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Long Read of the Week: IYI — The Intellectual Yet Idiot  by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

What we have been seeing worldwide, from India to the UK to the US, is the rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking “clerks” and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, 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 5) who to vote for.

But the problem is the one-eyed following the blind: these self-described members of the “intelligentsia” can’t find a coconut in Coconut Island, meaning they aren’t intelligent enough to define intelligence hence fall into circularities — but their main skill is capacity to pass exams written by people like them. With psychology papers replicating less than 40%, dietary advice reversing after 30 years of fatphobia, macroeconomic analysis working worse than astrology, the appointment of Bernanke who was less than clueless of the risks, and pharmaceutical trials replicating at best only 1/3 of the time, people are perfectly entitled to rely on their own ancestral instinct and listen to their grandmothers (or Montaigne and such filtered classical knowledge) with a better track record than these policymaking goons.

Indeed 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. (For instance it is trivial to show the following: much of what the Cass-Sunstein-Richard Thaler types — those who want to “nudge” us into some behavior — much of what they would classify as “rational” or “irrational” (or some such categories indicating deviation from a desired or prescribed protocol) comes from their misunderstanding of probability theory and cosmetic use of first-order models.) They are also prone to mistake the ensemble for the linear aggregation of its components as we saw in the chapter extending the minority rule.

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. Why? Simply, in most countries, the government’s role is between five and ten times what it was a century ago (expressed in percentage of GDP). 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.

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

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”. What we generally call participation in the political process, he calls by two distinct designations: “democracy” when it fits the IYI, and “populism” when the plebeians dare voting in a way that contradicts his preferences. While rich people believe in one tax dollar one vote, more humanistic ones in one man one vote, Monsanto in one lobbyist one vote, the IYI believes in one Ivy League degree one-vote, with some equivalence for foreign elite schools and PhDs as these are needed in the club.

RTWT: AT The Intellectual Yet Idiot – INCERTO – Medium

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  • AbigailAdams July 17, 2017, 3:59 AM

    I’ve been listening to several of the speeches done recently at organizations and schools by Newt Gingrich (explaining the Trump phenom) and he cites this writer and the idea of IYI frequently. Common sense is accumulated through experiencing the physical world and interacting with it. I often worry about this current generation who are tethered to their phones and social media. They are living in an almost hermetically sealed universe. Boys don’t know how to change a tire or jump start a car. Girls don’t know how to peel a potato or wash a load of clothes. But both can get the best deal on an unlocked phone on Craigslist.

  • ahem July 17, 2017, 6:52 AM

    Several years ago, I represented IBM to the faculty of Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. With the exception of one 70 year-old prof who probably invented the first protocol for the first 300 baud modem–she was sharp—I found them invariably insular, socially inept, naive and thick enough to boggle the mind outside the area of their expertise (and I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt). They just did not act like average people–it was as if some vital nerve pathways controlling their social behavior had been cut—and I hated having to work that account.

  • Bram July 17, 2017, 8:37 AM

    Read Thomas Sowell’s “Intellectuals and Society” for the really long version.

  • Vanderleun July 17, 2017, 9:10 AM

    Exactly so, Bram.

  • ed in texas July 18, 2017, 4:49 PM

    The whole piece is delightful and amusing, but I particularly liked the tail:
    “Publications banned from republishing my work without explicit written permission: Huffington Post (all languages).”