Saturday, February 26, 2011

FLG Is Not An Intellectual

Prof Mondo:
As I mentioned a while back, I recently picked up Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals, which I read in chunks sometimes as I wait to pick up the Spawn at school. As I’ve read it, I’ve recognized still another respect in which I’m not an intellectual, which is that unlike the folks Johnson describes (e.g., Shelley, Rousseau, Marx), I realize that not every problem can be solved, and that very few problems in the social sphere can be solved by some Big Idea. Since Big Ideas are an intellectual’s stock in trade, those intellectuals are more likely to do harm than good.

It seems that another aspect of being an intellectual is being able to draw conclusions from and see patterns in fewer data points than other folks. I think this is part of what makes these folks quick studies, but that could be chicken-and-eggery. But of course, one consequence of acting before all the data are in is that sometimes the data will prove you wrong. This is what some of us call “getting pimp-slapped by reality,” but some of us require more slaps than others before they’ll adjust their assumptions (which you’ll remember were founded on insufficient data to begin with). I think this may be because intellectuals invest a significant amount of their self-image in their ability to find a truth first, and so admitting they’re wrong may be harder for them than for an average shlub.

FLG would like to preface his remarks by saying he is not an intellectual. However, he would also like to reiterate a statement he made in a previous post:
FLG...would rather be fantastically wrong about a Long Run, Big Idea than to muddle making only cautious, incremental (and if you pressed FLG, then he'd probably even include "cowardly," although that's hypocritical from a pseudonym) little steps away from what can be definitively proven. The important things cannot and will not ever be proven in any meaningful or even relevant way. When it comes to human affairs, it is far better to proclaim boldly from the summit of a mountain that you honestly believe in than to whisper from atop an anthill that you are 99.999% certain exists.

1 comment:

LibertyAtStake said...

I don't mind "intellectuals" who appreciate the limits of the human condition. These are, generally speaking, the thinkers who animate conservativism. My problem is with "pseudo-intellectuals" - those who "think" for a living with absolutely no understanding of the limits of the tools they are using. Thomas Sowell - one of the former - has written eloquently about the latter. Here's a reference:

"Because the Only Good Progressive is a Failed Progressive"

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