of a well? In Texas, the “right of capture” used to mean “everything you can suck out of it with the largest pump you can find, pumping 24/7″ because at the time, that was a reasonable definition. Now, not so much.

    How much can an air polluter pollute? How are the property rights handled when the prevailing wind shifts, or an inversion traps fumes 20 miles away from where the rights had been negotiated?

    @The Monster:

    There are some who consider the building of networks of transmission wires/cables as a “natural monopoly,” which would never have been built without the franchise arrangement. We never got a chance to find out otherwise.

    Actually, we were finding out otherwise. See “The Master Switch” by Tim Wu. Back in the day, when lots of companies were running wires, there were lots of dirty tricks, like cutting wires and failing to interconnect. This could almost certainly have been handled by the government less intrusively than declaring all telecoms a natural monopoly, but at the end of the day it was easiest for the government to succumb to the final dirty trick of regulatory capture and effectively reward AT&T for its anticompetitive practices. But even in modern times, the public as a whole (and the governments in particular) can get very tired of multiple competitors digging up the same section of roadway over and over and destroying the roadbase in the process. There is no question that the owner of the road should have some say in how or if its property is destroyed in providing telecom services, but also not much question that the average homeowner should be able to enjoy competition in telecom services.

    But to the extent that there might actually be a natural monopoly that needs heavy regulation, it seems that it should primarily cover the last mile. We are somewhat evolving in that direction now, but very slowly and inefficiently. If, at some point, we really decided that the last mile should be effectively owned by the served property owners, possibly administered by the government or a regulated monopoly, then a homeowner could theoretically pay $5 – $20 per month, or the cost of installation and repairs, for transit to a facility where he could choose from a multitude of interconnect providers at competitive prices.

    I always find it ironic when a city goes to put in its own internet services because it is being ill-served, and the ILEC sues them because the government is not supposed to be in that business. How does the ILEC think it got in that position in the first place?

  139. Jason: IMHO there are far too few engineers involved in politics. Engineers (of a all types) get bit (and hard) when their ideas don’t work properly. Intellectuals just seem to get determined to try again harder when they fail, engineers actually figure out why they failed.

    I’ve indulged in the engineer’s distaste for softer fields, myself. It’s a delicious sort of self-righteousness, but it’s not good for you in the long run. Replacing philosopher-kings with engineer-kings is no improvement, and engineering as a culture comes with its own sort of problems–perhaps because you’re being handed a massive heap of knowledge, all correct, and that skews your intuitions with regards to received truths. Regardless of the reason, the engineering mindset has failure modes as deep and awful as the academic mindset.

  140. My impression is that anti-intellectualism in the US also has a streak of “knowing how to do practical things is more valuable than a lot of theory”. Unfortunately, there’s been less need for average people to do practical things as more of our devices became cheaper and harder to repair. I wonder what may come of 3D printing getting cheap enough for general use, though.

    Maybe I’ve read too much low-grade political argument, but it seems as though there’s a lot of highly general political theory (I indulge in it myself) on all sides, and not much experience of any sort.

    The hard thing about traditionalism is that it isn’t obvious to be sure which traditions are worth keeping and which aren’t. Anti-semitism is apparently dispensable. Raising children in families isn’t.

    Where would folks here say creationism fits into a theory of anti-intellectualism? I’ve heard that fundamentalism (afaik, a belief that everything in the Bible which isn’t clearly marked as a parable has to be literally true, or the whole thing falls apart) is relatively modern– a century or so old– and may be a response to the literal sort of truth that science turns up. Again afaik, but the idea that God created the world in seven days didn’t used to be an important part of Christianity. It was there, but not a make or break issue.

    tz, I know people who are in various sorts of open relationships. They seem about as happy as anyone else.

    esr, you’d need to distinguish those who are disturbed by blasphemy because it seems rude and those who are disturbed by it because it offends against traditions. Third possible motivation: blasphemy means taking God seriously. IIRC, you don’t go in for blasphemy. You’re nasty about religion, not about God.

    tmoney, at this point, would an appeal to degrees and other credentials count as a sort of traditionalism?

    Pat, it seems to me that you’re judging a group by its worst examples.

    I’ve picked up some things I consider valuable from hanging around intellectuals of the college-eduated variety. Everything in culture was invented by people, it all changes, and the real world has more weird details than you can imagine.

    Jeff Read, I think the Harry Potter books have a somewhat libertarian/anarchist outlook. All the institutions are corrupt and incompetent (except, oddly, for the bank and the exams). The only thing that works is small groups bound together by personal loyalty.

    ams (on not being entitled to NASA), *applause*

    Federico, what do you make of the anti-clerical sentiment in Ireland which is driven by the pedophile priest scandal? Anyone have information about how that’s going in France, Spain, and/or Italy? A little news from Italy…. I hadn’t heard this when it was new.

    Pat, as for shuffling the risk off on to other people, see also a good bit of modern finance.

    Christopher Smith, for some reason, we expect sports stars to be highly moral. As evidence of some vestige of common sense, at least we don’t expect highly moral people to be good at sports.

    Rich Rostrom, thanks. That matches how the world looks to me. Probably of interest, Seeing Like a State, which is about how much tyranny is about trying to simplify people behavior enough to make them easy to control. The author started out by studying regulations on names and restrictions on nomadism.

  141. Ken: Even the literary tastes of the intelligentsia are remarkably backward-looking. They tend to read the same dreary post-WWI books, framed by disillusion after that war, that basically stress a tired and gloomy view. They reject hard sf, which actually attempts not only to ask questions but also to answer them, mostly by lying about it (that is, by characterizing it as being about bug-eyed monsters, rather than about social and political issues stemming from technological advances).

    I dislike broad generalizations, but I do think there’s a cultural gap there, and I see it in the way mainstream works will dip their toes in SF tropes that might have been daring thirty years ago and be acclaimed as deeply insightful and innovative. (Never Let Me Go comes to mind.) It makes me wonder what would happen if the critical establishment lauding that sort of work tried to read Permutation City, and it makes me sad to think of all the potential fans who’ve gotten the idea that the watered-down space opera on TV is as daring and future-shocky as it gets.

  142. Nancy Lebovitz: Jeff Read, I think the Harry Potter books have a somewhat libertarian/anarchist outlook.

    There’s a lot of that on the surface, but underneath, there’s a lot of predestination and characters being defined by their essential natures, which cannot change. (Harry Is Heroic, no matter how he acts.) Have you seen “Harry Potter and the Doctrine of the Calvinists“?

    tz: You might like CS Lewis “Abolition of Man” about the implications of controlling nature if we are part of nature.

    That’s the nonfiction version of “That Hideous Strength”, right? You might be interested in Greg Egan’s take on those ideas (plus an attempt to write a happier ending for Alan Turing), “Oracle“.

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  144. Shenpen, I think you have a good point but it might be more accurate to make the point not in terms of “Puritans” but instead “sects such as the Puritans”: I’m no expert, but I was under the impression that Quakers and various Baptist groups had these traits at least as strongly as the Puritans, and I think Methodists and various strains coming out of Scotland also had these traits, possibly not as strongly as the Puritans but more strongly than Catholicism or the Protestant national churches did.

  145. >I think it is not a far stretch to say that you at least partially inherited this attitude from Puritans who generally did not trust the Anglican clerical hierarchy but wanted to read the Bible themselves and draw their own theological conclusions.

    Oh, I agree; not a stretch at all. There is something very Puritan about the way Americans respond to phoniness in authority figures, a kind of righteous holy anger that the faker has dared to traduce the source of his (otherwise legitimate) authority.

    Americans themselves cannot in general see this about themselves; instead, they see the relaxed cynicism with which Europeans are more likely to react as a kind of decadence, or even complicity in the wrong.

  146. Egan was unfair to Lewis– he said he was humbled by contributing to people’s converting to Christianity, and there’s at least a chance he wasn’t lying. In general, the story left me liking Egan less, not Lewis.

    There’s a wide benevolent streak in Lewis’ fiction, and I think that’s a lot of why it’s been popular.

    There’s some good stuff in The Abolition of Man– in particular, the idea that utopian dreams imply that a small group of people from one era should have domination of all future people.

    It’s been a while since I’ve read A Grief Observed and I haven’t read Lewis’ letters, but I doubt he was such a fool as to believe that prayer would guarantee a cure. And iirc, he basically trusted doctors. I don’t know that he would have gone in for an untested cure, but he wouldn’t have refused it on such casual grounds.

    I’d have to read That Hideous Strength to have a current opinion on how the anti-transhumanist material looks, but there’s certainly some anti-tyranny material as well– in particular, the stuff about the casual cruelty of indefinite detention until an expert decides on whether you’ll be released.

  147. Patrick Maupin,

    Where I live, there are cable overlays. AT&T, Time-Warner and SureWest have all run wires next to my house. Apparently we can navigate this at reasonable cost. We also have two companies doing trash pickup in the neighborhood. There is still only one water and sewer provider – the government, although you can dig a well or install your own septic tank, I believe. There is also only one gas and one power provider, but I don’t see why overlays wouldn’t work for those as well.

    I’m inclined to believe that there aren’t too many natural monopolies.

    How do they do it where you live?

    Yours,
    Tom

  148. “There is no sustainable way to manage a commons – not via markets, and not via governments. (The worst ecological disasters in history were in the Soviet Union.) The latter failure mode is because “good government” has exactly the agency problems of free markets, and worse ones of its own. This is exactly why private property rights are critically important for ecological sustainability.”

    @esr: Could you please explain how private property rights would manage a river or the atmosphere in a sustainable way? Who could own a river? Who would have the right to sell it? How could you force the owner to stop if he decided to sell raw sewage dumping rights to all comers?

  149. @Tom DeGisi
    > How do they do it where you live?

    Austin has one cable company (TW), plus some telco DSL/TV (AT&T etc). Water, Waste, Electric is all Austin Energy and very monopoly. Gas is provided by two companies.

  150. I think you may see things differently if you stop mixing up the intellectuals with the intelligentia. The latter are people who have read some supposedly great thinkers and can quote them. The derive their remedies for todays problems out of the recipes of old. The hang around discussing Sartre and drinking cheap red wine and trying to be cool and having great academic degrees and seeing their friends at the latests opera at the Met. The real intellectuals are the people who see that the way to avoid too much tension in society is to work change a long time before the traditionalists are forced to accept change. They are rare people, especially in positions of power, because they are not as sure about being right as those who may mess things up royally.

    Talking about which, I have been reviewing a number of subjects, including the US wars in Iraq and Afganistan, as well as the cause of the US budget deficit. My conclusion is that the George W Bush regime has done the United States more harm than any other in history. Not only were the wars badly considered (it was reasonable to attack Afganistan, but not Iraq), but the actual war effort was handled in the most inept way possible at the political and strategic level. On top of this, a moderate surplus in the federal budget was turned into a staggering deficit. Then the legendary freedom of the Americans was taken away with the DHS and about 2000 other federal security agencies. The NDAA just confirms that the US now is a mostly fascist nation. When they start dragging people away for no apparent cause, it is already too late. (If Obama is the intelligentia person he is claimed to be around here, why doesn’t he revert all these horrors? Is he already a captive of the bureaucracy?)

  151. >How could you force the owner to stop if he decided to sell raw sewage dumping rights to all comers?

    This is a good proxy for all your other questions. The answer is “You’re fucked”.

    More specifically, if the “owner” of a resource – whether private or governmental – decides it can extract the most gain by selling raw sewage dumping rights to all comers, you’re fucked. This is orthogonal to which kind of owner the resource has, and it is the exact reason that the worst ecological disasters in history were in the Soviet Union. It is not a problem you can magically fix with markets, and it is not a problem you can magically fix with politics either.

    You think you asked a “gotcha” question, exposing a vast hole in libertarianism. You think this because you suffer from the misconception that there must be a “right” prescriptive answer to this kind of problem, and that if libertarians fail to provide it the rest of our critique can be junked. What libertarians understand that you don’t is this: intractable problems are not a good reason to attempt impossible “solutions”.

    The “solution” of creating a wise, disinterested government that will manage the river in perpetuity, without being captured or negligent or venal about it, is impossible. Public-choice economics tells us why it impossible, in detail. If you can’t be bothered to study up on public-choice economics, you should at least read this.

  152. > More specifically, if the “owner” of a resource – whether private or governmental – decides it can extract the
    > most gain by selling raw sewage dumping rights to all comers, you’re fucked.

    And to combat the initial argument of an accountable government, a private organization that has secured ownership rights by virtue of government capture should in fact be considered ownership by government, and ownership which then thus has no real accountability.

    Or, even discounting capture, just because you can replace the politicians doesn’t mean you can actually affect change in the system. You MIGHT be able to, but then you also MIGHT be able to influence a private party. It comes out in the wash, e.g. “You’re fucked.”

  153. “The average intellectual of the Left believed, for instance, that the war was lost in 1940, that the Germans were bound to overrun Egypt in 1942, that the Japanese would never be driven out of the lands they had conquered, and that the Anglo-American bombing offensive was making no impression on Germany. **He could believe these things because his hatred for the British ruling class forbade him to admit that British plans could succeed. There is no limit to the follies that can be swallowed if one is under the influence of feelings of this kind.** I have heard it confidently stated, for instance, that the American troops had been brought to Europe not to fight the Germans but to crush an English revolution. **One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.**” –Orwell, “Notes on Nationalism”

    “These authors tell us that the attempt to confront language with fact is ‘metaphysics’ and is on this ground to be condemned. This is one of those views which are so absurd that only very learned men could possibly adopt them.” –Bertrand Russell, “My Philosophical Development”

  154. Most intellectuals, by their nature, try to promote ideas that they regard as important or valuable. This often occurs in the context of lectures, speeches, books, blogs, or punditry. In my experience, most folks are tolerant of the “know-it-alls” as long as they remain free to ignore the advice or use it, at their discretion. Conversely, people are rightly antagonistic toward intellectuals whenever those ideas are forced upon them or when the ideas are grossly dissonant with common sense or personal experience. In a perfect world, intellectuals would grow up to become philosophers, and let history judge their contribution to society.

  155. James A. Donald:
    > >Let us take a look at some officially endorsed Ivy League intellectuals:
    > >
    > > [...]
    > >
    > > Ward Churchill: Thick as brick, well below average IQ, conspicuously incapable of performing any of the activities normally required at university.

    Adrian Smith Says:
    > Had a look at his bio on wikipedlo, ain’t nothing I recognise as Ivy League there.

    According to The Public Ivies: America’s Flagship Public Universities (2001), the University of Colorado Boulder is considered one of the prestigious “Public Ivy League” schools.

    And when Ward Churchill attracted attention, all the good and the great reacted as if he was one of their own, one of them, even though they claim to be smart, and Ward Churchill obviously is not.

  156. @Tom DeGisi:

    > I’m inclined to believe that there aren’t too many natural monopolies.

    Me, too, but the last mile might be one of them in some cases.

    > How do they do it where you live?

    As jsk mentioned, there is a cable/telco duopoly in most of Austin, with a second cable provider allowed in one part of Austin. Unfortunately a lot of the newer neighborhoods have underground utilities (no poles) which mean street cuts. Street cuts are very problematic for whoever owns the road (happens to be the city here in most cases).

    http://www.ltrc.lsu.edu/TRB_82/TRB2003-000534.pdf

  157. Nigel Says:
    > 1) everybody owned the river

    Which is just another way of saying that the government owned the river.

    Anything the government owns, gets trashed. And whoever the government owns, gets trashed.

  158. “You think you asked a “gotcha” question, exposing a vast hole in libertarianism. You think this because you suffer from the misconception that there must be a “right” prescriptive answer…”

    No, no ‘gotcha’ there. I really wanted to know if libertarianism had such an answer. I hadn’t seen one; now I see why.

    In the meanwhile, we’ll just have to struggle along with poor, corrupt and economy-strangling environmental regulation. It’s not the ‘right’ answer, but something that works more or less is better than nothing at all. I have noticed, over the course of my life, that pollution of various sorts has gone down, despite the increase in the American population. (Of course, when I was a boy, all the apartment houses in the neighborhood still burned coal.)

  159. Excellent post and discussion. A few points:

    By the later 1800s and early 1900s, the position of critic and enemy of tradition became de rigeur for intellectuals

    For more on this see Julien Benda’s La Trahison des Clercs

    “My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

    A better formulation might be “Your knowledge is not necessarily better than my ignorance.” E.g.: the Russian Marxists of the ’20s and ’30s were generally much better educated than peasant farmers and shopkeepers, but proved to be far worse at actually feeding people.

    Re engineers in politics, see Technocracy.

    Finally, a quote from George Orwell: “Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals can believe them.”

  160. Ah, it looks like while I was composing my response, Nate Whilk beat me to the punch with what looks like a more accurate Orwell quote, plus a similar one from Bertrand Russell….

  161. And don’t forget Ponella’s Law: “People are smart and stupid at the same time.”

    and the corollary: “Nobody is as smart as they think they are.”

  162. @Tom DeGisi:
    > > I’m inclined to believe that there aren’t too many natural monopolies.

    Patrick Maupin Says:
    > Me, too, but the last mile might be one of them

    Odd how natural monopolies always require enforcement. Observe how governments are apt to be hostile to private sewage solutions even when, or perhaps especially when, these are better, cheaper, and cleaner than the official government solution.

  163. This is a good proxy for all your other questions. The answer is “You’re fucked”.

    More specifically, if the “owner” of a resource – whether private or governmental – decides it can extract the most gain by selling raw sewage dumping rights to all comers, you’re fucked. This is orthogonal to which kind of owner the resource has, and it is the exact reason that the worst ecological disasters in history were in the Soviet Union. It is not a problem you can magically fix with markets, and it is not a problem you can magically fix with politics either.

    Except that amazingly we’re not fucked and the rivers are not as polluted as a few decades ago. It appears that the environmental protection laws in the US worked with no magic required.

    Using governmental regulations is the worst method to protect the commons except all the others that have been tried (to plagiarize Churchill). That you can point to the Soviet Union ignores the fact that the Cuyahoga River no longer catches on fire and the Clean Water Act largely successful in the US.

    Can a government cause massive ecological damage as part of policy, corruption or mismanagement? Sure. But to state that it is impossible for government action to protect the environment is clearly false. Is it perfect protection? No. But human endeavors are never perfect. In the case of water in the US the protection is pretty good.

    You think you asked a “gotcha” question, exposing a vast hole in libertarianism. You think this because you suffer from the misconception that there must be a “right” prescriptive answer to this kind of problem, and that if libertarians fail to provide it the rest of our critique can be junked. What libertarians understand that you don’t is this: intractable problems are not a good reason to attempt impossible “solutions”.

    Except the solution was not impossible but in fact was successful and the problem hardly intractable. If it were impossible then the rivers in the US would be as polluted or more polluted than they were in the 50s.

    In an ideal world I might be a pacifist or a libertarian. The problem with pacifism is the assumption that wolves don’t exist or can be reasoned with. The problem with libertarianism is the assumption that wolves don’t run in such large packs that individuals can deal with them (like corporations) and that guard dogs (the government) are more dangerous than the wolves because in some, perhaps historically most, cases the wolves are the government. They see no difference between canis lupus familaris and canis lupus lupus. Democracy, for all its faults, seems the most domesticated form of human organization. Meant to be a protector rather than predator of man.

    My problem with pacifists is my belief that if they were holding a gun while watching someone rape and murder their daughter they’d likely pull the trigger. However, they would probably adhere to their principles if it were MY daughter.

    My problem with libertarians is my belief that they are mostly against all forms of governmental controls except in those areas that are important to them. In those areas it is only rational that some governance occurs. But for areas important to me…the free market should decide.

    I prefer the middle ground where there is balance between regulation and free market, statism and anarchy, individual and common good. Swing too far in any direction and you end up in world of hurt.

  164. nigel Says:
    > Except that amazingly we’re not fucked and the rivers are not as polluted as a few decades ago. It appears that the environmental protection laws in the US worked with no magic required.

    Which explains why the Soviet Union was so wonderfully clean.

    That every year the EPA lowers permitted SO2 and so on and so forth a bit more does not necessarily equate to a cleaner society. For example, it is pretty obvious that every year California gets a little dirtier and shabbier, a little more like the Soviet Union, even though every year environmental laws get a little harsher – or perhaps every year it gets a little dirtier and shabbier because environmental laws get a little harsher.

    Sulfur dioxide levels on the big Island of Hawaii are commonly three hundred times higher than EPA standards, due to the fact that the volcano pays little attention to environmental regulations, yet no one can doubt that the big Island is in some important sense a lot cleaner than Gilroy. No one on the big island starts having breathing difficulties from the volcanic smog until the smog is well and truly thick enough to obscure the view and diminish the sunlight, which typically happens at a few hundred times epa limits.

    What the EPA demonstrates is that if the government decides to clean up X at the expense of everything else, it can clean up X – at the expense of everything else – for example at expense of a California that is poorer, dirtier, shabbier, and at gravely increased risk of catastrophic floods.

  165. I think another form of opposition sees intellectualism as mainly a pose, where most of an intellectuals effort is spent in making sure they believe the same as other intellectuals, so they will be accepted as an intellectual, without necessarily kowing all that much. The classic story of such a person is a French philosopher at Catherine the Great’s court, who was creating problems by arguing againist belief in God, so she asked a mathematician stop him. The mathematician wrote down an equation and said “Therefore, God exists” Knowing no mathematics, the phiosopher couldn’t argue and went home to France.

  166. Hey, Nigel, about James A Donald:

    “La Griffe du Lion finds that though the average criminality of blacks is substantially higher than that of whites, the variance is substantially lower. This predicts that under a firm and effective law enforcement environment, in which only the most criminally inclined misbehaved, a black majority area would be safer than a white majority area. However in a lax environment, in modern anarcho tyranny where everything has been criminalized, except crime, which has been decriminalized, the difference between blacks and the more evolved types of human is exceptionally visible, and the fact that no one can speak of it exceptionally ludicrous.”

    “When we see niggers chimping out en masse, they are doing stupid stuff – minor assaults.”

    From his blog. He’s also a bit of a Brevik fan. Not sure he’s worth engaging with.

  167. ESR,

    >This is a good proxy for all your other questions. The answer is “You’re fucked”.

    Let me try to help you to rephrase it in more understandable terms. What needs to stop is the magic wand kind of wishful thinking – that every problem that does not have an obvious private solution is automatically assigned to the government and then just hope if the right kind of people are elected it will be all right. I think the best way to dispel this kind of magical thinking is to point out that government is nothing but a special kind of market with the following characteristics 1) the currency is popularity and votes 2) the products bought by customers are collective, as in, buying for everybody else, not just oneself 3) the acceptance of the products is literally enforced. Government being a special kind of market, one can argue that it is not a magical solution but a simply a different kind of market with different features, a tool which may be more suitable for some purposes and less suitable for other purposes, determining which requires further analysis. I think this approach could be useful for dispelling this kind of magic wand – approach.

  168. @shenpen

    On the basis of my limited knowledge of hungary (mainly through a hungarian ex), I would substitute your “emotional” with “nationalistic”, nationalistic feelings being quite strong and common there, but of course it is also true that nationalism is not the only form of irrationalism in political public discourse in Europe.

    > My first guess would be that it is caused by a too big _power distance_ between governor and governed, which means politics becomes an all-or->nothing game, as you can do everything with power (no proper libertarian limits to power) and nothing without it, which fosters extremism.

    I see what you mean, but again I would say that this distance – which I also see – is not due to “big” governments, but to “new” governments.

    When people (especially non-europeans) think of Europe as “old” ancient and so on, they forget that most democratic european states are quite new, and their governments and instititutions don’t command the widespread respect and trust that is the basis of British institutional conservatism.

    Most people simply do not know their own institutions well, and they do not know their real power or they practical function. The result is endless tinkering with institutional matters (changes to the electoral law, for instance), and an endless talk of consititutional reform as the overall solution for all social evels – which only makes the distrust against the government stronger. But it also turns state-level politics into an abstract game, a rhetorical battle in which ideologues can play their all-or-nothing game (as you correctly observe), with great success at election time, and with very few pressures from public opinion to ground their rhetoric on some kind of reality.

    I remember clearly right after the fall of socialism in Hungary that people (my girlfriend’s parents, for example) had completely unrealistic expectations from what people in gorvernment could do, and I am told the same happened in other former socialist states. Italy is also an interesting example, because italian regionalism entails that people do relate, realistically and critically, with local political institutions (city, region), but do not relate in any rational or realistic way with the national government. The “italian state” has for most italians the same vage connations of the concept “european union”.

    In some cases the problem is not just one of public awareness of what public institutions do, but it goes right into the public institution itself: that is, there are many public bodies in european states that are unsure of the reason why they do exist. An easy example is local police in Italy (which was created in the 80′s): nobody knows whether these are real cops, who could and should carry arms and be able to arrest people, or just traffic police that should limit themselves to issue fines. It can take a decade to clear up these ambiguties in the laws and rules.

    Imagine then how difficult it is to make any kind of “intellectual”, or rationally critical argument about public bodies and politics in such a context. Getting the basic facts right is difficult even for well-read and well-informed people, imagine for the public at large. No surprise that many europeans see politics as a highly specialised intellectual profession, the preserve of lawyers and professors.

  169. @ nancy

    >Federico, what do you make of the anti-clerical sentiment in Ireland which is driven by the pedophile priest scandal? Anyone have information about how that’s going in France, Spain, and/or Italy? A little news from Italy…. I hadn’t heard this when it was new.

    I do not think i can comment on northern catholic countries, especially ireland. As far as I know them (i know lots of poles, for instance, both in Italy and the UK) they look completely different from southern catholic countries, and their clericalism is far more mysterious to me than even anglo-saxon protestant morality.

    To an italian, irish and polish catholicism has an aggressiveness, a desire to get a “historical revenege” if you wish, that is quite surprising: in italy the church is supposed to always sound balanced, institutional – it has to project a feeling of all-embracingness. The harsh tones heard from high prelates in poland and ireland are confined to the extreme fringes in italy.

    As for the pedophile priest scandal, there is widespread awareness that this is a potentially very damaging case for the church, and so it is dealt with with utmost caution. The official position is to let the affected communities vent, even violently sometimes, apologise profusely to them, but suppress any hint that this may be a systematic problem in ecclesiastical institutions.

    remember that the “distance” me and shenpen were talking about a few posts above is present also in the relationship with the church: most italians would never entrust their sons and daughters to a far away catholic school, run by people they do not know (pedohile priests are part of italians’ collective memory), but they would tend to trust their local parish priest, for instance. A comment I often heard about the scandal, and that was said by catholic people, is that you simply do not send your children to a catholic boarding-school. Misbehaviour by local priest, on the other hand, is often unexpected, and thus quite painful.

    Again, logical voices, such as a well-known TV priest arguing (on TV) that accepting young boys into seminars only producess repressed, dysfunctinal individuals, were systematically silenced as “anti-clerical”.

    ESR says: I fixed some typos in this comment.

  170. @James A. Donald:

    Odd how natural monopolies always require enforcement. Observe how governments are apt to be hostile to private sewage solutions even when, or perhaps especially when, these are better, cheaper, and cleaner than the official government solution.

    It’s not always a “natural monopoly” because nobody wants to do it. Sometimes, it’s a “natural monopoly” because it’s damned inconvenient to have multiple providers. Imagine if 3 different companies wanted to run toll roads to my driveway…

    As that link I provided showed, if 15 different companies are continually digging up the road, it’s not good for the road nor for the residents of the road.

  171. >This is a good proxy for all your other questions. The answer is “You’re fucked”.

    Indeed.

    Might I suggest taking a step back for a minute. We need to consider that there is a particular class of person who refuses to accept the existence of intractable problems. Cue Thomas Sowell’s “A Conflict of Visions” and “Vision of the Anointed”. It’s very difficult to argue meaningfully with someone who truly believes, that if just the right person were in charge (someone like themselves, usually), that all problems are easily and permanently solvable.

  172. >> This is a good proxy for all your other questions. The answer is “You’re fucked”.

    > It’s very difficult to argue meaningfully with someone who truly believes, that if just the right person were in charge (someone like themselves, usually), that all problems are easily and permanently solvable.

    I think this is the problem that assassination politics attempts to solve.

  173. Patrick Maupin Says:
    > It’s not always a “natural monopoly” because nobody wants to do it. Sometimes, it’s a “natural monopoly” because it’s damned inconvenient to have multiple providers. Imagine if 3 different companies wanted to run toll roads to my driveway…
    >
    > As that link I provided showed, if 15 different companies are continually digging up the road, it’s not good for the road nor for the residents of the road.

    People have been quietly solving this problem for centuries.

    The efficient system is to have the last mile owned by the residents, each of whom has an easement to use the road and dig up the nature strip.

    I am the part owner of several private roads, and on one of them I recently had to hire a backhoe, and did a trench, and replace the utilities.

    Now this is of course a big problem is someone has laid concrete on their driveway over the nature strip, and I had a big quarrel with one of the neighbors over this. I just rented a diamond saw, personally cut their driveway into paving stones with my own hands, and after the backhoe passed through, relaid their driveway as it should have been – paving stones on crusher dust so that it can be dug up the next time with less drama. They assisted in relaying their driveway, and I gave them a crate of beer and a bottle of wine to ease their feelings.

  174. >> This is a good proxy for all your other questions. The answer is “You’re fucked”.

    > It’s very difficult to argue meaningfully with someone who truly believes, that if just the right person were in charge (someone like themselves, usually), that all problems are easily and permanently solvable.

    That person is not me. You won’t find me trying to trisect the angle or square the circle, BUT the problems posed by management of common resources is a difficult and pressing one. Just saying, “You’re fucked!” doesn’t cut it.

    I’ll point out that General Electric is one of those giant corporations with plenty of influence in the US government, yet the EPA is making them remove PCBs from the Hudson River, to the tune of about half a billion dollars. Not every government official is in the pockets of big business. Sometimes having a government is a Good Thing. If you are looking to shrink it in the name of libertarianism, be damned careful in choosing which parts to shrink.

  175. @LS (and nigel):

    One of the key facts often missed by those ignorant of the history of the common law is that ownership of land and personal property (chattel) were not the only property rights recognized under it. One key example is angling rights, which, while still not providing a solution to issues such as overfishing, were used well into the 20th century in England to enjoin companies from polluting rivers. It’s noteworthy that since these lawsuits were brought by fishing clubs and similar organizations, you didn’t see the sort of wink-wink settlements endemic to EPA “actions” today.

    In contrast, the Cuyahoga, the self-righteous rallying cry of the regulators, was indisputably polluted because of government regulations. In contrast to areas in which the common law still prevailed, the courts uniformly ruled that the specific statutory regulations on pollution eliminated the common-law property rights of boaters and anglers and dismissed similar lawsuits for lack of standing.

    All of this is demonstrated amply by the fact that both air and water quality in the United States had been steadily improving since the end of World War II and actually slowed their improvements after the 1970′s. Above a per-capita income of around a few thousand US dollars per year, individuals place a high economic value on a clean environment, and free choices work to improve air and water arguably better than government intervention, without either the very high costs incurred to add one more nine to the “99.99%” or the letting heinous offenders off the hook just because they cozy up to the regulators.

  176. LS Says:
    > BUT the problems posed by management of common resources is a difficult and pressing one.

    Difficult indeed, but no more pressing than squaring the circle, or building a perpetual motion machine.

    If common resources are common to half a dozen people, they can work it out, if common to a dozen, they can work it out with difficulty. (The last mile problem being typical of this) If common to a score a more, you are fucked and there is absolutely no solution other than to privatize the resource – or, if it cannot be privatized, destroy it to reduce conflict.

  177. @ Christopher Smith

    Wow, reading some of those court decisions referenced in your first link really drives home just how far off the path we’ve gone when it comes to law and the people in this country. Just three examples:

    “In deciding the right of a single proprietor to an injunction, the court cannot take into consideration the circumstance that a vast population will suffer by reason of its interference.”

    “Although the damage to the plaintiff may be slight as compared with the defendant’s expense of abating the condition, that is not a good reason for refusing an injunction. Neither courts of equity nor law can be guided by such a rule, for if followed to its logical conclusion it would deprive the poor litigant of his little property by giving it to those already rich.”

    “The fact that the appellant has expended a large sum of money in the construction of its plant, and that it conducts its business in a careful manner and without malice, can make no difference in its rights to the stream. Before locating the plant the owners were bound to know that every riparian proprietor is entitled to have the waters of the stream that washes his land come to it without obstruction, diversion, or corruption, subject only to the reasonable use of the water, by those similarly entitled, for such domestic purposes as are inseparable for and necessary for the free use of their land; they were bound also to know the character of their proposed business, and to take themselves at their own peril whether they should be able to conduct their business upon a stream . . . without injury to their neighbors; and the magnitude of their investment and their freedom from malice furnish no reason why they should escape the consequences of their own folly.”

    I honestly can’t imagine a court handing down such a decision or argument today. Indeed, the New London case seems to be almost the exact opposite.

  178. Christopher Smith Says:
    > In contrast, the Cuyahoga, the self-righteous rallying cry of the regulators, was indisputably polluted because of government regulations. In contrast to areas in which the common law still prevailed, the courts uniformly ruled that the specific statutory regulations on pollution eliminated the common-law property rights of boaters and anglers and dismissed similar lawsuits for lack of standing.

    The rights of boaters and anglers were the same thing as what, in the context of the last mile problem, I was calling an easement. Since there were a lot of boaters and anglers, this became unwieldy, so their property rights in the water were confiscated and taken by the state – which proceeded to exercise those rights in ways that favored the concentrated interest against the dispersed interest, which resulted in the river catching fire.

    It still does this, but now the concentrated interest is no longer industry, but “consultants”. Each time the regulation is slightly tightened, you not only need to comply with the regulation, you need to hire several “consultants” (meaning people with the right connections) who will prepare a report saying you have complied with the regulation. If you were to merely comply with the regulation, and yourself report that you have complied, such a report would not be accepted. Each consultant costs around ten thousand dollars a pop, and every year the regulation is slightly tightened, so each year, each consultant gets a bunch of new consultations.

    As a result of this, the regulations slowly get tightened from levels that are arguably reasonable, to levels that are transparently ridiculous, and science is solemnly manufactured to justify this unending tightening.

  179. @James A Donald:

    > The efficient system is to have the last mile owned by the residents, each of whom has an easement to use the road and dig up the nature strip.

    Which is essentially what I suggested in my first comment….

  180. According to The Public Ivies: America’s Flagship Public Universities (2001), the University of Colorado Boulder is considered one of the prestigious “Public Ivy League” schools.

    Oh right, there are “Public Ivies”, bless my soul. I really wonder if they’re considered at all prestigious by genuine Ivy League types.

    And when Ward Churchill attracted attention, all the good and the great reacted as if he was one of their own, one of them, even though they claim to be smart, and Ward Churchill obviously is not.

    I think they were saying he *had a point*, which was that American foreign policy in the Middle East might have been a contributing factor to 9/11, as opposed to it being a spontaneous eruption of evil and freeeedom-hating from a boil on Osama’s left buttock. Though he was maybe pushing it a bit with the “little Eichmanns” thing. And when right-wing talk-radio starts calling for someone to be fired, there’s a sort of reflexive assumption on the part of liberal types that it must be a witch-hunt of some sort.

  181. Adrian Smith Says:
    > I think they were saying he *had a point*, which was that American foreign policy in the Middle East …

    Regardless of whether he was right or wong, Ward Churchill is well below average IQ and incapable of performing the activities normally performed at university: Yet Ward Churchill he was a professor at a prestigious university, and was treated by the all the other intellectuals (since anyone who is not progressive is obviously not an intellectual, as being a fellow intellectual

    Which is reason to doubt the intelligence of every single accredited intellectual. To be an accredited intellectual, you have to believe in progressivism, which requires you to believe six impossible things before breakfast every morning. This is a lot easier if you are as thick as a brick, and, as Ward Churchill proves, being as thick as a brick is no obstacle to being an accredited intellectual.

  182. >I really wonder if they’re considered at all prestigious by genuine Ivy League types.

    Yes, but there is also a tendency to be rather condescending about that evaluation.

  183. James A Donald Says:

    >The rights of boaters and anglers were the same thing as what, in the context of the last mile problem, I was calling an easement. Since there were a lot of boaters and anglers, this became unwieldy, so their property rights in the water were confiscated and taken by the state – which proceeded to exercise those rights in ways that favored the concentrated interest against the dispersed interest, which resulted in the river catching fire.

    One small detail: according to Wiki, portions of the Cuyahoga river burned 13 times between 1868 and 1969.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuyahoga_River#Environmental_concerns

    (First paragraph after block-quote in that section.) Is there any history of naturally-occurring hydrocarbons on the river, or was pollution that bad in the 1860s?

    Other sources, including scholar John Adler, note that businessmen near the river reacted adversely to the fires up to and including the worst fire, the one in 1952. Adler claims that this caused some clean up prior to the 1969 fire and nationwide attention to the state of the Cuyahoga.

    http://old.nationalreview.com/adler/adler200406220845.asp

    For example, there was a local vote in 1968 to pay millions for the clean up of the Cuyahoga.

    While I do not know the full story, I note that the Cuyahoga-river story as usually told has the feel of something that has a layer of mythology on top of it.

  184. >Ward Churchill is well below average IQ and incapable of performing the activities normally performed at university:

    And you know this how? Ward Churchill is a loathsome creature, to be sure – pretty much the perfect embodiment of every cliche about left-wing academics – but I see no evidence that he is of subnormal intelligence. Indeed, his adroit manipulation of the social environment around him suggests otherwise.

    We would be in far less trouble as a nation and a civilization if the likes of Ward Churchill were genuinely stupid.

  185. Eric:
    To break in with an off topic…
    I wasn’t able to get the file for taoup with wget. I suspect a bad path or bad rights.
    I sent a couple of emails, but again suspect that they got knocked out by a spam filter or something.

    Jim Hurlburt
    Yakima, WA

  186. “I am 99% certain that you’re never going to violate some USDA edict unless you’re actually in the food production business. Likewise FDA. As for the EPA, if you’re doing something stupid like dumping used motor oil down the storm drain I have no sympathy for you. Even then it’s just a fine and no one is going to toss you in the gulag.”

    Are you sure it’s just a fine? Under current laws, you can be convicted of a felony that totally upends your life just for making a mistake.

    A Sewage Blunder Earns Engineer a Criminal Record

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204903804577082770135339442.html

  187. January 2nd, 2012 at 10:16 am

    > >Ward Churchill is well below average IQ and incapable of performing the activities normally performed at university:

    esr Says:
    > And you know this how?

    His speech suggests a very low wordsum score.

    We know he is incapable of performing the activities normally performed at university, because, like a great many accredited leftists, he did not perform the activities normally performed at university.

    As for adroit manipulation of social environment, adroit people do not routinely issue death threats – or, at least, they do so in a fashion more decorous – they do so in a more adroit fashion. He got in trouble not because he issued death threats, but because he issued death threats in the manner of a stupid person.

    While the left is run by socially adroit people, it also needs dumb thugs who will do as they are told. And Ward Churchill, like Paul Krugman, demonstrates that to be an intellectual, you don’t need to be one of the clever ones.

    Ward Churchill not only is a dumb thug, worse than that, he sounds like a dumb thug.

  188. “Political tags — such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth — are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.”
    ? Robert A. Heinlein

    I think you described just about everybody, though not everyone uses these tags. Heinlein’s type ones are kind of analogous to your type ones, twos and threes. Your thalamic anti-intellectuals are often Heinlein’s type twos.
    It’s hard to be confronted by people with more power than you without feeling in some way frustrated or inferior, at least when your interests conflict.
    Those in power always seek to justify their power and the most common way of doing that is saying that they are smarter than those they rule. It follows that those who don’t want to be told what to do often mistrust and fear “intellectuals”.

  189. >It follows that those who don’t want to be told what to do often mistrust and fear “intellectuals”.

    But it didn’t have to be that way. If most of the intelligentsia of the last century had been wise enough not to be seduced by totalitarian/utopian dreams, and been champions of individual liberty instead, they would still have the respect of the average non-intellectual – and deserve it. This is what I mean by insisting that they brought it on themselves.

  190. Are you sure it’s just a fine? Under current laws, you can be convicted of a felony that totally upends your life just for making a mistake.

    But professional engineering is like that just about everywhere. When lives (or in the case of sewage, public health) are at stake, you better make DAMN sure that when you sign off on that design it will NOT needlessly endanger somebody. Otherwise, in any sensible nation, you are criminally liable. Outside of the U.S., the profession of engineering is treated very seriously (witness the ritual Canadian engineering graduates go through); inside the U.S. we tend to be cavalier about the term (e.g., “sanitation engineer” or, ugh, “software engineer”). Yet for certain engineering disciplines there are professional standards that must be met, and no, for health and safety reasons you CANNOT simply “make a mistake”. The whole point of having professional engineers is some guarantee that there won’t be serious mistakes.

  191. @Jeff Read:

    > But professional engineering is like that just about everywhere.

    I think you may have misread the article. Lawrence Lewis is “chief engineer” at a retirement home, diverting sewage where his boss tells him to. In other words, most likely a sanitation engineer, not a registered professional engineer with a stamp.

  192. @ James A Donald
    > His speech suggests a very low wordsum score.

    Are you sure that you are not applying the filter of your rather peculiar prejudices to arrive at your conclusion?

  193. @esr They did bring it on themselves. It seems like all institutions and organizations are created in order to address some need, be it law and order, limiting the impact of disease, defending from invasion, making great beer or what ever.
    Sooner or later someone comes to lead that organization whose commanding interest is not the inventive purpose of the organization but the protection and perpetuation of the organization itself. Leaders become parasitic. They need their institutions to live the good life and they always want it just a little better.
    Combine that with the fact that most people don’t give a damn about the rights of others to do things they themselves don’t want to do and individual liberty becomes a catch phrase, not a productive position.
    How could we ever stop this from happening when we started out idolizing Lock, Addams and Washington and ended up with heroes like Marx, Che Guevara and Mao Tse Tung?

  194. ESR wrote “if most of the intelligentsia of the last century had been wise enough not to be seduced by totalitarian/utopian dreams…”

    It wasn’t just seduction by positive dreams, it was also a fall into a pattern of flaky pseudointellectual attacks on rival power structures.

    Consider the countless attempts to justify the conclusion that the Industrial Revolution made people much worse off (until it was tamed by various favored policies, of course) or to explain away the success of the Industrial Revolution as a result of nasty causes like slavery or colonial exploitation. Or consider the promotion of (Frankfurt school ahoy) Freud and Adorno. It’s hard to interpret these as seduction by ideal outcomes, and easy to interpret them as attacks on rival power structures and on their associated values.

    One can also interpret some of these as ESR interpreted them upthread: “the West’s intelligentsia were successfully subverted by Soviet memetic warfare, and I believe that Gramscian damage remains a central problem in Western politics.” It is indeed at least arguable that the later attacks were largely due to subversion. However, the pattern of attacks seems to me to have been clear well before the Soviets were in a position to encourage it. Thus it’s not so easy to separate the effect of Soviet encouragement from the effects of the ongoing trend.

    Also note that the USSR has been in no position to push for two decades or so, and while Freud no longer seems to have much prestige these days, Adorno-style hit “research” is still in production. See e.g. http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2010/12/more-loaded-dice.html and (making it to the New York Times recently) http://www.thebigquestions.com/2011/12/19/alas-poor-yoram/ . That looks to me like the result of native enthusiasm, not external subversion.

  195. >However, the pattern of attacks seems to me to have been clear well before the Soviets were in a position to encourage it.

    Well, yes. The Soviets didn’t invent many of their attack memes out of whole cloth. They often weaponized and heavily promoted memes that were already circulating. What made their hand visible on the puppet strings was the integration of both found and invented memes into a total, mutually-reinforcing system marrying Marxist class warfare and group identity politics to the most self-destructive forms of native Western sick-think. For the result, contemplate any speech by Barack Obama.

    >Also note that the USSR has been in no position to push for two decades or so,

    True. But by the time the Soviet empire fell, their attack memes had developed a self-sustaining reservoir of infection among the West’s intelligentsia.

    That said, your point about “flaky pseudointellectual attacks on rival power structures” is valid. The Western intelligentsia in general inherited an aristocratic disdain for commerce and markets, and the “humanist” intellectuals harbored a simmering resentment towards scientists and engineers. These resentments probably would have produced a less intense form of the symptoms we now see, even if the Soviets had not been so effective at inflaming and exploiting them.

  196. > The answer is “You’re fucked”.

    Err. Maybe. But I can think of some other ideas, too.
    First, what is the objection to a neighbor selling sewage dumping rights? As far as I can tell, it would have to be aesthetic (looks ugly), airborne (smell or noise), (sub)surface (runoff or groundwater contamination, or just plain “I hate the idea”.
    If the issue is simply preference or aeesthetic, you are out of luck. Don’t look or ignore it, really.
    Any of the others can usually be addressed at common law because somebody is actively doing something to reduce the utility or value of your property.

    However, if you assume that common law isn’t workable, there is still picketing, which can drastically limit the amount of stuff which can be hauled onto the property. This causes a corresponding concern for the owner, then. If the owner can’t find a way to get you to move then they are unable to sell new permits and have a backlog of existing customers who are now very angry. At this point it is well worth the owner’s time to sit down with you to come to an arrangement that works. Perhaps a noise fence and an agreement not to operate trucks past 10pm is all you want, anyways.

  197. Is there really a problem with wishing your leaders were the best and brightest?

    The problem is having leaders in the first place. Even if X is smarter than Y, that doesn’t entitle X to command Y’s actions.

  198. Paul Krugman, demonstrates that to be an intellectual, you don’t need to be one of the clever ones.

    Krugman is not an intellectual. He is a pseudo-intellectual, with no more to offer than an astrologer.

  199. >Krugman is not an intellectual. He is a pseudo-intellectual, with no more to offer than an astrologer.

    No. Krugman is one of those cases in which getting sidetracked into arguing about the distinction between “intellectual” and “pseudo-intellectual” is an elaborate way of missing the point – a wrangle over map when the problem is territory.

    What is morbidly fascinating about Krugman is not whether or not he’s “pseudo” but his apparently willful self-transformation from a pretty good economist into a repellent species of political hack. His job is to tell the New York Times’s core audience of Upper West Side limousine liberals exactly what they want to hear, and he executes it so faithfully that he is no longer capable of being surprising even in small things. I remember him from back when he had an imagination and was worth paying attention to, and the difference makes me a little sad.

  200. ESR wrote of Krugman’s “self-transformation from a pretty good economist into a repellent species of political hack.” Just so. It’s impossible for me accept him as stupid based on his early work. Quite possibly not as outstanding as his supporters like to think — it’s hard to form a good judgment about his Nobel-worthiness when it’s not my field and so many people have an axe to grind one way or another — but clearly very capable. And now a pretty sad hack.

    ESR wrote “but by the time the Soviet empire fell, their attack memes had developed a self-sustaining reservoir of infection among the West’s intelligentsia.”

    To the extent that the post-1990 dysfunctionality is a legacy of the Soviets, I don’t think it’s nearly so much their memes as the people in place after the long march through the institutions. I would say “by the time the Soviet empire fell, not only entire departments but entire universities and entire academic fields were dominated by people who owed their place to their loyalty to the ideologies the Soviets favored.” (And it’s an open question to me how much of that was the usual natural progress of backscratching and timeserving through government-funded bureaucracies, and how much it was accelerated and focused by Soviet favors and organizational support.) Then once you have enough backscratching and timeserving and cynicism and ideological monoculture, many things are possible without any cleverness in memes deployed in support. To pick on a time the Soviets clearly weren’t involved, in 1680 Samuel Butler noted “What makes all doctrines plain and clear? About two hundred pounds a year. And that which was proved true before, Prove false again? Two hundred more.” And Macaulay’s acid descriptions (in his _History of England_) of (1) the clerical rationalizations for absolute hereditary rule and (2) their subsequent rationalizations for abandoning their position in the runup to the Glorious Revolution are worth reading too.

    Look at what happened with Bellesiles starting in the mid-1990s. His particular attack factoid, that guns were rare and impractical (axes FTW!) in the early USA, postdated the USSR as far as I know, and it doesn’t seem as though it was closely tied to earlier memetic support. (Possibly it’s tied in a general way to a worldview that documents don’t really mean what they literally say and the real truth must be revealed by deconstruction by experts, but even that seems like a stretch.) The takeoff of his work is remarkable not for the devious cleverness of the memes involved, but for how entire organizations of intellectuals were so ideologically aligned that they found the conclusion delicious, and even more for the pervasive sloppy cluelessness required (at the historians’ association, at the NY Times, and at the Economist, among other places) not to recognize immediately that the work was so flaky that it would be bad tactics to laud it to the heavens. (I’m completely unqualified to be a history professor, and even I knew enough from primary sources to raise questions off about the claims of rarity of firearms, and enough from secondary sources to recognize the claim of military ineffectiveness of firearms as absurd.)

    Or, if I were to nominate memes which contribute, I wouldn’t put cleverly designed attack memes at the head of the list, but instead some memes which arise spontaneously in theocracies, in dogmatic states like Soviet Russia, and in segments of society which promote based on loyalty to dogma. Very commonly in ordinary states or hierarchies within states, the ruling class will value (some combination of conspicuous consumption or conspicuous asceticism and) traits where excellence is fairly easy to detect. The valued traits may often be anachronisms or affectations — e.g., classical Greek, brush calligraphy, swordsmanship, playing Go, chasing foxes on horseback — but at least excellence in those traits is meaningful, recognizable, and valued among candidates for the most desired career paths. In a state like Soviet Russia, and as far as I know in theocracies as well, there seems to be a different pattern: the route to power in Soviet Russia was not smoothed by any kind of conspicuous excellence, but by ideological conformity, proper timeserving (e.g. political youth organizations), and claims of proper (class and ethnic) descent. (The main candidate exception I can think of: a (probably somewhat debased) engineering degree apparently had considerable career value at least in some periods.) As the well-funded and route-to-real-power parts of US intelligentsia have become more ideologically conformist, I see something similar. Today much more than 50 years ago, the official route to admission to Yale Law School or a long cozy career as an educational administrator runs through “accomplishments” that I don’t consider accomplishments, merely demonstrations of loyalty, e.g., volunteering as a fundraiser for Save The Alligators from Greed Everywhere. Things like good standardized test scores or a science fair or excellence in athletics or various other performance-related activities have some value to the school, but considerably less than in the past, and to some extent they seem to have moved onto a separate career track. Naturally memes grow up to rationalize this. But they don’t seem like cleverly crafted memes to me, just ad hoc rationalizations of a somewhat foreseeable but largely unforeseen (and somewhat embarrassing) pattern of all-too-obvious nonmeritocracy and mediocrity.

    (Even in theocracies and such, excellence may still be officially valued on career tracks other than those that lead to real power: the state will try to encourage artillerymen or Olympic athletes or chessmasters or engineers. Somewhat similarly a restaurant chain or a big auto dealership will usually try to encourage its competent IT people. But being an excellent chessmaster or competent IT person, respectively, is usually not an effective way to rise to real power in such an organization.)

  201. >To the extent that the post-1990 dysfunctionality is a legacy of the Soviets, I don’t think it’s nearly so much their memes as the people in place after the long march through the institutions.

    Quite. What else do you suppose I meant by “self-sustaining reservoir of infection”?

    I think we’re really only disagreeing about details and emphasis.

  202. “At this point it is well worth the owner’s time to sit down with you to come to an arrangement that works. Perhaps a noise fence and an agreement not to operate trucks past 10pm is all you want, anyways.”

    That’s why we have zoning laws. None of my neighbors dumps raw sewage or operates heavy trucks because they are not allowed to. I’m really amazed at all the commenters that hastened to say, “You’re fucked! There’s no solution!” when society has been dealing with this with pretty good success for years. In my area, there are, and have been a number of environmental remediation projects that succeeded very nicely, or are on track to do so. Doesn’t anyone look outside any more? Your computer is even more prone to tell *you* what *you* want to hear than Paul Krugman and the Upper West Siders; after all; you have been setting your preferences on it and it will do exactly what you tell it to do.

    The real world is not all regulatory capture and corrupt politicians in the pockets of big corporations. There’s a lot of good stuff out there. The world has improved quite a bit during my lifetime. Keep your eyes open as you age. You’ll probably make the same observation.

  203. OK, if you just meant developing a reservoir of congenial (new) people by helping take over the selection mechanism for new people, then yup, I agree that we basically agree.

    (I thought I disagreed because I was reading your “their attack memes had developed a self-sustaining reservoir of infection” as if the reservoir in question meant a stable purely-meme-ish phenomenon living in a largely fixed population of people, more or less the way a population of certain viruses may be able to live long-term in a host’s nervous system largely without killing off or replacing neurons.)

  204. >society has been dealing with this with pretty good success for years

    You’re not counting in your “success” the negative consequences of the kind of state power that can enforce zoning laws. I don’t think it’s “pretty good success” because I count consequences like over-50% tax rates, no-knock drug raids and (to be very topical) SOPA.

  205. >> Remind me – how can a corporation shut down my website without govt assistance?

    > If the corporation is your ISP, then “sudo rm -rf /path/to/your/site/”

    In other words, it can’t. (Let’s see if Read can figure out how his “proof” refutes itself.)

    >>How does a corporation throw me in jail for failing to buy their products? How does a corporation stop me from buying a 100W incandescent lightbulb?

    > Ever hear of company towns?

    Yes, I have. They don’t exist and didn’t have the powers that I asked about.

    Once again, we have someone who is so obsessed about a theoretical problem, where he’s getting the theory wrong, that he’s ignoring actual behavior and problems.

  206. > > Oh really? Where, exactly, have I said that I want to tell you how to run your life? I’m not alone in that.

    > Well, obviously just there. You just say that my interpretation of your thoughts is not right.

    Telling you that you’re wrong is not telling you how to run your life.

    > Let’s say you exemplify, up to a point, the person who wants to dictate how other people should run their lives.

    Nope. You don’t get to assume your conclusion.

    >>> If you’re so bright, why do so many of your grand social-engineering schemes end in corruption and tears?

    >>Because they don’t understand the limits of their information and knowledge, or rather, the consequences of those limits. Plus this stuff is really hard.

    > Oh, Mighty Andy Freeman gets to pick and choose where his expertise lies!

    Actually, I do. However, I’m talking about other people’s information and knowledge. If you think that I’ve misdiagnosed the reason for their failures….

    > And sure, those other fields of study are really easy!

    Huh? I wrote hard, not easy.

    >> If you want to go along with what someone says, that’s your biz as far as I’m concerned. I reserve the right to object when you insist that I go along as well. And no, I don’t care if your plan requires my cooperation/participation.

    > What?! … This is fun! Although, I am beginning to feel like a troll…

    Got it in one.

  207. > I’ll point out that General Electric is one of those giant corporations with plenty of influence in the US government, yet the EPA is making them remove PCBs from the Hudson River, to the tune of about half a billion dollars.

    (1) It’s not half a billion dollars after tax. It’s all deductible. (And deductions and credits are how GE pays near net 0 in federal income tax.)

    (2) You’re assuming that GE wasn’t given some compensating benefit by govt. The reality is probably closer to “we’ll do the PCB cleanup in return for {something worth more}.”

  208. > Unfortunately, there’s been less need for average people to do practical things as more of our devices became cheaper and harder to repair. I wonder what may come of 3D printing getting cheap enough for general use, though.

    from http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3404258

    “That really points out the problem with these columns that suggest 3D Printers are about to drastically change manufacturing. These 3D printers are only really a manufacturing revolution to people pumping out plastic (or weak powdered metal) products in low volumes (<1,000 units) and sizes between a few mm and meter or two cube. That actually doesn't cover a whole lot of products – the unit numbers are the thing that rules out most things you would think of."

    "3D Printers are great in the design phase – but a contractor like Shapeways will ultimately benefit the most from that."

    "CNC changed everything. … The 3D printer is just small potatoes compared to the change that has already happened over the last 30 years.

  209. > This is a good proxy for all your other questions. The answer is “You’re fucked”.

    Yes, but one important difference is that different owners are likely to make different decisions while govts make the same decision.

    So, you may be fucked, but that doesn’t imply that someone else will be.

    Govt is systemic risk.

  210. That’s why we have zoning laws.

    Funny how now all the people who were so concerned for the less-fortunate that they wanted to ensure they lived in segregated zones, even if that meant they had to pay more for housing, are now wringing their hands over the loss of “walkable communities”.

  211. Why Finland is kicking our ass in education

    Money quote is right at the top:

    The Scandinavian country is an education superpower because it values equality more than excellence.

    Oh Snap! Wilkinson and Pickett rear their ugly heads again.

    Equality is the key. The great socio-economic revolution of the 21st century will come when the fact that economic equality is directly linked to happiness and well-being on the social level is universally accepted.

  212. esr Says:
    > What is morbidly fascinating about Krugman is not whether or not he’s “pseudo” but his apparently willful self-transformation from a pretty good economist into a repellent species of political hack.

    What leads you to believe Krugman ever was a pretty good economist? Yes, I know he has a Nobel prize, but so does Obama, Yasser Arafat, and Rigoberta Menchú

  213. William Newman Says:
    > It’s impossible for me accept him as stupid based on his early work.

    Krugman is not stupid, is rather clever at rationalizing what he wants to believe, and at rationalizing what he is supposed to believe, but is only ordinarily clever

    I don’t see any big difference between his earlier Noble prize winning work, and his current work. I conjecture that his betters tell him what doctrine to promote, and he promptly comes up with a rationalization why that doctrine is true. If the doctrine matters enough, they will pronounce the rationalization an act of extraordinary genius – not because they are very impressed by the rationalization, but because they want the rationalization to be believed.

    Sometimes he is directed to rationalize something that is just stupid – whereupon his cleverest rationalization comes out just stupid.

  214. Jeff Read: The great socio-economic revolution of the 21st century will come when the fact that economic equality is directly linked to happiness and well-being on the social level is universally accepted.

    What makes you think more education is called for? Our leaders are more educated than ever, but wisdom seems to have been in terminal decline since the days of the hoplite, when the leaders led from the front. Contrast with modern times where the decision-makers (private and public) take the profit in good times but suffer no consequences if they are wrong. Modern individualism has become perverted to certain individuals having the freedom to keep all the upside but none of the downside.

    esr: I seem to be in the spam queue. If intentional could you point me in the direction of the offending post so I can apologise?

  215. LS Says:
    > That’s why we have zoning laws. None of my neighbors dumps raw sewage or operates heavy trucks because they are not allowed to.

    This sounds much like the argument that if concealed carry was allowed, there would be shoot outs in white middle class neighborhoods.

  216. ESR,

    Can we / should we also talk about pseudo-intellectualism as well?

    The acceptable ways to making a point are through empirical evidence, logical proof, experience or common sense.

    Pseudo-intellectualism is a fifth method, accepting an idea because it makes one feel smarter, either employed subconsciously and directed at the self i.e. believing in things that “prove” one is smart, or employed more or less consciously and directed at others, convincing people of an idea because accepting it makes them feel smarter about themselves.

    The two common tricks of pseudo-intellectualism is saying that most people don’t know about, don’t notice, don’t realize this idea, and saying that this idea is actively suppressed and kept secret by the powers that be. These two overlap of course.

    The subtextual mechanism here is: how do I know something most people don’t and how did I found it out if They keep it as a secret? By being very smart, of course! And now that you know it, you are comparatively smarter and more knowledgable than others, too. This can be very, very efficient in selling an idea to the semi-educated college and high school – age population who like to think they are smart. But also it is very dishonest.

    Example of the first one: “Most people get their McNews from the corporate media and thus they don’t realize that (…)”

    Example of the second one: “It’s a big club and you ain’t in it.” (George Carlin)

  217. >Sooner or later someone comes to lead that organization whose commanding interest is not the inventive purpose of the organization but the protection and perpetuation of the organization itself.

    Congratulations, you just reinvented Jerry Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy.

    >No. Krugman is one of those cases in which getting sidetracked into arguing about the distinction between “intellectual” and “pseudo-intellectual” is an elaborate way of missing the point – a wrangle over map when the problem is territory.

    Indeed, I remember reading something, a year or two ago, about the “pseudo-intellectual” smear. A bad intellectual is still an intellectual, just as a bad plumber is still a plumber. “Pseudo-intellectual” is just lazy name-calling.

    Finland is doing well in educating its people because it is full of Finns. Finns in the US score very close to those in Finland, and Swedes in the US score better than those in Sweden. In fact, for most national/ethnic groups, those in the US score better than those at home. As far as I know, Finland and possibly China are the only exceptions.

  218. In fact, from this chart, it looks like Finland is partly an exemplar of Pournelle’s frequent exhortation, “The only way to make sure that no child is left behind is to make sure that none get ahead.” Compare Finland’s Math Olympiad rankings, usually in the 50s and 60s to those of the US, usually 2-3. Finland’s scores have been going downhill for decades.

  219. @esr
    > You’re not counting in your “success” the negative consequences of the kind of state power that can enforce zoning laws.

    The examples of negative consequences you cite are of course peculiar to the US of America. Other jurisdictions have less bad laws.

    I am genuinely interested whether you think that citing examples of bad laws counts as evidence that all laws are bad.

    (Hint: It doesn’t, unless you’ve already arrived at your conclusion before you start to gather your evidence.)

  220. @ James A Donald

    > This sounds much like the argument that if concealed carry was allowed, there would be shoot outs in white middle class neighborhoods.

    I confess I have no idea what that is supposed to mean. But, after a quick glance at your blog, color me unsurprised that you choose to respond through the filter of race.

  221. (@esr
    > the kind of state power that can enforce zoning laws.

    Argh, the zoning laws! Always getting in the way of people’s rights to be selfish dicks!

  222. >esr: I seem to be in the spam queue. If intentional could you point me in the direction of the offending post so I can apologise?

    You are not. Possibly akismet is having one of its fits again.

  223. >I am genuinely interested whether you think that citing examples of bad laws counts as evidence that all laws are bad.

    No, but they do count as evidence that government is bad. Laws != government.

  224. “You’re not counting in your “success” the negative consequences of the kind of state power that can enforce zoning laws. I don’t think it’s “pretty good success” because I count consequences like over-50% tax rates, no-knock drug raids and (to be very topical) SOPA.”

    The last time I checked, my local zoning board did not levy any taxes, didn’t conduct drug raids and had nothing to do with the ‘net. We are going to have a government, your philosophy not withstanding; all we can do is try to improve it. (Yeah, you can see I’m a traditionalist and epistemic-skeptical type.)

  225. >But, after a quick glance at your blog, color me unsurprised that you choose to respond through the filter of race.

    This is me bending over backwards to be fair. James A Donald is a loathsome race-baiter of the “white nationalist” stripe who has come closer than anyone else in the history of this blog to inducing me to ban for the content of a commenter’s ideas. Nevertheless, honesty requires me to admit that you have (perhaps inadvertently) fallen into ad hominem here.

    There is a strong cultural case for considering shootouts to be exceptionally unlikely in white middle-class neighborhoods. Middle class people have, in general, a lot of cultural capital to draw on about the value of self-control that poor people don’t; that is what makes them middle-class people. And white middle-class people are less likely to have relatives and visitors who aren’t middle class for fairly obvious demographic reasons. So dismissing this particular implied claim as racist is lazy and unjustified.

    On the other hand, you are entitled to a suspicion that by tossing out “white” in that contest, the speaker of the claim is engaging in racist provocation. I share that suspicion.

  226. @TomM

    Assuming you are serious…

    No matter how good or bad any individual law may be, at some point the sheer number of laws, rules, regulations, and and so on means the incremental value of the next one is negative.

  227. TomM: I’ll repeat James A Donald’s statement without the “white” qualifier:

    This sounds much like the argument that if concealed carry was allowed, there would be shoot outs in middle class neighborhoods.

    It retains its truth value fully, edited thus. Now, will you answer the question, instead of dodging it?

  228. > The great socio-economic revolution of the 21st century will come when the fact that economic equality is directly linked to happiness and well-being on the social level is universally accepted.

    The fact? My happiness and well-being doesn’t depend on what someone else has. Does Read’s? Why? Does the dependence depend on distance? (Is his happiness more reduced by a rich person next door than a rich person 100 miles away?) Does it depend on his knowledge? (Do rich people of whom he is unaware make him unhappy, or just the ones he knows about? If the latter, his unhappiness is pretty much his own doing, so it’s unclear why anyone else should care.)

    Economic equality is directly linked to less economic progress. The poor benefit more from economic progress than the rich. (Yes, even if inequality increases.)

    What does Read have against poor people?

  229. > Argh, the zoning laws! Always getting in the way of people’s rights to be selfish dicks!

    Because Ghod knows that zoning laws are always used for good. Just like eminent domain.

    > The last time I checked, my local zoning board did not levy any taxes

    So?

    Your zoning board may not collect revenues (except that it does, as anyone who has dealt with zoning boards knows), but it imposes costs. Are you really going to argue that the imposed costs don’t matter because they don’t enable govt spending?

  230. >My happiness and well-being doesn’t depend on what someone else has.

    Jeff Read is relying on a line of research purportedly showing that having a low position on the social-status totem pole is physiologically damaging, even if your absolute wealth is greater than that of 99.9% of people in human history.

    The research he likes on this topic is full of methdological holes and reeks of political partisanship. Gee, what a surprise!

  231. @Jeff Read

    How about the equality of power? I mean isn’t it more or less obvious that the total sum of wealth equality and power equality is constant – that by allowing people to redistribute other people’s wealth, they are gaining power?

    @ESR

    Wrong angle of attack IMHO – to anyone who likes to see people in a dominant – submissive framework (at some level it is a sexual instict) (the anyone includes myself) relative position is important. I am not sure I would really take modern dental care instead of the sheer extasy of the power trip a medieval landowner – I assume – had. Naturally, this is only an assumption, I have no experience of that, maybe that thrill wears off in 3 days and the shitty material reality of the age alongside with the regrets kicks in and stays. But at the end of the day, I am not sure it is the right angle of attack on the “Spirit Level” stuff. People do care about relative status and I often found status-maximization works as a better heuristic of human behavior than profit-maximization. So I would rather suggest to use these angles: 1) the correlation vs. causality 2) reducing wealth inequality can only be done by increasing power inequality and that is more harmful.

  232. @ Jay Maynard
    >  It retains its truth value fully, edited thus. Now, will you answer the question, instead of dodging it?

    If you are asking me whether I think concealed carry laws are likely to lead to shoot outs in middle class neighborhoods, my intuitive response would run along the lines Eric sets out upthread (i.e. there are some sensible reasons for thinking this is unlikely).

    It is also not beyond the realm of possibility that a middle class neighborhood is more likely to be one where individuals apply (intuitively) the sorts of generally sensible principles regarding self defence endorsed by Sam Harris:
    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-truth-about-violence/

    (And yes, as your editorial demonstrates, this point can be made without reference to race. Which was sorta my point.)

  233. “Because Ghod knows that zoning laws are always used for good. Just like eminent domain.”

    Always? Because outcomes are sometimes bad (small minority) we should get rid of all laws, and ignore the good that they do?

  234. @ esr
    > No, but they do count as evidence that government is bad. Laws != government.

    A statement only a libertarian could make.

    If a government has a function other than making, administering or enforcing laws I haven’t seen it.

  235. > James A Donald is a loathsome race-baiter of the “white nationalist” stripe

    Loathsome is up to you. As for race-baiter, it is true he brings up the subject of race in ways many people would consider incendiary, though note Jay Maynard’s post above. As for “white nationalist”, that’s simply false. See the articles on jim.com

  236. esr: Jeff Read is relying on a line of research purportedly showing that having a low position on the social-status totem pole is physiologically damaging, even if your absolute wealth is greater than that of 99.9% of people in human history.

    That sounds rather on-its-face plausible; people seem to respond strongly to relative cues of social status rather than absolute ones–hedonic treadmill/keeping up with the Joneses/last year’s miraculous iPhone is junky this year and all. (Also, is it strictly social status, or is there an economic factor?)

    Could you be a bit more specific on the “full of methdological holes and reeks of political partisanship”, and also let me know what you’re arguing against? Is the hedonic treadmill not a thing? Do people not respond to relative status cues, or just not respond in a significant way? Is it just that it’s better to be poor in a rich society than middle-class in a poor society, rather than it being better to be middle-class in a rich-and-equal society than middle-class in a rich-but-unequal society?

  237. >If a government has a function other than making, administering or enforcing laws I haven’t seen it.

    Go study public-choice economics. The actual function of government, in practice, is to corner the market in law enforcement so that the wealthy and politically connected can use it as a one-stop shop for bending the laws to their own ends

  238. Back to fundamentals. Unless you’re a trust fund baby, or acquired wealth by other means, most professional intellectuals have to earn a living like everyone else. This can be accomplished by persuading a wealthy patron to subsidize your livelihood (e.g. media pundits, political toadies, and useful idiots) or by hawking your wares in the public square (e.g. best-selling authors and paid speaking engagements). Like most celebrities, a popular intellectual is likely to have both fans and detractors. Choosing which “intellectuals” you favor or disfavor is akin to revealing your own beliefs and preferences. I suspect that many on this blog will more closely identify with the intellect of Ayn Rand as opposed to Karl Marx.

    That said, throwing stones at the petty faux intellectuals that currently dominate the media is undoubtedly a cathartic exercise, but let’s not forget that there are some giants out there who have had a profound impact on the world. If we truly do lose our liberty to an intellectual-aided thugocracy, then we are not worth our salt in the first place.

  239. >Is it just that it’s better to be poor in a rich society than middle-class in a poor society, rather than it being better to be middle-class in a rich-and-equal society than middle-class in a rich-but-unequal society?

    That. What you call the “hedonic treadmill” is real, but people go very wrong when they interpret it as an argument for coercing equality of outcomes. I’m not addressing the shoddiness of the research right now because (a) I’ve lost my pointer to the critiques, and (b) there are simpler arguments that the results shouldn’t be overinterpreted even if they were sound.

    Here’s an example: A hundred years ago, people past their twenties routinely lived in a state of constant pain from rotting teeth. Relative social position couldn’t fix this, because wealth could not buy a fix or prevention. The infrastructure of habit, technology, and palliatives we have today simply didn’t exist. Greater social equality didn’t fix this; rising average wealth levels – which funded the technology and palliatives – did.

    Fixating on the hedonic treadmill as a problem leads to bad results, because the policy prescriptions that follow from it suppress wealth creation. In doing so, they interfere with the processes that lead to actual improvements in the human condition.

  240. I’m not sure how to read this essay, because I’m not clear on what *you* have in mind when you say “intellectual” or “intelligentsia”. According to either the dictionary definition or common usage, *you* (ESR) are clearly an intellectual, but you don’t seem to include yourself in that group.

    I’m not trying to argue nomenclature here. However you want to define “intellectual” for the purposes of you essay is fine; I just want to be clear on what that is.

  241. >However you want to define “intellectual” for the purposes of you essay is fine; I just want to be clear on what that is.

    For purposes of that essay, my definition isn’t relevant. The definitions used by anti-intellectuals are.

    I think that, properly and narrowly speaking, an “intellectual” is one who delights in ideas and knowledge for their own sake, and believes ideas can change the world, and believes he or she has a duty to use his or her thinking capacity to help build civilization.

    But my definition is not at all relevant to a totalizer or a thalamic, and probably not relevant to a traditionalist either. After I’ve given it, you don’t know anything more about the social phenomenon I was describing than you did before.

  242. @ESR

    As for rotting teeth, I still think you are pursuing a wrong angle of attack, because these things are obviously subject to decreasing marginal utility and after all the basic necessities (as in, pure simple biological, nerve-level pain and discomfort) are taken care of, it is not wrong to assume people are focusing on relative status games – it is such a ubitquitous aspect of human nature. Even in early copper age archeological finds some corpses have copper jewelry while some other corpses don’t even have copper axes, only stone. Status always played an imporant role. I think you should rather focus on the fact that reducing wealth inequality takes increasing power inequality / power distance / less freedom, it is more fruitful and to the point.

  243. TomM Says:
    > The examples of negative consequences you cite are of course peculiar to the US of America. Other jurisdictions have less bad laws.

    In other jurisdictions, for example Britain, it is even more dangerous to speak of bad laws than in the US. When debating Swedes on the internet, I was unsurprised to discover that I knew more about Sweden than they did.

    Consder the recent Kelo case. Everyone around the world was puzzled that Americans were complaining about the state seizing private property to benefit a giant politically connected corporations. The leftists on KOS were outraged by this crazy extreme right wing complaint. Giant corporations only receive benefits from the government when wise regulators make them do what is good for people. What, they wondered was the problem? Europeans know so much better. In due course we once again saw that property coercively transferred, is always transferred from the more valued use to the less valued use. The area seized by Kelo is abandoned and becomes a trash dump. When Americans point that out, the good progressives in the rest of the world say “ah, that would never happen here”. No, the abandoned trash ridden real estate in European cities is abandoned by evil private enterprise, not as a result of government seizure, so they say – and if anyone says different, he will never have a job again so long as he lives.

  244. TomM Says:
    > If a government has a function other than making, administering or enforcing laws I haven’t seen it.

    The primary activity of government is take wealth from some people and give it to others. This gets worse in democracy, because the beneficiaries tend to be large voting blocks.

    The secondary activity of government is to put some people above the law, to enable some people to commit what would be crimes if an ordinary person did them, as for example in the recent MF Global case.

    As for enforcing laws, if some one burgles you, and you don’t catch him, what will the police do. If some shoplifts from Walmart, who arrests him? Police or Walmart security?

  245. esr Says:
    > This is me bending over backwards to be fair. James A Donald is a loathsome race-baiter of the “white nationalist” stripe

    Liar.

    > nearly inducing me to ban for the content of a commenter’s ideas

    What provoked you was losing the argument: Rather than continuing cast pearls before swine, I recapitulated and summarized my argument that so enraged you on my blog as Fun hate fact about the bell curve

    My argument is not white nationalism, but a fact about mathematics applied to normally distributed characteristics of human groups. You found maths applied to humans disturbing.

    It follows from the mathematics of the normal distribution that in certain very common situations it is possible to draw conclusions about individual cases, to infer a particular person’s character and or ability from his race or sex, and to infer a particular individual’s race or sex from his ability or character, to draw conclusions about particular identifiable people from average racial characteristics.

  246. @ James A Donald
    > The primary activity …

    In other words you don’t like paying tax.

    > The secondary activity …

    And you’re a little paranoid.

    > As for enforcing laws …

    Are you suggesting that the State doesn’t prosecute burglars or shoplifters?

  247. >My argument is not white nationalism, but a fact about mathematics applied to normally distributed characteristics of human groups. You found maths applied to humans disturbing.

    I’ve never seen that argument before. Had I seen it, here’s how – as a mathematically literate person – I would have responded.

    Your point about hyperexponential decay is valid in mathematical principle. In practice, however, you have to smuggle in your desired conclusion by equivocating at what sort of sample sizes the effect becomes conclusive. When you say “If there are a thousand blacks in the university, there is going to be some overlap. If there are six blacks in the class, probably not.” you are pointing directly at the problem. There is no principled way for you to know before performing a test (were these essays plagiarized or not?) what the probability of a non-overlapping result will be, much less when it approaches 1.

    If you had a principled theory, you would be able to pin down a threshold number N between 6 and 1000 and show why we can expect exponential-falloff behavior above it but not below. You can’t do that. Pretending that you can, or handwaving away the methodological problem, is an abuse of statistical methods.

    To give you your due, you do correctly explain why we get results like “a class of fifty students, six of them are black. None of the white essays are plagiarized, all of the black essays are plagiarized.” from affirmative-action policies that we intuitively don’t think ought to produce such a sharp result. I don’t disagree with you there. But you remain unable to confidently predict the behavior of individuals without prior knowledge that you do not – and probably cannot – have.

    Want to refute me? Then tell me how you compute N.

    In the mean time, I remain deeply suspicious of your motives, and in particular that you are motivated by race hatred rather than in any interest in the truth of the matter.

  248. >Are you suggesting that the State doesn’t prosecute burglars or shoplifters?

    No, he’s pointing out that the probability that the State will prosecute your burglar or shoplifter is proportional to your wealth and political connections. Also inversely proportional to the crime rate where you live.

    The bitter joke is that statists pretend these things aren’t true, then slam libertarians for supposedly wanting justice to be available only to the rich. And then wonder why we think statists are crazy.

  249. > There is no principled way for you to know before performing a test (were these essays plagiarized or not?) what the probability of a non-overlapping result will be, much less when it approaches 1.

    The probability is substantially less than one, but it is still a reasonably good probability.

    There were fifty people in the class, five blacks, obviously the blacks were affirmative actioned into the class to have the same ratio in the class as in the general population.

    Assume that for white people, entrance qualification for the class is ability to do the work. So, if selection reasonably efficient, every white person plausibly believes he can do the work, therefore chances are no white person plagiarizes.

    Entrance qualification for blacks necessarily lower. Assume class entrance requirement one and a half standard deviations above norm, therefore black entrance requirement one and half deviations above black norm, about half a standard deviation above white norm, one standard deviation below ability to the work, one standard deviation below white members of the class.

    Chances are that all of the whites will be able to do the work, and none of the blacks.

    Granted, there is a significant probability that one of the blacks will attempt the work – we might have 45 whites turning in an honest essay, one black turning in an honest essay, and four blacks turning in essays blatantly copied from the internet – but that is not the way to bet.

    Of course I loaded the dice by assuming that the class entry requirements were one and half standard deviations above white norm. With a less elite class, you would get less “racist” numbers. With a less elite class, chances are still that all the plaigarists are black, but chances will be that not all the blacks will plagiarists.

    Probability of overlap

  250. >Of course I loaded the dice by assuming that the class entry requirements were one and half standard deviations above white norm. With a less elite class, you would get less “racist” numbers. With a less elite class, chances are still that all the plaigarists are black, but chances will be that not all the blacks will plagiarists.

    And that’s exactly the problem. Your model is qualitatively correct but underconstrained – you can’t make predictions about individuals, because you don’t know a priori how much the dice need to be loaded before exponential-decay effects will dominate. The best you can do is an a posteriori explanation of “all the plagiarists were black” that explains why we shouldn’t be as surprised by this as we think we should be (whew!).

    You are, however, successfully raising the probability of the hypothesis “James A Donald is honestly wrong” relative to the hypothesis “James A Donald is evil scum”. Progress of a sort.

  251. @Andy Freeman

    Oh, Andy. I’m so disappointed in you. You are making your utmost to paint me a lunatic. Making questions when the answers are already clear. Being the beginning and the end of multiexpertise. And then curiously mysterious about your criticisms so that whatever I say can be taken as a) already dealt with or b) totally out of context. It is quite difficult to reason with you when all of the above is taken into consideration.

    I see it now that there _is_ _no_ reason to reason with you (although, I already knew that from reading you here).

    I leave you to proclaim yourself a winner and making your case against your internet “enemies”.

    Nevertheless, all the best!

  252. It’s interesting to read this article right now, because I had a lengthy argument over the holidays with some friends about a letter I wrote describing myself as an “anti-intellectual”, and I tried to convey much of the same parsing of species that you did above (although, I believe your language was more efficient; particularly that of “totalizing anti-intellectualism”, which I will use from now on).

    I think the real schism may have start even earlier, at the dawn of the Age of Reason and its discontents among the Romanticists who – for all their blurry, drunken, opiate-induced illusions about human nature – might have had a bit of a point about the dangers to come from “soft” scientists who wished to usurp the poets as teachers of the human condition (Frankenstein leaps to mind as an example).

    In any case, Schopenhauer eventually begat Nietzsche, and Freud begat Heidegger, and Heidegger begat loony bastards like De Man and Derrida, and the whole world plummeted into the postmodern idiocy that turned “art and literature” into “such a depressing wasteland” and made fascism so broadly popular these days (as long as you don’t call it “fascism” in the same way that Derrida didn’t call his theory “destructionism.” That would be bad for business.).

  253. >I tried to convey much of the same parsing of species that you did above

    Hm. Have you by any chance got a more concise term for what I called “epistemic skeptics”? I didn’t want to say “libertarians” because it’s not the same category, just a closely correlated one.

  254. > Hm. Have you by any chance got a more concise term for what I called “epistemic skeptics”?

    Actually, an old corroded artery of my mind keeps begging me to call it “anti-bullshit-ism”, but I know it’s not descriptive enough. I think it is closely tied to Orwell’s complaint, though, and to the constant language generation of Academia. The sophists gain the dame traction now that they did during the decline of Rome, I think. Add a few syllables, and you’ve become an “intellectual” worthy of serving in the Praetorian guard.

  255. How about this Bertrand Russel quote?: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

  256. Pingback: Towards a model of anti-intellectualism | The Thinker

  257. And that’s exactly the problem. Your model is qualitatively correct but underconstrained – you can’t make predictions about individuals

    Statistical calculations produce statistical results. His model can make probabilistic predictions about individuals, but the probabilities will be neither 0 nor 1.

    To me, making factually correct statistical statements about race is not racist, but reasoning from those statements to form conclusions about individuals based on race, without gathering any other information, is racist.

    But by many people’s definitions, I am a racist, because I don’t reject out of hand those statistical statements.

    Now, here’s the tricky bit. By refusing to even think about the arguments James A Donald is making, policy-makers produce an environment in which the people who do gather that individual information come to the conclusion that the womyn and ethnic minorities (other than East Asians and Ashkenazim) in the program are, as a group, significantly less qualified to be in the program as the WHAMs. That some of them go on to generalize their experience to represent all people of those demographic divisions is regrettable, but entirely predictable.

  258. TomM said:
    > Argh, the zoning laws! Always getting in the way of people’s rights to be selfish dicks!

    I’m sure many of a particular stripe would characterize my grandfather as a ‘selfish dick’ for wishing to spend his reminaing days in the house he built on the land owned and farmed by his parents. But not to worry, the story has a happy proletarian ending; the land was rezoned as commercial, my grandparents were unable to pay the resulting $40k / year property taxes, and were forced to sell the land and home so that it could be replaced by a convenience store parking lot.

    LS said:
    > Always? Because outcomes are sometimes bad (small minority) we should get rid of all laws, and ignore the good that they do?

    As long as we’re playing excluded middle, I’ll ask if we should keep adding law after law, without regard to whether they actualy result in a net good or net ill? Even if the answer is yes, how is “net” calculated, and who gets to decide? Obviously in my grandparents’ case the “net” benefit to the community was a positive one, so who cares if some individuals’ property rights were played with a bit loosely, after all. They obvious answer is that they were just one couple, “it’s for the good of society”, “laws do more good than harm”, but for my money anyway one of the questions this thread raises is who gets to decide.

  259. > > Because Ghod knows that zoning laws are always used for good. Just like eminent domain.”

    > Always? Because outcomes are sometimes bad (small minority) we should get rid of all laws, and ignore the good that they do?

    How do you know that only a small minority is bad? I’d argue that the vast majority is neutral to bad and the overall effect is possibly bad.

  260. ESR:
    > But it is at least interesting that I have no trouble getting anyone to take me seriously as an
    > intellectual despite lacking a sheepskin. It suggests that we haven’t completely succumbed to
    > credentialitis.

    Did you test that before writing your books? “Published non-fiction author” is a intellectual credential up there with the PhD.

  261. @ESR

    Back to the older topic, if Americans have a healthy skepticism for academic authority, why don’t they have the same thing for medical authority?

    I am really tired of the “go see a doctor” “go see a therapist” mantra on Reddit if you ask questions of a medical or psychological kind – the very reason I ask questions of this type is that my Google-Fu provided me with hypotheses my doc cannot verify nor falsify – he is all too dependent on what he learned at the uni 20 years ago – and looking for other, read, newer opinions.

    IMHO the “the doc / therapist knows everything, go ask him” attitude is at some level really authoritarian / “un-American”, yet Americans on Reddit and other forums say this all the time. Why?

    It is really weird to think that you are entitled to your (hopefully informed) opinion regarding AGW but should never attempt to diagnose your own problems…

  262. @Shenpen:

    It is really weird to think that you are entitled to your (hopefully informed) opinion regarding AGW but should never attempt to diagnose your own problems…

    Not really that weird. No matter which side of the AGW debate I come down on, I can’t directly do anything about it. But if I dispense bad medical advice and you act on it, I might feel responsible.

    But I feel for you — if I relied on doctors’ diagnostic skills, I’d be dead by now (from appendicitis, for a start).

  263. >Did you test that before writing your books?

    Yes.

    I think I passed the bar because my normal production vocabulary is quite large. It leads people to assume that I have a graduate degree (until I tell them I don’t even have a bachelor’s), and that I should be classed as an intellectual.

  264. esr writes: “But it is at least interesting that I have no trouble getting anyone to take me seriously as an intellectual despite lacking a sheepskin. It suggests that we haven’t completely succumbed to credentialitis.

    Sadly, the number of fields in which this is true seems to be shrinking.

  265. Shenpen, Reddit is not representative of America, being, on average, far younger and more collectivist than the norm. But a good part of that is just general internet etiquette. You’re asking the Wisdom of Crowds (morons, trolls and all) for advice in a highly technical field. You’re getting told to go see a doctor for the same reason the top comment on every “I just found out my wife was cheating!” post is “Go to a lawyer, now.” Between details about your personal life, trolls, and odd vagaries of the hivemind effect, 99 times out of a hundred a trained professional will be more helpful (and less likely to harm) than a random smattering of a vast internet community.

    Did you ever try a more specific, medical self-help subreddit (if there is such a thing)?

  266. “How do you know that only a small minority is bad? I’d argue that the vast majority is neutral to bad and the overall effect is possibly bad.”

    The people in my village I have talked to on the subject fall into two groups:

    1. Those who are well satisfied with the state of our zoning laws.

    2. Those who feel that the existing zoning laws need to be tightened.

    Vox populi, vox Dei

  267. (Re-submitted, the first submission seems to have omitted the quoted passage)

    I am a long time reader, negligibly frequent commenter on this blog. Once in a while, I post to Facebook a link to a particularly interesting (to me) entries from this blog. In that regard, something funny happened today, which I would like to relate. Please pardon any excess verbosity, brevity is not my strong suit.

    One of my FB “friends” is (or, I should say, was) someone who has thousands of them, he solicits and collects them in order to spread his influence, I guess. He certainly fits in the category of an elitist self-proclaimed intellectual who enjoys nothing more, it seems, then proclaiming how ignorant and stupid and sheep-like most people are. He is also very intolerant of opposing viewpoints and I have often witnessed him making a show of self-righteously de-friending people (oh, the horror) for expressing a dissenting, “evil” view. Some of his posts are interesting scientifically/technically and/or amusing, so I’ve stayed connected (until now).

    Anyway, today he posted a picture of Isaac Asimov captioned by some quote de-crying anti-intellectualism. As a comment I posted a link to this blog entry (without any additional comment of my own). And waited….but only a few minutes. One of his frequent sycophantic commenters (who is perhaps even the same person under a different FB identity, at least I’ve suspected that at times) posted the following response:

    *******
    “Michael Mansberg, the article you posted suffer from severe defects:

    1- It puts in the same bag scientific intellectuals like serious theoretical physicists or theoretical evolutionists
    together with ideological fabricators of pseudo-concepts and mental masturbators who see themselves as “intellectuals”.

    2- It over-elaborates about types of anti-intellectualism.

    3- It almost totally lacks the perspective and the explanatory background of genetic and memetic evolutionary forces.

    4- It subtly and indistinctly demonizes intellectuals as whole and depicts ALL of them as “dystopia-doers” without providing any solid evidence or convincing arguments for it.

    5- The main policy of EF’s page is to avoid the propagation of misinformation and misconcepts and, as such, your comment was removed. And, please, do not post again any other comment heavily stuffed with fabricated concepts that lack solid scientific knowledge.”
    ******

    In response to this I posted the following one word comment: “sigh”.

    A minute later I found that I had been de-friended (oh, the horror), and blocked, so I can no longer even view his wall. Apparently he found your views unbearably provocative and subversive! I think if this guy had any real power, he might be dangerous in a Pol Pot sort of way.

    For what its worth, the person in question (the owner of the FB account) is the person who owns this web site:
    http://www.filippidis.org/

  268. “For what its worth, the person in question (the owner of the FB account) is the person who owns this web site: http://www.filippidis.org/

    Hey! Another reason to hate intellectuals – they are atrociously bad web designers! Is that number six or seven?

  269. >For what its worth, the person in question (the owner of the FB account) is the person who owns this web site: http://www.filippidis.org/

    That front page says, very loudly “I crave the status of Serious Thinker”. Usually, though not always, such display signifies someone whose aspirations exceed their capability.

  270. Pingback: Ineffectual intellectual « Huck Online

  271. Mansberg, you appear better off without that load of fatuousness among your “friends”.

  272. Pingback: Anti-Intellectualism « 36 Chambers – The Legendary Journeys: Execution to the max!

  273. If you don’t want a smart, educated person for leader who do you want?

    I for one, don’t want a leader. Leaders have a nasty habit of perpetrating vicious crimes on industrial scales.

  274. If a government has a function other than making, administering or enforcing laws I haven’t seen it.

    Oh, you haven’t noticed the habit governments have of murdering and looting?

  275. > Oh, you haven’t noticed the habit governments have of murdering and looting?

    The murdering is vastly mitigated if the populace is armed. Not sure about the looting.

    Yours,
    Tom

  276. his apparently willful self-transformation from a pretty good economist into a repellent species of political hack.

    I’ve seen no evidence that he was ever a “pretty good economist”. He got the prize ostensibly for some work he did on analyzing patterns of international trade, but he’s clearly failed to grasp even the fundamentals of money, debt, inflation, the business cycle, and the fact that there are laws of economics which can’t be overcome by force or wishful thinking.

  277. Off-topic, but here is a similar list for why many people resist freedom. From the novel, A Lodging of Wayfaring Men, by Paul Rosenberg (pages 155-7). If you haven’t read it, you should.

    1. Fear of responsibility. Freedom is threatening because it eliminates the possibility of shifting responsibility for your errors onto others. Freedom puts you right out in the open, with no cloak for your mistakes. It also gives you full credit for your successes, but that is seldom considered, as the fear-based impulses are generally stronger.

    2. Fear of separation. For a variety of reasons, most people have an instinctual fear of being separate. The feeling is that separation means death. This may be true in some rare situations, and was certainly true in the distant past, but it is an impulse only, not reason.

    3. Rulership as a force of nature. For the last several thousand years, nearly all humans have lived and died under some form of rulership. So many generations have come and gone under this arrangement that it now seems to most people as a force of nature: That which was, is, and shall be. When you mention something different, it causes them mental stress.

    4. No mental image. Because none of us have ever lived in any situation except subjection to state power, we have no mental images of anything different. So, when we start talking about a truly free place with no rulers, the listeners have no images to draw upon. It seems like we are proposing a pointless journey into an unknown and dangerous place. Again, this is a feeling, not reasoned thought.

    5. Group conditioning. A central fact of modern social behavior is that almost the entire populace has gone through 11-17 years of social conditioning in the school systems. This conditioning shows up in a variety of ways, especially in dealing with authority figures. The conditioned responses are: Obey authority. Don’t cause a disruption. Accept the place given to you. Conform. The real effect here is the installing of comfort reactions and discomfort-reactions. Our system flies in the face of almost all of this.

    6. Lack of critical thinking skills. For a variety of reasons (which I have not spent the time necessary to properly catalog), the 20th Century saw a mass movement away from reason and toward a devotion to emotion. ave you ever tried to reason with someone who lives by emotion? It is essentially impossible. These people can be influenced by getting them to identify with characters from movies and television, or with celebrities, but seldom by reason. Most people aren’t fully that way, but modern critical thinking skills are disastrous, and a great many people distrust reason, with full faith in emotion. Many of them are beyond hope of recovery.

    7. Cognitive dissonance. This is what happens to people when they have accepted an idea, or series of complimentary ideas, then, an obviously different idea is presented, and it makes some sort of sense to them. It causes a conflict. This is properly called cognitive dissonance. People don’t do well with these conflicts; their general reaction is to eliminate them as quickly as possible. The easiest way to do this is to simply drown them out by reciting their original ideas and trying not to think about the new idea. Yes, this is dishonest, and yes, it requires denial, but most people prefer it to critical analysis of their existing ideas, and, potentially, changing their minds. Combine this with all the other items shown here, and the conflicts arising from taking on a difficult new idea are too much for many people to bear.

    8. Fear of reprisal. This is the simplest one. Think of an IRS audit, an FBI raid, or of Stalin. Obviously the rulers won’t like our free markets. It is not unreasonable to expect that they will take reprisals against people who displease them. A very reasonable concern.

    9. Fear of the world falling apart. The central myth of the nation-state is that it is necessary to hold civilization together; that without it, we would all degenerate quickly into killers and thieves. This has been repeated so frequently and so consistently that most people accept it as fact, even though if asked to provide evidence, they have none. Actual analysis of this idea leads to a contrary conclusion, but that does not stop the impulse of fear. Very few people have ever questioned the nation-state myth at all.

  278. Note that in the previous comment, everything except the first paragraph is a quote; I didn’t use blockquote tags because of the comment’s length and the way blockquoting narrows the text column.

  279. Another passage from “Lodging” that you will probably appreciate is:

    He had written an article some years before on the need of warriors that was very well received. This was in the long wake of the Vietnam War, when Phillip had objected that people who were willing to risk their lives to save others were treated as evil. One particular passage from the article made him many friends:

    “There may come a time in your life when you’d give everything you own for a good soldier to be at your side. You can discount that now only because of its distance. I pray that you never see that time. I pray even more that you may understand the value of a soldier with honor.”

    My problem with that is the same one Zelman and Smith pointed out about the police in their novel Hope; “it all depends on the man”, and you won’t know whether the one you’re dealing with is honorable or not until it is too late.

  280. The author wrote:

    “Finally, we have what I’ll call the thalamic
    anti-intellectual. The thalamic anti-
    intellectual’s opposition is not ideological
    but personal and gut-level. There can be
    many reasons for this, but one that will stand
    for all is that intellectuals make him feel
    inferior and personally threatened.”

    I disagree.

    I wanted to provide an alternative explanation.

    I would posit that a Thalamic Anti-Intellectual is not merely doubling the anti-intellectualim of those who distrust intelligensia, who dislike intellectuals in caricature. They may or may not even feel threatened. That’s not it. It is much more likely that a Thalamic Anti-Intellectual distrusts logic wholesale, and that would include from themselves most of all. Yes, they would be a misologist. They really believe that they do and should “know in their heart” anything that is “true”. They TRUST their gut. They don’t have a sense of faith in details. It’s their type that allowed a sentiment “the devil is in the details” to become a popular saying/notion. They literally feel that way. That there is an inherent arbitrariness about “facts”. Facts represented by words being so much semantics. They are forever trying to “prove” what they “know” is “true”. They may very well try to impose this opinion on you.

    Which brings me to echo another idea mentioned by another poster. Intellectuals no more “think they are better” than anyone else thinks they are better. Everyone, to some greater or lesser degree believes that their opinion is right. Even anti-intellectuals are not immune to the delusion that “they have the answer”. That is a serious fatal lozenge inside of us all. Be mindful.

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