Friday, April 21, 2017

Poets and Kommissars


Chekisty and poets were drawn to each other like stoats and rabbits-- often with fatal consequences for the latter. They found common ground: the need for fame, an image of themselves as crusaders, creative frustration, membership of a vanguard, scorn for the bourgeoisie, an inability to discuss their work with common mortals. There was an easily bridged gap between between the symbolist poet who aimed to epater le bourgeois and the checkist who stood the bourgeois up against the wall.
Donald Rayfield

Auden was not eccentric. The poets of the thirties were intoxicated with the idea of violence. You could not be sincere unless you were prepared to have blood on your hands. For Day Lewis it was the hour of the knife, for Spender light was to be brought to life by bringing death to the age-long exploiters. 'We're much ruder,' boasted Day Lewis writing to his scavenger press baron, 'and we're learning to shoot.'
Noel Annan



First, last, and always, the real politics of Bloomsbury was a search for elite cultural power in England.
Stephen Koch

Civil liberties, shit. Are you with us or are you against us.
Ernest Hemingway to John Dos Passos


Thursday, April 20, 2017


"If I find you doing something, I will help you, but if I find you doing nothing, only God will help you."
Gen. George C. Marshall


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Rejoice! He is risen!


Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.

And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.

And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.

And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:

And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?

He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,

Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.

And they remembered his words,

And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.

It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

Then arose Peter, and ran unto the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.

Luke 24: 1-12


Friday, April 14, 2017

"Wood and nails and colored eggs"

First Posted 22 March 2005

This passage from Martin Bell's remarkable little book The Way of the Wolf: The Gospel in New Images seems especially timely this Easter season.


God raised Jesus from the dead to the end that we should be clear-once and for all-that there is nothing more important than being human. Our lives have eternal significance. And no one-absolutely no one-is expendable.

Colored Eggs

Some human beings are fortunate enough to be able to color eggs on Easter. If you have a pair of hands to hold the eggs, or if you are fortunate enough to be able to see the brilliant colors, then you are twice blessed.

This Easter some of us cannot hold the eggs, others of us cannot see the colors, many of us are unable to move at all-and so it will be necessary to color the eggs in our hearts.

This Easter there is a hydrocephalic child lying very still in a hospital bed nearby with a head the size of his pillow and vacant, unmoving eyes, and he will not be able to color Easter eggs, and he will not be able to color Easter eggs in his heart, and so God will have to color eggs for him.

And God will color eggs for him. You can bet your life and the life of the created universe on that.

At the cross of Calvary God reconsecrated and sanctified wood and nails and absurdity and helplessness to be continuing vehicles of his love. And then he simply raised Jesus from the dead. And they both went home and colored eggs
.



Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Richard Hofstadter: The I-Y-I’s intellectual for all seasons


Part One

In his essay on the death of expertise Tom Nichols quotes Richard Hofstadter. This is not surprising. Ever since Hofstadter wrote Anti-intellectualism in American Life (1963) he has been the go-to expert for pundits and partisans when lamenting America’s short-comings in all things cultural.

Hofstadter’s career and writings have a great deal to say about the role of intellectuals and experts in modern America. As is often the case, the real lesson is not the message that Hofstadter and his fans meant to send.

II

This is the Hofstadter quote that Nichols uses to launch his Kulturekampf on Trumpian America:

In the original American populistic dream, the omnicompetence of the common man was fundamental and indispensable. It was believed that he could, without much special preparation, pursue the professions and run the government. Today he knows that he cannot even make his breakfast without using devices, more or less mysterious to him, which expertise has put at his disposal; and when he sits down to breakfast and looks at his morning newspaper, he reads about a whole range of vital and intricate issues and acknowledges, if he is candid with himself, that he has not acquired competence to judge most of them.
Two things stand out about Hofstadter’s “argument”. First, it showcases his go-to move: Hofstadter never debates when he can denigrate and dismiss. (We’ll return to this point shortly.)

Even more striking is the rhetorical legerdemain he uses to set up his straw man. The common man is helpless without the magical gifts of technology that the intellectual elites of have given him. The toaster and the coffee pot are mysteries beyond his comprehension so therefore he is not competent to judge the major issues of the day.

Hofstadter expects us to believe that the folks at Vox and the Atlantic are competent to rule over the rest of American because they have expertise and are not baffled modern technology.

Seriously, does anyone really think that Ta-Nehisi Coates can explain multi-port electronic fuel injection? How many writers at Vox can even change the oil in their cars?

Victor Davis Hanson:

Technology has deluded the modern West. We equate widespread knowledge of how to use an iPad with collective wisdom. Because a rare, brilliantly inventive mind from Caltech or MIT can craft a device undreamed of in the age of Einstein, we assume that we all warrant a share in his genius, as if our generation has trumped Einstein’s. We deserve no such kudos unless animals at the zoo that find delight in their rote enjoyment of their hoops and bars can be credited with the architect’s sophisticated zoological design.

We don’t need more technocrats who fool us that their Ivy League law degrees are synonymous with wisdom. They can be, but now are more likely not much more than tickets that allow an Eric Holder or Timothy Geithner into the first-class seating.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

These self-described members of the “intelligenzia” 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.
James Kwak:

Yale Law School is undeniably an elite institution, the undisputed number one school in a field that is intensely (and toxically) hierarchical. Also, because it is a law schoolas opposed to other elite institutions such as West Point or the UConn women’s basketball teamit is filled with people who have never had any idea of what they wanted to do other than be successful and gain access to the best opportunities out there.

III

Hofstadter is remembered as a prose stylist of distinction. His mode of argument is also distinctive and much copied. He was one of the leading practioners of the “I’m smartyou are crazy and stupid” polemical style. It’s a style is still beloved by I-Y-Is even to this day and a style that sometimes appears in Nichol’s writing and twitter feed.

RH relied heavily on sociology, psychology, and other social science. To some extent, this was a mark of his restless mind and intellectual curiosity. It also reflects a lazy, perhaps agoraphobic historian. (We’ll get to this later.) But those fields also gave Hofstadter a vocabulary with which to malign opponents rather than engage them.

Fred Siegel:

History and events could be bathed in the certainties that came from dismissing one's opponents as insufficiently deferential and psychologically stunted.
Christopher Lasch, a student of Hofstadter, noted of his teacher and his allies, “instead of arguing with opponents, they simply dismissed them on psychiatric grounds.”

This is a rhetorical trick still beloved by I-Y-Is. It is the antithesis of the rigorous, intellectually honest mode of argument Taleb discusses here:

The Facts are True, the News is Fake
It is also a form of argument that has roots in totalitarianism.

Jacques Barzun:

To deprecate an idea or explain it away by finding (i.e. guessing) the reason why it is held is the prevailing form of polemics in the twentieth century. We owe it to the popularity of Freud and Marx, whose systems imply that any resistance to them proves how right they are. Agree or disagree, it is all one; dispute a Freudian interpretation of Nietzsche and the act shows your 'defense mechanism' at work. Similarly, any opinion contrary to Marxism-Leninism reveals only the fraudulent bourgeois thought. This perversion of the sense in which ideas are instrumental to the new obscurantism in the garb of high theory.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

Hannah Arendt had it right. She said one of the great advantages of the totalitarian elites of the Twenties and Thirties was to turn any statement of fact into a question of motive.
Milan Kundera:

In the realm of totalitarian kitsch, all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions.



Sunday, April 09, 2017

One hundred years ago


Gary Sheffield:

At 5.30 a.m. on Easter Monday, 9 April 1917, the British and Canadian infantry ‘hopped the bags’ and advanced through a snowstorm. Fifteen minutes earlier German batteries had been bombarded with poison gas. Like artillery, machine gun tactics had increased in sophistication since the beginning of the war.[414] Massed machine guns fired a barrage over the heads of the attacking infantry, while forty tanks rumbled into action alongside. The first day of Arras was highly successful. At Vimy Ridge, with the support of nine Heavy Artillery Groups (seven of them British) the Canadians captured most of this formidable position with little difficulty, although at the cost of 11,000 casualties.
Cyril Falls, the author of the British official history of the battle (and an officer in the war) wrote:"‘Easter Monday of the year 1917 must be accounted from the British point of view one of the great days of the War" The first day of the Battle of Arras was, in his view, "among the heaviest blows struck by British arms in the Western theatre of war."

As with everything on the Western Front, the cost in casualties was high.

Sheffield:

The BEF’s daily loss rate of 4,076 at Arras was greater than the Somme (2,943), Passchendaele (2,323), or the Hundred Days battles of 1918 (3,645)

Related:

THE BATTLE OF ARRAS, 9 APRIL-16 MAY 1917




Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Tolstoy, Netflix, and the Intellectual-Yet-Idiot


Reading books still matters.

From Gracey Olmstead in the Federalist:

Why It’s A Problem That Reading Is At 30-Year Lows

Americans' interest in literature has dropped to a three-decade low. The fact is, many don’t know what they are missing and they don’t care

Reading Is Work, In a Way Other Pastimes Aren’t

Why is it that the busy working professional will turn off his or her computer to binge-watch a season of “The Walking Dead,” but not to read Tolstoy? To most, the answer is immediately obvious: reading is “work,” to a degree that television is not. Tolstoy requires intense focus, careful reading. But television offers us a sedentary respite, both mentally and physically. It dulls the whirring tension of our brains. Films are often interesting and insightfulbut even the detailed artistry of “The Crown” doesn’t require the focus and diligence that a reading of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” would require.
As Chesterton might have said*: “People have not traded reading for Netflix because Netflix is better; they prefer Netflix because reading is hard.”*

Victor Davis Hanson reminds us why reading remains fundamental:

The mind is a muscle. Without exercise, it reverts to mush. Watching most TV or using the normal electronic gadgetry does not tax us much indeed that is by design the very purpose: to eliminate effort, worry, unease, and afterthought. None of us thinks back a year ago to a great video game session. Few off-hand can recall the Super Bowl winner of 2001. I remember the scenes in a Shane or Casablanca,  but not many others in the other thousand of movies that I have watched.

By nature, our ways of expression and even thinking always fossilize and are withering away with age and monotony a process accelerated by the modern electronic age and the neglect of replenishment through reading.

II

David Gelernter:

“Good is hard, temptation is a given; therefore, a healthy society talks to itself.”

“Goodness is unnatural, and we need to cheer one another on.”
We’ve stopped encouraging each other to read serious things. Forty years ago a serious person did not demonstrate their seriousness by babbling on about “Dallas” or “Charlie’s Angels”. Those were seen, at best, as harmless, guilty pleasures. ** (The were guilty pleasures precisely because they were unserious.)

Now, preening thought-leaders and self-styled experts prattle on about House of Cards and The Americans as though these soap operas are significant cultural milestones and sources of wisdom akin to Shakespeare, Tolstoy, or Solzhenitsyn.

As Instapundit said, the “death of expertise” was more suicide than murder.

-----------------------------

*The original: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

** How harmless? Jacques Barzun represents one POV: "Love of what is fine should not make one finicky." Schopenhauer , at the other extreme, puts the GUILT in guilty pleasure. See:

Schopenhauer on the Dangers of Clickbait


Friday, March 24, 2017

World War One: Getting past the myths


Richard Holmes:

As far as Britain and her dominions were concerned the Western Front was the most costly event of modern history, and we remain touched by its long cold shadow.
Gary Sheffield:

The image of the British army of 1914-18 as being inept, ‘lions led by donkeys’, is highly misleading. In fact, against a background of revolutionary changes in the nature of war, the British army underwent a bloody learning curve and emerged as a formidable force. In 1918 this much-maligned army won the greatest series of victories in British military history.
Two good lectures on this subject on Youtube:

Brian Bond


Stephen Badsey


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Virginia Woolf: Nietzsche on the fainting couch


Is there a more absurd progressive icon in the Age of Intersectionality?

The Unbearable Burden of Being a Special Snowflake

G. K. Chesterton:

Fastidiousness is the most pardonable of of vices; but it is the most unpardonable of virtues. Nietzsche, who represents most prominently this pretentious claim of the fastidious, has a description somewhere-- a very powerful description in a purely literary sense-- of the disgust and disdain which consume him at the sight of the common people with their common faces, common voices, and their common minds. As I have said, this attitude is almost beautiful if we may regard it as pathetic. Nietzsche's aristocracy has about it all the sacredness that belongs to the weak. When he makes us feel that he cannot endure the innumerable faces, the incessant voices, the overpowering omnipresence which belongs to the mob, he will have the sympathy of anybody who has ever been sick on a steamer or tired in a crowded omnibus. Every man has hated mankind when he was less than a man. Every man has had humanity in his eyes like a blinding fog, humanity in his nostrils like a suffocating smell. But when Nietzsche has the incredible lack of humour and lack of imagination to ask us to believe that his aristocracy is an aristocracy of strong muscles or an aristocracy of strong wills, it is necessary to point out the truth. It is an aristocracy of weak nerves.
In our age, Nietzsche is no longer the most prominent exemplar of the pretentious claims of fastidiousness. That honor has to belong to Virginia Woolf.

Nietzsche had to hide his weakness as he paraded his “disgust and disdain” for humanity; the Ubermensch can’t very well be a trembling, feverish invalid. Woolf, on the other hand, pulled off a feat of daring rhetorical jujutsu: She justified her Will to Power with her weakness and “oppression.”

As Theodore Dalrymple points out, the great theme of Woolf’s work can be summarized as “How to Be Privileged and Yet Feel Extremely Aggrieved.”

Woolf’s solipsistic whining is absurd when examined in the hard light of reason. Yet it is irresistible academic catnip for Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Intellectual-Yet-Idiots.

Dalrymple:

Her historiography was very modern: she scoured the records to justify the backward projection of her current resentments. For her, there was no such thing as the human condition, with its inevitable discontent and limitations. She thought that all the things she desired were reconcilable, so that freedom and security, for example, or artistic effort and complete selflessness, might abide in perpetual harmony. As a female member of the British upper middle class and one of what she called “the daughters of educated men,” she felt both socially superior to the rest of the world and peculiarly, indeed uniquely, put upon. The very locution, “the daughters of educated men,” is an odd one, capturing her oscillation between grandiosity and self-pity: she meant by it that class of women who, by virtue of their gentle birth and hereditarily superior minds, could not be expected to perform physical labor of any kind, but who were prevented by the injustice of “the system” from participating fully in public and intellectual affairs.

For those who actually know anything about the hardships endured by the British working class, male and female, during the years of the Depression, statements that insinuate an equality, or even a superiority, of suffering on the part of the daughters of educated men are little short of nauseating: but they would clearly appeal to the pampered resentful, a class that was to grow exponentially in the postwar years of sustained prosperity.

Had Mrs. Woolf survived to our time, however, she would at least have had the satisfaction of observing that her cast of mindshallow, dishonest, resentful, envious, snobbish, self-absorbed, trivial, philistine, and ultimately brutalhad triumphed among the elites of the Western world.
I think Dalrymple cut to the heart of the matter here:

It comes as no surprise that a thinker (or perhaps I should say a feeler) such as Mrs. Woolf, with her emotional and intellectual dishonesty, should collapse all relevant moral distinctions, a technique vital to all schools of resentment. Time and again we find her misappropriating the connotation of one thing and attaching it to another, by insinuating a false analogy: that since both the British policeman and the Nazi stormtrooper wore a uniform, the British policeman was a brute. It is one of the chief characteristics of modern rhetoric, designed not so much to find the truth as (in the words of former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam) to “maintain your rage.”
This explains Woolf’s “thinking” (and by “explain” I guess I mean “demolish and destroy”) while also helping us to see why she has become an icon to the “pampered resentful class”, the special snowflakes who make up the I-Y-Is. “Maintain the rage” becomes “righteous indignation” and that fire is vital to modern intellectuals:

From the outset the eminence of this new creature, the intellectual, who was to play such a tremendous role in the history of the twentieth century, was inseperable from his necessary indignation. It was his indignation that elevated him to a plateau of moral superiority. Once up there, he was in a position to look down on the rest of humanity. And it did not cost him any effort, intellectual or otherwise. As Marshall McLuhan would put it years later: 'Moral indignation is a technique used to endow the idiot with dignity
Tom Wolfe, Hooking Up

Related:

Variations of a theme

Steak, ketchup, and Trump Derangement Disorder

Who was John Galt?


Monday, March 20, 2017

Steak, ketchup, and Trump Derangement Disorder


Really insightful piece by Matthew Continetti:

Freedom Is Eating Steak Well Done With Ketchup
Over the last year however the press has fixated on the steak and its accompaniment, returned to them again and again, fetishized them, contorted them into a metaphor for the childishness and vulgarity and gaucheness that Trump's opponents so despise. "Putting ketchup on his $54 steak drives a wedge between Trump and his fans," reports Marketwatch.com, citing a silly PPP poll in order to expel Trump from the in-group. Does Trump put "Bernaise? Chimichurri? Peppercorn?" on his steak? Negative. "Instead, Trump went with ketchup, that most pedestrian of all condiments." Lock him up!

I am fascinated by the condescending use of "pedestrian," with its connotations of d├ęclassement, to describe one of America's most popular condiments. What it suggests is that the fixation with Trump's manner of eating is in reality a fixation with the persistence of habits and attitudes and trends that the over-schooled and undereducated metropolitan producers of news and opinion do not like, deem retrograde, wish would recede into the past as humanity progresses toward its gender-neutral, multicultural, borderless, medium-rare steak au poivre future. "For real, Mr. President?" asks the Washington Post‘s food critic when confronted with Trump's menu choices.
The heart of the matter:

It is hard to read stories like these without coming to the conclusion that so much of our elite's abhorrence of Trump is a matter of aesthetics, of his not fitting in, of his stubborn devotion to practices and ideas deemed retrograde by opinion leaders but that still appeal to, oh, about half the country.
G. K. Chesterton:

The modern world will not distinguish between matters of opinion and matters of principle and it ends up treating them all as matters of taste.
GKC did not regard this as an advance for civilization. Instead he described “good taste” as “the last and vilest of human superstitions”

The history of the 20th century shows that it was a superstition that could be exploited for the worst ends. England and its Bloomsbury group should serve as a warning. Ostensibly concerned with Taste and Art and Higher Things, the reality was far different.

Stephen Koch:

Even by the ungentle standards of most literary cliques, Bloomsbury was exceptionally malicious within its own ranks, and with outsiders cruel to the point of systematic sadism. All the talk of 'friendship' concealed quite different interests,

First, last, and always, the real politics of Bloomsbury was a search for elite cultural power in England.
Lytton Strachey and his “friends” might mock the middle classes and their conventional heroes but their disdain was not disinterested:

Within Strachey's supercilious view of the British middle class was encoded an assumed right to rule that class “Taste” for Bloomsbury, as Chesterton saw clearly, became an elastic standard which swallowed up all aspects of life.
Upper class sensibilities trumped left-wing solidarity with the laboring classes:

And my God how workmen smell. The Whole house stinks of them. How I hate the proletariat. (vita Sackville-West)
To Virginia Woolf, there were things more important than feminist solidarity or professional accomplishment. Things like a good manicure:

Woolf withdrew from West’s very presence, preferring to dismiss Rebecca because she had dirty fingernails. Bloomsbury was Woolf’s safe haven, but Westcertainly just as enamored of creature comforts as Woolf wasjourneyed to the Balkans and beyond, to Lebanon and South Africa, in order to understand the nature of the modern world. She was not, in short, afraid of dirtying herself by reporting on great events and movements of the twentieth century.
The politics of taste, as practiced by Bloomsbury, was totalitarian in both scope and practice.

As Paul Johnson noted of Strachey:

From the Apostles he grasped the principles of group power: The ability not merely to exclude but to be seen to exclude. He perfected the art of inapproachability and rejection.
Virginia Woolf:

I have just had a most shameful and distressing interview with dear Tom Eliot, who may be called dead to us all from this day forward. He has become an Anglo-Catholic believer in God and immortality, and goes to church. I was shocked. A corpse would seem to me more credible than he is. I mean, there's something obscene in a living person sitting by the fire and believing in God.
Here we see the fatuous absurdity of the Bloomsbury worldview. They begin by cultivating Higher Feelings and Refined Tastes while seeking companions who share those tastes. They end up excluding the great poets and writers of their age because those people are not up to the high standards of Bloomsbury.

Koch:

Following Strachey's lead, the coterie remained far too preoccupied with questions of mere taste to touch real greatness  .
Except it doesn’t end there.

In the film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the unmasked traitor Bill Haydon offers an explanation for going over to the Soviets:

It was an aesthetic choice as much as a moral one. The West has become so very ugly.
Haydon is seemingly based on Kim Philby, one of the Cambridge Spies. As Koch reminds us, Bloomsbury and the Cambridge Ring are not separate phenomena.:

The Cambridge spies were Bloomsbury's heirs by direct line of descent. The crucible for both was the 'Cambridge Conversation Club', the Apostles, a long-established campus secret society for aristocratic young intellectuals. Tennyson and Hallam had been members, Strachey and Leonard Woolf had taken over the Apostles for their own political purposes before the war, and a generation later Blunt and Burgess remade it for theirs.
One generation mocks the conventional heroes and holds their countrymen in contempt and views her allies with disdain. The next generation betrays their country in the service of a murderous tyrant.

Related:

Sometimes it seems that all worthwhile social commentary is really just elaborations on G. K. Chesterton

Variations on a theme


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Half-blind experts and the straw men they create


Foreign Affairs features an article by professor Tom Nichols on the Perils of Democracy and the Ordeal of one of America’s most vulnerable classes:

How America Lost Faith in Expertise

It's not just that people don't know a lot about science or politics or geography. They don't, but that's an old problem. The bigger concern today is that Americans have reached a point where ignorance--at least regarding what is generally considered established knowledge in public policy--is seen as an actual virtue. To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to demonstrate their independence from nefarious elites--and insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they're wrong.
The article will appeal to all those in the “credentialed not educated" classes who are still dealing with post-election trauma. Like a good friend after a break up, Nichols reassures the Acela riders “It’s not you, it’s the idiots who don’t recognize your value.”

I doubt that Nichols will win many converts. G. K. Chesterton was a formidable polemicist and debater because he tried to “never let a quarrel ruin a good argument.” On Twitter (@RadioFreeTom) Nichols is the anti-Chesterton. He never argues when he can dismiss and demean.

This passage is hilarious and damning:

Conspiracy theories are attractive to people who have a hard time making sense of a complicated world and little patience for boring, detailed explanations. They are also a way for people to give context and meaning to events that frighten them. Without a coherent explanation for why terrible things happen to innocent people, they would have to accept such occurrences as nothing more than the random cruelty of either an uncaring universe or an incomprehensible deity. And just as individuals facing grief and confusion look for meaning where none may exist, so, too, will entire societies gravitate toward outlandish theories when collectively subjected to a terrible national experience. Conspiracy theories and the awed reasoning behind them, as the Canadian writer Jonathan Kay has noted, become especially seductive "in any society that has suffered an epic, collectively felt trauma." This is why they spiked in popularity after World War I, the Russian Revolution, the Kennedy assassination, the 9/11 attacks, and other major disasters--and are growing now in response to destabilizing contemporary trends, such as the economic and social dislocations of globalization and persistent terrorism.

At their worst, conspiracy theories can produce a moral panic in which innocent people get hurt. But even when they seem trivial, their prevalence undermines the sort of reasoned interpersonal discourse on which liberal democracy depends. Why? Because by definition, conspiracy theories are unfalsifiable: experts who contradict them demonstrate that they, too, are part of the conspiracy.
As recently noted on this blog (“They trusted the experts”) the ritual child abuse panics of the 1980s and 1990s were fueled by the insane conspiracy theories of experts: child psychologists, social workers, policeman, prosecutors.

Nichols teaches at the Naval War College. This piece notes that the experts of the 1990s got most of the big things wrong when it came to Future War:

Anticipating Contemporary War: How Well Did We Do?
This article by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is also well worth a read:

The Intellectual Yet Idiot

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.
Related:

Changing Minds

More on Changing Minds


UPDATE 3-20-2017:

Instapundit weighs in:

The suicide of expertise

It doesn’t matter what your SAT scores were, voters are under no obligation to listen to you unless they find what you say persuasive.

And you know what makes you less persuasive? The kind of contempt displayed by Foreign Affairs. If expertise is dead, it’s because those who claimed it overplayed their hands. It’s not the death of expertise, so much as a suicide.

This Thomas Sowell column from 2008 makes for interesting reading.

Intellectuals