Plato called them the guardian class, group of philosophers whose knowledge of the eternal Forms made them wiser than everyone else. Someone who knows Ideas also knows how you should conduct your life. Don't you think?
Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls them Intellectuals Yet Idiots, the IYI. I would have preferred Idiot Intellectuals, but that is a quibble. You surely know that Taleb authored a book called The Black Swan, a great book that one happily recommends wholeheartedly.
Given that the “people,” such as they are, have been rejecting the counsel and the influence of the IYI, Taleb has written a superb satire that exposes their pretensions and their limitations. (via Maggie’s Farm.)
First, he lays down the predicate:
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.
Of course, they have hitched their tenured professorships to the authority of science. They do not know enough to know that many scientific results are seriously flawed:
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.
Pretending that an idea is science in order to shut down conversation and discussion is called scientism. Taleb does not mention it, but he might have been referring to the current mania over what is called climate science.
They can’t tell science from scientism — in fact in their eyes 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.)
For the IYI it’s all dogmatic truth. For those who read the right magazines and listen to the IYI, it’s perfectly reasonable, even when it isn’t.
Beware the semi-erudite who thinks he is an erudite. He fails to naturally detect sophistry.
Which sophistries is he talking about?
More socially, the IYI subscribes to The New Yorker. He never curses on twitter. He speaks of “equality of races” and “economic equality” but never went out drinking with a minority cab driver (again, no real skin in the game as the concept is foreign to the IYI). Those in the U.K. have been taken for a ride by Tony Blair. The modern IYI has attended more than one TEDx talks in person or watched more than two TED talks on Youtube. Not only will he vote for Hillary Monsanto-Malmaison because she seems electable and some such circular reasoning, but holds that anyone who doesn’t do so is mentally ill.
As for his track record, these idiot intellectuals have been wrong about nearly everything that matters and nearly anything that can be verified:
The IYI has been wrong, historically, on Stalinism, Maoism, GMOs, Iraq, Libya, Syria, lobotomies, urban planning, low carbohydrate diets, gym machines, behaviorism, transfats, freudianism, portfolio theory, linear regression, Gaussianism, Salafism, dynamic stochastic equilibrium modeling, housing projects, selfish gene, Bernie Madoff (pre-blowup) and p-values. But he is convinced that his current position is right.