Sunday, December 22, 2013

And The Word of the Day Is...

Elitist.  While both the stupid party and the evil party like to call each other elitist as an insult, the idea that a small cadre of "disinterested technocrats" could run free adults' lives better than they can run them for themselves is at the core of progressive politics (c.f.).  Progressivism, of course, has infected both parties; there is little difference between a John Boehner and a Nancy Pelosi in terms of the amount of power they want over us or the size of the government they want; there's just a bit more fiscal responsibility in the former. 

It was actually last night when brother Borepatch posted "Elitist Bemoans Declining Popularity of Elitism", a link to The Death of Expertise on Tom Nichols on The War Room blog: Nichols is all butt hurt about the world not bowing to his expertise in foreign relations.  Now don't get me wrong: we do have some people who read a few articles about something on Wikipedia, or on a blog, and think they're as qualified as someone who has studied the subject for decades, but two things always need to be kept in mind.  First, in many cases, people don't get 20 years of education, they get one year 20 times; that is, they refuse to really learn new things, things that conflict with their first year's learning (this is much easier when mistakes are academic and don't punish them in some way), or they never encounter anything but the same things they learned in year one so they don't need to learn.  Second, and more importantly, only the most arrogant, self-centered elitists would refuse to admit that the elites are quite frequently wrong about extremely important things. 

As Borepatch put it:
No, we do not question Expert Foreign Policy opinions on Russia because of spectacular failures of past Russian Policy Experts (c.f. the CIA's assessment that the USSR was the world's 3rd largest economy in 1988), it's because we don't appreciate his PhD.  No, we don't question the research from the current Academic Establishment because it has produced oddball policy recommendations regarding Global Warming and Keynesian Economics - it's because we don't even understand what a PhD means.

Oooooh kaaaaaay.
Go RTWT at Borepatch.  Only a masochist would read the whole thing at Nichols' place.

This morning, I was reading columnist John Kay on Townhall with his version of the 30 Best Quotes of 2103.  I suppose #30, sucked me in.   ("Oh, the guy who bombed Boston is on the loose in my neighborhood? Super glad I don't have an AR-15 with 30 round mags" Said nobody, ever. -- Katie Pavlich).  The one that struck me as completely full of win was #14 from Ace of Spades HQ. The setup is that some asshole named Josh Barrow asserted that a small set of elite (including himself, of course) were better fit to tell us how to live our lives because you and I are stupid. 
What is going on here is that a cadre of people who have a very narrow skill-set -- primarily law or some public policy degree which featured very little math, and that math was Math for Liberal Arts -- have decided that they can comprehend the workings of everyone else's job in America, simply because they went to a Good School.

Well, actually, most of them didn't go to a Good School (by which I mean a truly elite school like Harvard or Princeton); most of them went to lesser schools. But they have Harvard grads in their social circle, so they now count themselves as part of the club.

They do not know what they don't know.

They believe they are masters of the universe, but in fact are masters of almost nothing at all, not even the narrow range of material they studied before immediately going into a career of government work or government agitation.

They believe themselves to be transcendentally hypercompetent, a delusion that they are permitted to cling to only because they've never been in positions of actual responsibility where their decisions will result in well-defined failure or well-defined success.

Obama is of course the apotheosis of this type. He not just their high priest, but their demi-god, a half-god born upon the earth.

But they are all just like him -- sky-high on personal estimation of their capabilities, and yet scandalously short on actual accomplishments.

And these are the people who presume that they can run the world for us, and do our jobs better than us.

They can't. And I didn't even need to see crash and burn in Icarus-colored flames to know it.

How did I know that their self-esteem greatly outpaced their level of competency?

Simple: Because I've met them.
Apparently what started the exchanges on the Twitter was that said asshole tweeted, "If anything, the problem with Obamacare is that it lets too many people keep their existing health plans"!  When people started complaining that he doesn't know what's best for their situation, he responded like a true elitist, essentially saying, "Of course I know better than you.  You're stupid.  I'm better than you".  (to be clear: my quotes, not his)

You should read that

Over the years, I've read America described as anti-intellectual, that we have a strong mythos of a lone "cowboy", the entrepreneur that goes up against the experts and wins: "they said it couldn't be done" and proves them wrong.  Of course, this has happened over and over again and our country is full of products like this from the "it'll never fly" of the Wright Brothers to the "nobody needs a computer at home" of the late 1970s, and more.  Of course, sometimes the experts are right and it can't be done; we just don't hear of those.   We're not anti-intellectual, we just have that "you're not the boss of me" spirit; a spirit of finding our own way and finding what's best for us by ourselves.  It's the spirit that made our country.  I hope it's not gone.


  1. You are committing an ad hominem fallacy. Sure the guy came off as a douchebag, but his argument is independent of any asshattery on his part.

    Allow me to play devils advocate for a second...

    How many times have you had to explain to people that "free energy" is a scam? How many times have you had to explain how electricity actually works? How many times have you had to explain that battery technology is very mature and simply throwing government research money at it won't solve the electric storage issues needed to make "alternative energy" a profitable reality?

    But really, I saw this advertisement on the web that said, "Power companies HATE this!" and "Local Mom figures out free energy!" so it MUST be true! You can't put it on the internet if it isn't true!

    Then again, how many times have you had to explain to someone that the Vice President's advice of shooting a shotgun through a closed door qualifies as "criminally stupid advice"?

    This is the point where people who don't know have stupid opinions, and you spend time educating them before they can understand why they don't have a clue what they are talking about.

    1. Ignorant mistakes are one thing when one person makes them for himself, but they become rather more dangerous when one person makes them forcefully for millions. How many times has the FDA reversed itself, for instance?

    2. How many times has the FDA reversed itself, for instance? As a guess, I'd say roughly about half as often as they should have.

    3. I may have emphasized the douchebaggery too much, to get readers attention, but my main point shows that he's saying how much better he is than us, which indicates he's not willing to be taught.

      There's a line to walk in there, and I thought I was doing so when I said, Now don't get me wrong: we do have some people who read a few articles about something on Wikipedia, or on a blog, and think they're as qualified as someone who has studied the subject for decades... and proceeded to write most of a paragraph on the topic. You will never hear me say there's no place for education or degrees or 30 years experience in some field.

      I'm a staunch believer in individual rights and responsibilities, and that means people have a right to be stupid - even fatally so. The problem, again as I said in that paragraph, only the most arrogant, self-centered elitists would refuse to admit that the elites are quite frequently wrong about extremely important things. If Joey Bagadonuts is stupid and gets himself killed, it's Joey's problem. As Borepatch pointed out, all the Joey Bagadonuts(es?) who worked for the CIA overestimated the USSR's abilities quite a bit, hurting all of us. Likewise, if Joey works for the FDA and gets people killed by advising them to eat a diet that gives them diabetes, he hurts a lot more people.

      Honest people admit they might be wrong. Elitists never do.

    4. And of course each reversal represents many people injured or killed by a bad product they approved, while the number of people hurt by their failure to approve products is uncountable.

  2. I don't disagree that experts are often wrong. However experts are usually wrong for very good reasons. It should also be noted that when a chessmaster plays against a crowdsourced opponent, usually the chessmaster wins in a very short time. The book, "The wisdom of crowds" goes far to democratizing intelligence as far as "getting the right asnwer."

    I think that is more applicable to politics and software than it is to engineering or science.

    But on the flip side of that, do you really want someone with a degree in homeopathy to treat your arthritis with essential oils? I don't have to respect the opinion of someone who consistently fails to show that their "treatment" has any statistical difference than "placebo" but continues to claim efficacy.

    1. Me? Personally, no, I don't wouldn't want a homeopathic treatment for arthritis. But if someone else wants to waste their time and money on a placebo, they're welcome to. I just don't want them to waste my time and money.

      The problem is when the experts in charge say the homeopathic treatment is something I should pay for, so that someone else can get their care.

      Today, experts like Barrow say I need to pay for insurance for substance abuse and sex change surgery (as of right now, I've had less than a half dozen glasses of wine all year, and nothing stronger). I'm willing to take the risk I'll never need that and not buy insurance for it. Someone else might have a problem and need to buy that, so Barrow insists I pay for them in my insurance. In making me do so, Barrow is not making choices I think are in my best interest, although he insists he is.

  3. Something I first heard from a deep sea diving instructor:

    Q: What is the difference between an expert and a professional?
    A: An expert knows no limits, a professional knows their limits. Be wary of anyone who considers themselves an expert (in anything).

    As for this Tom Nichols guy's tirade, I could only a page into it. Looked at his CV,
    a BA in political science,
    a MA in political science, and,
    a PhD in government.

    Well, that's the problem right there - the guy is a bullshit artist.

    He should feel lucky he even has job, but gets all uppity when somebody of lesser letters actually has a political opinion.

  4. I've been mulling over reply, and don't think I can top your analysis. The only thing I'd add is that the last major accomplishment of the post World War II technocracy was the Interstate Highway system, and that was conceived and executed by non liberal arts types. I quite frankly can't point to a *single* accomplishment by the liberal arts types.

    1. The Interstate system was definitely not liberal arts types. The interstate system was designed so that the military could move assets around the country in the event of war. I've heard the main highways were specified so that a B-52 could land on one in an emergency; the width of lanes plus shoulders, the required straight segments, and the width of the "right of way" they maintain. Never having been up close and personal with the BUFF, I couldn't say for sure.