September 26th, 2016


Who ever told you that you were smart? Or an elite? Or an authority?

I've been sitting on this draft, and might as well let rip now. I'm feeling pretty good (meaning physically) for the moment, which I find a better time to rant than when I'm in pain. [as I just want to swear at everybody, which is not the most persuasive of methods]

What originally kicked off this rant was seeing this post by one of my many one-sided nemeses (meaning, I have a grudge against them, and they have no idea this "relationship" exists) Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The Intellectual Yet Idiot. Here's an excerpt:

More socially, the IYI subscribes to The New Yorker. He never curses on twitter. He speaks of “equality of races” and “economic equality” but never went out drinking with a minority cab driver. Those in the U.K. have been taken for a ride by Tony Blair. The modern IYI has attended more than one TEDx talks in person or watched more than two TED talks on Youtube. Not only will he vote for Hillary Monsanto-Malmaison because she seems electable and some other such circular reasoning, but holds that anyone who doesn’t do so is mentally ill.
The IYI is member of a club to get traveling privileges; if social scientist he uses statistics without knowing how they are derived (like Steven Pinker and psycholophasters in general); when in the UK, he goes to literary festivals; he drinks red wine with steak (never white); he used to believe that fat was harmful and has now completely reversed; he takes statins because his doctor told him to do so; he fails to understand ergodicity and when explained to him, he forgets about it soon later; he doesn’t use Yiddish words even when talking business; he studies grammar before speaking a language; he has a cousin who worked with someone who knows the Queen; he has never read Frederic Dard, Libanius Antiochus, Michael Oakeshot, John Gray, Amianus Marcellinus, Ibn Battuta, Saadiah Gaon, or Joseph De Maistre; he has never gotten drunk with Russians; he never drank to the point when one starts breaking glasses (or, preferably, chairs); he doesn’t know the difference between Hecate and Hecuba; he doesn’t know that there is no difference between “pseudointellectual” and “intellectual” in the absence of skin in the game; has mentioned quantum mechanics at least twice in the past five years in conversations that had nothing to do with physics.

He knows at any point in time what his words or actions are doing to his reputation.

Wow, Taleb is as incoherent as me when blogging. I've read others of his posts. Yes, they all come off this oddly. I guess he really is heavily edited in his books.

But here's his point -- we're often heard that the U.S. is anti-intellectual. What it definitely is is anti-ignorant-people-posing-as-experts. You know, "intellectuals". It's a pose. I'm not saying these people are stupid [though some are... looking at you Matt Yglesias], just that these people don't know much of anything to depth and/or breadth. Or, if they do know such things, they are expounding on areas outside of that expertise. I really don't want to hear a mathematician's concept of politics as it should be, for example.

Obviously, having been in math grad school at one point, I definitely got to hear that.

But in many cases, I see some intellectual lazybones pretending they're super-smart because they went to the right schools, have the right opinions, tweet the right things, block the right people, etc. I mean, if you're going to act superior, you need to actually have something behind it, or people who are not part of your circle will actually treat you with contempt.

This takes me back to my old post: Charles Murray response: teaching wisdom

Here are some important lessons, some of which are explicitly noted by Murray:
1. Smart people did nothing to merit their intelligence
2. Being smart does not mean you're better than other people
3. One needs to have some humility over one's intellectual abilities
4. One needs to appreciate the work done by others
5. To excel in anything you have to work really hard

Maybe this is a subset of #5 and #3, and perhaps Murray didn't address it, but I've got a new point:

#6: Being smart isn't the same as knowing anything useful or correct.

I've met so many highly-educated idiots, I really have to wonder.

And looking up Matt Yglesias, I see he has the right connections, etc. Too bad nobody told him that it helps looking things up when you don't actually know anything about a subject. You would think they'd have told them that in Dalton, because obviously the philosophy department at Harvard didn't help. If you want a sampling of MattY's many flubs, this is a good place to start. Most of MattY's stupid stuff is political, but the one I linked isn't. Here's another.

I don't want to pick on him in particular (but it's so much =fun=). There's all sorts of examples once you start looking for them. Especially at Vox (what was it about B players hiring C players?)

Anyway, I get a bit tired hearing about "anti-intellectualism" when the sorts of intellectuals being served up are the likes of Vox-splainers. Even not-so-smart people can recognize bullshitters.

It's amazing what one can produce when one never has to worry about checking facts.