Intellectual idiots

Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes about the Intellectual Yet Idiot in his book “Skin in the Game.” He defines them at length in a satirical, revealing way. An “inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking ‘clerks’ and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy League…or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think…and 4) who to vote for.”

These self-described members of the “intelligentsia” can’t find a coconut in Coconut Island, writes Taleb. They aren’t smart enough to even define intelligence “hence they fall into circularities.” Their “main skill is capacity to pass exams written by people like them.”

“Indeed,” Taleb observes, “one can see that these academico-bureaucrats who feel entitled to run our lives aren’t even rigorous, whether in medical statistics or policymaking. They can’t tell science from scientism—in fact in their image-oriented minds scientism looks more scientific than real science.”

Here Taleb cites a rather obscure example. I’ve cited one I think appropriate and understandable to most Americans. (Link below)  A case has been made that the IYI are the people who drive the politics of “climate change.”

“The Intellectual Yet Idiot is a production of modernity hence has been accelerating since the mid-twentieth century, to reach its local supremum today, along with the broad category of people without skin-in-the-game who have been invading many walks of life…The IYI seems ubiquitous in our lives but is still a small minority and is rarely seen outside specialized outlets, think tanks, the media, and universities—most people have proper jobs and there are not many openings for the IYI.”

I suggest here that many pseudo-educated people—mistaking schooling for education—fancy being “intellectuals” thus presuming to offer their advice and demands to the rest of us with arrogant assurance they are right. This group expands the small pool described by Taleb. Many of them incline toward violence if they don’t get their way—useful idiots to the intellectuals .

Taleb continues, “The IYI pathologizes others for doing things he doesn’t understand without ever realizing it is his understanding that may be limited. He thinks people should act according to their best interests and he knows their interests, particularly if they are ‘red necks’ or English non-crisp-vowel class who voted for Brexit. When plebeians do something that makes sense to them, but not to him, the IYI uses the term ‘uneducated.’

“Beware the semi-erudite who thinks he is erudite. He fails to naturally detect sophistry.”

Most important, Taleb notes, the Intellectual Yet Idiot “has been wrong, historically (on just about everything). But he is convinced that his current position is right.”



About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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