Monday, August 9, 2010

The Bonfire of the Vanities

Via Reason, we find that the BBC World Service radio is running a series on "Useful Idiots", intellectuals who fell hook, line, and sinker for utopian visions peddled by left-wing tyrants:
Useful idiots, in a broader sense, refers to Western journalists, travellers and intellectuals who gave their blessing – often with evangelistic fervour – to tyrannies and tyrants, thereby convincing politicians and public that utopias rather than Belsens thrived.
Reason asks, “why are smart people so consistently fooled by evil regimes?” There's quite a simple answer:

Intellectuals see in the mirror the very image of a Philosopher King.

Their entire intellectual training has led them to believe that it is the Intellectual Class that is fit to rule, by virtue of their very Smart thinking. After all, did not Plato himself say that only the philosophers were virtuous, and therefore fit to rule? And have not our Intellectual Elite been told their entire school lives that they are the "Best And Brightest?"

And so all a tyrant needs to do is to flatter this sense of entitlement, and the Intellectual will convince himself that this is indeed the New Jerusalem. No brainwashing is required; a light rinse will do.

But at every stage, the tyrant must appeal to the Intellectual's sense of superiority. This is why rightist tyrants (say, Peronists) struggle with the Intellectual class. By allowing a more or less unfettered market to run as it will, he offends the vanity of the Intellectual. The Market is a very bad thing indeed, says the Intellectual, because it does not need me a Very Smart Person to run it. The tyrant offers the illusion of access to the Control Room of society - indeed the very goal that the Intellectual has trained for all his life. How could he not be bewitched?

Of course, the tyrant has no intention of actually letting the intellectual control anything; that's why Lenin coined the term "useful idiots". So the answer to Reason's question is quite simple: it's a cheap appeal to vanity. The more interesting question is why do Intellectuals fall for this so often?

I think that it's because Intellectuals have been much more successful in the West, where they tend not to end up in Gulags, Re-education camps, or mass graves. In Europe in particular, and increasingly in the USA, they have captured the media and government, and actually have increasingly found themselves in the Control Room of society. It hasn't been working out so well:
Thomas Sowell in Intellectuals and Society, provides a well-fortified survey of these well connected, often behind-the-scenes lever pullers. According the Sowell, the thing that distinguishes ruling intellectuals from the subservient citizenry, is that intellectuals are not generally held accountable for being wrong. Think about that in the context of real tenure, and tenure that comes from being a "made" member of the group.
Unfortunately, just because you wrote a very well received thesis on gender relationships in sub-atomic electron orbital mechanics, it doesn't mean that you are clearly qualified to define healthcare policy:
But even I was not skeptical enough to predict what actually happened in Massachusetts, which is that emergency room usage went up after they implemented health care reform.

In retrospect, it's obvious. Massachusetts increased access to primary care physicians, but it didn't actually increase the number of primary care physicians. This led to wait times, which meant that some people who used to avoid the emergency room by going to see their primary care physician now ended up in the emergency room. Meanwhile, many of the people who were using the emergency room for primary care still are, because MassCare doesn't pay them for the hours they lost by taking off work.
Huh. This redistribution thing is trickier than we thought ...

Oh, honestly - it's entirely pointless to try to do this if you're going to cheat!

They sure act like a bunch of idiots, for really smart people. But apply Sowell's maxim - they are not held accountable for their failures - and you start to see the inevitability of the direction:
  • Of course the Intellectual Elite hates the market - socialism offers the dream of power and control for them and the market doesn't, so it doesn't matter that socialism has in fact failed in every instance it's been tried.
  • Of course the Academy tilts far to the left - tenure can be denied by a single blackball vote, and ideas from the right-of-center do not nearly flatter the Intellectual Elite's egos the way left-of-center ideas do. So long, right-of-center PhD students; hope you like living on a lecturer's salary. Meanwhile, academic fraud is explained away because the fraudster is fighting the good fight.
  • Of course the media will suppress news damaging to the left-of-center agenda. After all, the right-of-center philosophies have less need for the Intellectual Elite - free markets are less convivial for the elite.
Al Fin asks the question di tutti questions:
But undeniably, they hold the reins firmly in their grips for now. But as I may have mentioned, this ruling class is quite stupid, despite the broad areas that it controls. The seeds of its destruction -- the impending burning down of the royal house -- is inextricably contained within the stupidity of its policies. That, of course, is the fatal flaw for any intellectual. When they finally achieve absolute power and are forced to put their ideas into action. Without having had any experience contending with the unforgiving hand of reality before this point, the ruling class stands helpless before the cascading failures of its ill-founded ideas and prescriptions.


All we have to do is to learn to take care of ourselves throughout what is going to happen next. The ruling class is going find the appeal of burning down the house themselves to be beyond their powers to resist. [my emphasis]
You might call it a Bonfire of the Vanities.

The stupidity of the Smart Crowd is really astonishing to behold, and in the age of the Internet, it's no longer possible to cover up. I've been saying for some time that as the left has seized control of the Intellectual institutions, all they've done is destroy the institutions. When you add the fact that the system of government by redistribution is running down, and there's a crisis. If the deal is that the People let the elite rule because they're smart (and presumed to be better to solve problems), then the People will expect the elite to solve the crisis.

The problem is that the elite is stupid - bovine*, really, out in leftie field chewing the cud of marxism-lite - and news of this reality is not longer able to be suppressed by a broken media. The Obama polls are no mystery: a bunch of people let themselves be convinced that he would be a Philosopher King President, by appeals to their intellectual and moral vanity. They're finding out that they were sold a bill of goods. Of course the polls are dropping, and will never recover.

My gentile disagreement with Al Fin is that, while the Elite might want to burn down the house, most probably won't dare, and most of the rest will be too stupid to know how. They're unhappy, and know that it's a Bad Moon rising, but don't know what to do.

The Dinosaurs sniff a change on the wind, and roar their defiance.

* Yes, cow-like. You want proof? Fish, barrel:

[The millions whom Stalin ordered] EXECUTED OR SENT to Siberia went wondering if Uncle Joe knew the horrors being committed in his name...

"I feel really confused, I don't understand how something like this is possible. I can't imagine that at the top of the Obama administration that they realize that something like this is happening," Jamieson told CNN.

UPDATE 9 August 2010 13:39: Welcome visitors from American Digest! More on the thrashing of the Dinosaur Class here.


wolfwalker said...

Nice post, Borepatch. I see nothing to disagree with, and only a couple of things I would add.

So the answer to Reason's question is quite simple: it's a cheap appeal to vanity. The more interesting question is why do Intellectuals fall for this so often?

You can give a simpler answer to this: Intellectuals fall for the flattery because it makes them feel important. Never underestimate that. The need to feel needed is at least the second-most-powerful drive in the human psyche.

But apply Sowell's maxim - they are not held accountable for their failures - and you start to see the inevitability of the direction:

First rule of human behavior: When you reward a behavior, you get more of it. When you punish a behavior, you get less of it.

Second rule of human behavior: Absence of an expected punishment is itself a reward; absence of an expected reward is itself a punishment.

For entirely too long, we have not punished Intellectuals who screwed the pooch. It's no wonder that they can't even tell when they've screwed up anymore.

doubletrouble said...

"The Dinosaurs sniff a change on the wind, and roar their defiance."

I love that line- it pretty much describes the big picture.

Well said.

Midwest Chick said...

Excellent post! Do you think that one other reason the Intellectuals ended up in gulags and such was because they were so darned irritating that they just had to be removed from society??

Borepatch said...

Midwest Chick, I think that Stalin sent them to the camps when they insisted on actually having some power. Then they went (in his mind) from "useful idiots" to "dangerous idiots".

Anonymous said...

Sorry that I need to be anonymous 'in public' here. But Borepatch, your post was inspirational. It made me remember the dinner parties.

Like the one where we were all sitting around of a waning summer's evening somewhere in Massachusetts, with the kids laughing and playing on the lawn around us. RomneyCare was not a done deal then, not a sure thing. Somebody asked a prominent, long-time theorist for 'health care reform' present whether RomneyCare had a chance of passing, and what it would do. His answer was essentially that it was not nearly enough, but 'the best we will probably do', given the 'politics'. And all nodded wisely, ruefully; which is to say, even if, by some miracle, it passed, it would only be a half-measure towards the dream.

That night, it was beyond imagining that this quest for 'justice', if 'successful', would have negative consequences -- except where the necessary ugly political wrangling would require the actual legislation to not fit the dream perfectly.

It was beyond conception that anyone there would experience fear, negative personal consequences, loss of a job, or even shame, for conceiving, and advocating for, this wonderful dream for all of us. The predominant mood was that of warriors who had worked so hard, and now, there was a chance in hell that a tiny sliver of the dream would come to fruition, though probably not. The forces of injustice and lethargy were probably just too strong. RomneyCare, that tiny half-way station on the way to true justice in healthcare for all, would probably never see the light of day. You could almost feel the collective sigh. Ah well. The Red Sox had won a Series after 86 years, but health care reform would always, always, break our hearts, always ruin our summers.

And so we sat in the darkening twilight, the children starting to quiet as it grew darker, drinking our drinks, wondering how long we had before the mosquitoes came out in earnest, Don Quixotes all, united quietly, circumspectly, against The Man. And soon we'd pile the kids in the car, collect the dishes from the potluck, and drive home in our aging Volvos, and get up the next morning and go back to our tiny offices and our tiny grants that would run out in another six months unless that new proposal hit, and do our little bit for justice.

That's how it was.

TOTWTYTR said...

They are smart, but only by their own definition. Relate this to the coming higher education bubble. The intellectual elites are proficient in studying and mastering subject that only they think are important. It's part of the vanity, none of them would lower themselves to studying say chemical engineering, or computer science.

Coming out of school with no real marketable skills, they decide to create a market and thus end up being "community organizers" and "advocates". Where they generally excel at sucking at the teat of the taxpayer, but not really producing.

Recently one of our back office flunkies left to seek greener pastures. After two years of "saving money" by making the purchasing process incomprehensiively byzantine, he decided to go to work for a "non profit".

My comment to him was, "I have a feeling that any organization you went to work for would become a non profit." was met with lot's of laughter. But not from him.

The reason that Stalin and other dictators send them off to be shot is that they it's less trouble and expense than keeping them alive.

Oh, it also shuts them up.

Six said...

Nice BP.
Seeing this unfold is akin to watching a motorcycle rider enter an off camber, decreasing radius, crowned turn at high speed. Both rider and observer are aware that something bad is about to happen. The observer notes that the rider is wearing shorts, no shirt, flip flops and a baseball cap in lieu of a helmet. The resulting crash and it's outcome surprise only the rider (briefly)who was certain that the world could not possibly go on without him and thus had a duty to protect him from the consequences of his actions. After all, that's only fair.

TmjUtah said...

A thoughtful and well thought out post, and so timely.

I am linking you to my zero traffic blog. Your essay here is the flip side to a coin toss I experienced the first half of over the weekend.

Have a fine week.

rsj said...

Hello.I followed a link from Americandigest. I am so glad I did!

I may de-lurk here and there,but for now I am off tothe older posts and archives to enjoy more.


Lissa said...

You can give a simpler answer to this: Intellectuals fall for the flattery because it makes them feel important. Never underestimate that. The need to feel needed is at least the second-most-powerful drive in the human psyche.

And it makes them feel VIRTUOUS as well as important. Don't forget that part!

BANG-UP post, Borepatch!

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