• MindForged
    763
    This is something I've noticed for ages and I guess it's just come to a head for me. Why are public intellectuals often so terrible at political awareness and lacking in knowledge of history, and why are they so often scientists? Whether it was Hitchens's ceaseless defense of the Iraq War even after it was clear hundreds of thousands of civilians had been killed for nothing or Sam Harris's incredibly naive and history-denying defense of U.S. foreign policy, there's an incredible tendency to make bold declarations that run contrary to history or even the present state of affairs. With nary an exception, it's to play a "both sides" game from the right side of the aisle and it's disturbing.

    Like what set this off for me was a Tweet I saw earlier from Steven Pinker which was so out of touch that I honestly thought it was a fake screen cap:


    "Are you frustrated with the stale ideologies and mutual demonization of the Left and Right? Here's a manifesto for Radical Centrism, Liberal-tarianism, Bold Moderation, an Open Society, smart regulation, and a liberal democratic capitalist welfare state."

    Source: https://mobile.twitter.com/sapinker/status/1074932509014667264

    It reads as a complete piss taking of the Third Way Democrats and neoliberalism... And no, it turns out not to be a parody, centrism can apparently be the radical position despite being the exact view of dominant political figures of the last 2 decades or more (esp. Clinton and Blair). It's almost a rip off of a SOtU speech Bill Clinton did in '98, as an example:

    We have moved past the sterile debate between those who say government is the enemy and those who say government is the answer. My fellow Americans, we have found a third way. We have the smallest government in 35 years, but a more progressive one. We have a smaller government, but a stronger nation.

    http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1998/01/27/sotu/transcripts/clinton/

    Pinker's idea is that the real issue is that market fundamentalism and "democratic fundamentalism" are causing the problems. Ya know, as if the Republicans aren't shredding democracy in Michigan at this very moment by stripping the governorship of nearly all it's power as a democratic orepares to take office in a couple weeks by handing those powers over to a Republican controlled body. Or the absurd levels of monied interests involved in getting politicians elected into higher offices, leading to politicians overwhelmingly privileging the desires of these groups even over the safety of the planet in issues likes war and climate change. Or pulling out of a nuclear weapons treaty that the entire world agreed on but who cares about honoring our word on the international stage.

    I just don't understand why these """intellectuals""" don't just stay in their lane. They make a mockery of any political analysis, much less political reform efforts, because contrary to their so-called rationality angle, they make no apparent attempt to understand the lay of the land and jump in to lecture condescendingly about the apparently "logical and obvious" truths. What policies led to our current state of affairs? What historical tendencies can be found in our past actions that explain how we got here? It's borderline deceptive to "it's both sides" this to lay claim to a supposedly bold and new middle ground ideology that was trumpeted loudly as recent as the 2016 election, by Hillary Clinton no less... Look how that turned out. Why do Pinker and his like (almost said 'ilk') engage in such sloppy and self-congratulatory exercises?

    I don't get it. But then again, I tried to ignore these people when Neil Degrass Tyson was on his "Rationalia" nonsense so maybe I'm just catching up on the inane suggestions these people come up with. But I will forever laugh at referring to American centrism as "Radical Centrism" and being "bold moderation".
  • Bitter Crank
    9.1k
    Who the hell maintains the list of accredited public intellectuals, anyway? Does one qualify by self proclamation? I'm an intellectual, sort of, and kind of public about my opinions, so... gee, I should be listed. Call me -- I'm a public intellectual!

    Just because one has a position from which one can pontificate doesn't make one infallibly insightful. The fact is "public intellectuals" are as likely to have as many vested interests as anyone else -- maybe more. People who publish books, teach, write columns for 'important' periodicals and newspapers, have a decent retirement account, own a nice house of some sort, travel a lot, appear on television talk shows, are minor celebrities, etc. have an essential stake in the status quo. Vested interests blind them. Vested interests do the same thing to everybody else, too. Someone who is flat out broke with no assets whatsoever and zero prospects comes pretty close to having no stake in the status quo. They can afford to see society clearly. It's just that people who are flat broke with no assets and no prospects just don't count, and nobody is going to put them on a talk show, god forbid. Fucking riff raff.

    So it is that we have a lot of pontificators who seem to have a pipeline to the truth sitting there pontificating away. Now, pontificating doesn't prove that one is wrong. Sometimes the pontificators will be spot on. Like me, here. This is all 100% true. Trust me. I've studied this. People site me as a source.
  • StreetlightX
    6.7k
    These people live and die their public lives by the attention lavished upon them by the public. Deprive it of them, and so deprive that life.
  • Jake
    1.4k
    As best I can tell it works like this. Some scientists consider themselves not just experts at science, but experts at thinking. From that stance it's only one more step to thinking of oneself as an expert at everything.

    You're kind of almost agreeing with the "experts at everything" idea by being shocked a scientist might say something stupid.

    But scientists are just people, no less vulnerable to saying something stupid than car mechanics, plumbers, taxi drivers etc.

    These people live and die their public lives by the attention lavished upon them by the public. Deprive it of them, and so deprive that life.StreetlightX

    Yes, Christopher Hitchens comes to mind here. What he was expert at was being an intellectual entertainer. He really was good at playing the same game we play here but on a larger stage. What position he might take on some particular issue wasn't really the point, but rather how well he engaged people in a debate.
  • Snakes Alive
    675
    I really don't think intellectuals should bother engaging the public.
  • Walter Pound
    200
    The field of political theory and economics are their own academic disciplines and if you are not a specialist, then you will make mistakes- just look at Alexandria Cortes or Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump.
  • Hanover
    6k
    I just don't understand why these """intellectuals""" don't just stay in their lane.MindForged

    And the same can be said of anyone who has the spotlight on them, which is that they should limit their performance to their expertise and to what the people came to see. "Intellectuals" do it, Hollywood actors do it, rock stars do it, football players do it, and TV commentators do it, to name just a few. It's a thing now where it's considered a heroic act of conscience to stand up and speak your mind on any issue you find important, even where you have no special reason to matter.
  • MindForged
    763
    You're kind of almost agreeing with the "experts at everything" idea by being shocked a scientist might say something stupid.Jake

    I wasn't shocked that they said something stupid but the level at which it was stupid. Namely, ignoring that it was the political agenda of note for major political figures, including two Presidents and the wife of one who ran for president twice.
  • MindForged
    763
    Eh, that's kind of a bad comparison. The extent to which 2 of those mentioned make mistakes aren't even comparable to the extent to which Trump does. But really, this error doesn't even require expertise in political theory or economics. Just recognition that the view being adopted is virtually identical to the ideology of the current Democratic party since Bill Clinton and even before, with Hillary running on this idea just two years ago.
  • DiegoT
    318
    In Spain we have the same people, but they aren´t even scientists; they are writers of novels, and artists of any kind. And chefs. When we see this mistake so prominent in these celebs, we have the opportunity of learning not to do it ourselves. I have this vice too, I too tend to think that I know better. Because sometimes is true, I tend to expect to be right all the time, even in fields I know nothing about. Give me two wikipedia articles about Cuban snails, and I will explain a biologist the best way to save the species from extinction. Does it happen to any of you?
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