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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.

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 gotten drunk with Russians; he never drank to the point when one starts breaking glasses (or, preferably, chairs); he doesn’t even know the difference between Hecate and Hecuba (which in Brooklynese is “can’t tell sh**t from shinola”); 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.

RTWT AT The Intellectual Yet Idiot – INCERTO – Medium

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Terry November 2, 2021, 11:49 AM

    This man thinks. And he thinks outside of the box. Excellent writer.

  • Gordon Scott November 2, 2021, 11:56 AM

    Well, ergodicity was not a concept I knew.
    Now I understand it, some, and have a much better concept of anti-fragility. I had understood the idea, that some things benefit from chaos. But I wasn’t able to grasp how to identify such a system. Now, I have a better idea.

    It would probably help if I read Nicholas Nassim Taleb rather than listened to the audiobooks, and had the benefit of the graphs and such.

  • James ONeil November 2, 2021, 1:00 PM

    I passed this along to my savage teenage granddaughter as her home school light reading assignment for today.

    She’ll probably read it all the way through if I tell her no practical ballistics lessons until she finishes it.

  • SoylentGreen November 2, 2021, 2:25 PM

    I had to look up 79 words.

  • Nori November 2, 2021, 7:32 PM

    Iatrogenics:Harm done by the healer.
    The AMA,CDC,NIH,etc in one word. Although it’s doubtful the members of those clubs have done much actual patient healing since they received their credentials.
    No skin in the game,indeed.

  • Mike Austin November 3, 2021, 7:46 AM

    Truly a brilliant essay. Pair this with Angelo Codevilla’s “The Ruling Class” and you have a complete summation of the type of creatures who infest every level of government, academia and media—and not just in America, but in the entire world. The ruling elites who live in New York City are much more comfortable with the ruling elites of Paris than they would be with the yokels, red necks, Bible thumpers, gun nuts, rubes, hoi polloi and non-Harvard grads who live in America.

    You see this constantly. These types have some sort of conference in some major world city. They come away from this get together and really and truly think they have a better understanding of whatever was discussed there—usually “climate change” or “world hunger” or COVID. In actuality, they met and wined and dined and spoke with people exactly like they are. Nothing was learned, only confirmed. Observe any meeting at the UN or at the World Economic Forum. Everyone agrees with each other; everyone congratulates each other; and everyone receives an award.

    As Carlin said, “It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it.”

    These international parasites are actually new to the world stage. They began to grow and mutate and metastasize right along with the growth of government around at the end of the “War to End All Wars”. This was an international phenomenon. Where 120 years ago there were any number of governments who could be called—and actually were, sort of—democracies or republics, now there are none. Government is now seen as not created to serve the people who pay for it, but rather as a mechanism to serve the elites. Every single government on planet earth is of this type.

    Government—an agreement on how men are to be ruled—is a necessary evil, unless you want to live under anarchy. If so, move to Somalia. You’ll get anarchy good and hard. Washington summed it up this way:

    “Government is not reason. Government is not eloquence. It is force. And, like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

    The larger the government, the more ability to do mischief. The larger the government, the more agencies need to be formed. The larger the government, the more workers will be need to staff them. And just what sort of folks are drawn to such dreary work? Just one example: The first thing these creatures did was to pass laws insuring they could not be fired. Nice work if you can get it, yes? How many normal men have such a guarantee?

    The dream job of this international flotsam is at the UN and its multivariate NGOs; or, if European, the EU. Their goal is a world government, of course controlled by them. So what’s stopping them? And forget about all those “protests” around the world. Nothing will come of them. So I ask again: What’s stopping them?

    Easy answer: Those Americans who are so reviled and hated by the elites are stopping them. How so? Another easy answer: Those Americans have guns. Americans and their guns will save the world—again.