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Part of the problem is that the American distrust of intellectualism is itself not the irrational thing that those sympathetic to intellectuals would like to think. Intellectuals killed by the millions in the 20th century, and it actually takes the sophisticated training of "education" to work yourself up into a state where you refuse to count that in the books. Intellectuals routinely declared things that aren't true; catastrophically wrong predictions about the economy, catastrophically wrong pronouncements about foreign policy, and just generally numerous times where they've been wrong. Again, it takes a lot of training to ignore this fact. "Scientists" collectively were witnessed by the public flipflopping at a relatively high frequency on numerous topics; how many times did eggs go back and forth between being deadly and beneficial? Sure the media gets some blame here but the scientists played into it, each time confidently pronouncing that this time they had it for sure and it is imperative that everyone live the way they are saying (until tomorrow). Scientists have failed to resist politicization across the board, and the standards of what constitutes science continues to shift from a living, vibrant, thoughtful understanding of the purposes and ways of science to a scelerotic hide-bound form-over-substance version of science where papers are too often written to either explicitly attract grants or to confirm someone's political beliefs... and regardless of whether this is 2% or 80% of the papers written today it's nearly 100% of the papers that people hear about.

I simplify for rhetorical effect; my point is not that this is a literal description of the current state of the world but that it is far more true than it should be. Any accounting of "anti-intellectualism" that fails to take this into account and lays all the blame on "Americans" is too incomplete to formulate an action plan that will have any chance of success. It's not a one-sided problem.

If you want to fix anti-intellectualism, you first need to fix intellectualism and return it to its roots of dispassionate exploration, commitment to truth over all else and bending processes to find truth rather than bending truth to fit (politicized) processes, and return to great, foundational humility that even the press could not overplay into hubris. And they need to drop their blinders whereby they excuse away the damage that intellectuals have done while ignoring these ancient precepts and only crediting themselves their successes, because it cuts themselves off from the very object lessons that could help them return to this time-tested approach to science, which they still flatter themselves that they follow. If you fail to fix the intellectuals first, then all your effort to fix "Americans" is going to fail; you'll bend your efforts towards getting them to look at intellectuals seriously, but they'll end up coming to the same conclusions they already have about the value of intellectuals and you'll have wasted your shot.

I'm not holding my breath.




Its not so much that mistaken intellectuals declare things that aren't true, but that those incapable of thinking for themselves use the power of government to impose these ideas on the rest of us that is the problem.

For example, Keynesian economic theory. How many of its advocates can actually explain it, let alone question its precepts. This even after trillions of dollars in destruction, all because they gave up on trying to grasp it in college.


Wait a second. Maybe I need some reeducation myself here, but you're pinning the mass-murders of the 20th century on "intellectuals"? And then saying that's the explanation for the present day trend of distrust in science? (Well, that plus the egg flip-flop.) I'm not granting the premise, but even if I did, it's quite a non-sequitur.

You blame scientists for "fail[ing] to resist politicization" without mentioning that one of our major political parties and it's major financial backers hate the policy implications of some important scientific conclusions. The coal lobby, etc. have to attack science as a discipline precisely because the science is so clear. (Part of that is of course claiming that those nasty scientists are raking in the big grant $$$ as a reward for their dishonesty.)

(Re: the murdering, I think it's giving the murderers way too much credit to take whatever intellectual justifications they offer at face value. Sure Stalin claimed to be furthering the revolution or whatever, but he exterminated an awful lot of non-Russians who had traditionally resisted the central Russian state. The rise of the modern state enabled ideological mass-killing, but that just added another reason to all the other ones - ethnic, religious, colonial conquest, etc. - that predate a literate class, let alone an "intellectual" one.)


Quote: ‘(Stalin) exterminated an awful lot of non-Russians who had traditionally resisted the central Russian state’

Yes, he did but not because they were non-Russians and the Soviet Union was not a "central Russian state". Stalin’s power was centered in the power of the Communist Party that by design (and ideology) spanned all nationalities.

Quote: ‘The rise of the modern state enabled ideological mass-killing, but that just added another reason to all the other ones - ethnic, religious, colonial conquest, etc.’

Yes, exactly, "ideological mass-killing". Of course there was plenty of other killing all along but I am sure you’d agree that’s irrelevant to the thesis. I assume, of course, you were not trying to say that since people were killing each other before we should not try to understand the causes of 20th century atrocities.

So back to the obvious question:

Who developed the ideas of the ideologies that are at the root of ideological mass-killing?

Just consider your own words (and the ideas behind them). I don’t think you need reeducation. You went straight to the core, quite intuitively.


Here's the thing about the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming. It rests on the assumption that uniformitarianism (the doctrine that is the basis for the entire science of Geology) is false. It does not attempt to prove this, it merely assumes it. Much like the Young Earth Creationists.

All the CO2 currently sequestered in fossil fuels used to be part of our atmosphere. We know what the climate was like before this happened through fossils, changing sea levels, and evidence of glaciation, all recorded in the rock. The climate has followed a predictable and remarkably constant warming/cooling cycle as far back as we can reliably measure. If the sequestration of CO2 in fossil fuels had an impact, it's below our level of precision.

Could the release of CO2 make a slight difference at the margins? Sure it could. The ice age we've got coming down the pike in a few thousand years could possibly be partially mitigated. But the sackcloth, ashes, and cries of "The End is Nigh! Repent, Ye Sinners!" is stuff and nonsense.

Many of the highest profile advocates of AGW are charlatans. This has been demonstrated time and time again.

Let's take a look at the IPCC report that was so loudly praised by AGW supporters. There are any number of problems with it, but for argument's sake, we'll accept it at face value as the worst-case scenario. It concluded that over the course of several decades that the globe had warmed 0.8 degrees, and stated with 90% confidence that man's influence was responsible for (wait for it) less than one tenth of one degree. That's not a sound basis for wailing and rending of clothes.

Like it or not, CO2 is a trace gas that comprises significantly less than 0.1% of our atmosphere, and will remain so in any realistic projection. Ice cores have shown little or no correlation between CO2 and temperature. AGW proponents state that this will change soon. But this is a statement based upon faith, not one based on evidence.

Of course, I could ramble on at more length about the difficulties in finding an extremely faint signal amongst mind-boggling amounts of noise. The pretense of a precision that does not exist. The claims of knowledge that is not actually known. And the perfidy of the vocal AGW proponents. (The last one is especially fun.) But I don't think I'd be adding much by doing so. All of that is easily addressed with simple search strings.


> All the CO2 currently sequestered in fossil fuels used to be part of our atmosphere.

That's an interesting assertion. I'm not a biologist, but I suspect quite a lot of the carbon in hydrocarbons was locked into other carbon compounds before being taken up by plants and animals.

Consider: the carbonaceous compounds in the shells of mollusks do not come from C02 but from other disolved carbon compounds in the water.

You could just as easily argue that all the carbon in limestone used to be in the atmosphere.


I think you need to take another look at the connection between western intellectuals and communism. They defended it and, for decades, denied the abuses and murders committed in the Soviet Union and in communist China.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Useful_idiot


'but you're pinning the mass-murders of the 20th century on "intellectuals"?'

Intellectuals provided the impetus and moral theory for the revolutions, started the revolutions, enabled the continuation of them, and in the non-Communist countries flew active cover for them. We still have intellectuals today like Friedman who fly as much cover for murderous totalitarian regimes as they can; it hasn't even stopped. Intellectuals are yet to give up Marxism, despite what it actually does. It flatters them so, a toxic meme that can only strike the smart.

It wasn't every last person everywhere who might have called themselves an intellectual, but it sure wasn't "the common man" reading Marx and deciding to break out the pitchforks. "I am a barely literate peasant and I demand the immediate centralization of all power into the government so it can be run by the intellectual elite, create a single central bank, eliminate my religion, abolish my private property, remove my means of communication into centralized control of the state, and write glorious Five Year Plans so I can stop farming potatos!" They provided a driving force for change, but the change itself was controlled by intellectuals.

"Intellectuals" may not be solely responsible, but they weren't even remotely innocent, and it is entirely irrational to pretend that intellectual ideas not accompanied by humility and an intense effort made to discover whether those ideas are actually true before making grand pronouncements that move countries have not had massive negative impacts in our world today.

"one of our major political parties and it's major financial backers hate the policy implications of some important scientific conclusions"

I assure you Democrats are equally prone to it. If you think the Democrats have been some great boon to true science it's only because you're a Democrat yourself. As neither Republican nor Democrat, neither political party (emphasis "political") has particularly impressed me with their devotion to scientific truth. Though I will concede the Democrats have done a great deal better job pretending in the past decade, at least inasmuch as it was politically convenient.

And remember perception really matters here. You may refuse to chalk up these actions to "intellectualism" no matter what contortions you have to go through to account only good to its cause and discard the evil, but those of a "simpler, less intellectual" bent won't go through those contortions, and that's not necessarily irrational. It's no great wonder "I'm an intellectual and I'm here to give you the answer!" isn't something that makes an American drop everything to listen.

(And they have done great good, too. One Norman Borlaug can offset an awful lot. But it's not a path to an accurate picture of the intellectual history of the 20th century to take credit for Norman but dance away from, for example, Eugenics, to name just one problematic entirely-intellectual idea, and what it wrought.)


If you want to fix anti-intellectualism, you first need to fix intellectualism and return it to its roots of dispassionate exploration, commitment to truth over all else and bending processes to find truth rather than bending truth to fit (politicized) processes

Perhaps science was once like this, when it was practiced only by a monied elite at their leisure. But if science, or intellectual life broadly, is important and consequential, it necessarily will not be dispassionate.

Science is a human endeavor, practiced by humans. Scientists aren't Vulcans, and efforts to "fix" them will be as problematic as other social engineering efforts. To get the outcomes desired, one has to change the incentives; changing people doesn't work.


That's all true - but we frequently pretend that it isn't. How often do we read or see someone push themselves forward as the Voice of Dispassionate Truth, when the reality they are as much a "true believer" as any other partisan?

How often to we entrust the role of Gatekeeper to someone only to discover they've been using their position to engage in insider trading?

As long as we allow people to put themselves forth as harbingers of Truth, nothing will change.


But the "monied elite" of earlier science were human, too. So are those who determine which outcomes are desired and what incentives will achieve that. Why should the overall result of that be any better?


But what exactly is the definition of an "intellectual"? It's certainly not a synonym for "scientist". The best definition I've encountered is that an intellectual tries to find solutions to the world's problems through cogitation alone, without reference to experiment or other experience. (Think, say, Karl Marx.) In other words, an Aristotelian. But certainly not a scientist. (Of course, some people working today as "scientists" are not very scientific, but that's not exactly the same problem.)

A characteristic and illustrative Aristotlean idea is the teaching that heavy objects fall faster than light ones. People for many centuries believed Aristotle about this, probably because it seemed sensible. But "sensible" just means according to the evidence provided to us by our senses. It also, in this case, means "wrong". Many people have "sensible" ideas about modern policy issues, such as the way that taxes generate revenue, or the efficacy of gun control laws. Most of these ideas, "sensible" or not, are also wrong, some demonstrably so, others a bit more subtly. But evidence is not terribly important to an Aristotelean, or to an intellectual.


Interestingly, Galileo disproved the incorrect doctrine that, ceteris paribus, heavy objects fall faster than light ones not just with “reference to experiment or other experience” but by logically refuting Aristotle’s reasoning:-

SALVIATI: If then we take two bodies whose natural speeds are different, it is clear that, [according to Aristotle], on uniting the two, the more rapid one will be partly held back by the slower, and the slower will be somewhat hastened by the swifter. Do you not agree with me in this opinion?

SIMPLICIO: You are unquestionably right.

SALVIATI: But if this be true, and if a large stone move with a speed of, say, eight [units] while a smaller move with a speed of four, then when they are united, the system will move with a speed less than eight; but the two stones when tied together make a stone larger than that which before moved with a speed of eight. Hence the heavier body moves with less speed than the lighter; an effect which is contrary to your supposition. Thus you see how, from your assumption that the heavier body moves more rapidly than the lighter one, I infer that the heavier body moves more slowly.


"Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they're ignorant; it's just that they know so much that isn't so."

Ronald Reagan




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