Anti-elitism vs. Knownothingism

The other day Ace linked a post with much praise arguing against elitism. Despite my academic background, I, myself am no fan of elitism and thus went to read the post assuming I’d find myself much in favor of it.

My thoughts on it were mixed, mostly because I fear we’re going to overshoot anti-elitism and end up more at Know-nothingism, which is not where we want to be.

The post starts out reasonably well:

But the problem is the one-eyed following the blind: 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.

Indeed, much of what’s passing for science these days is not, science and that science at all. A strong argument that everything we’ve elevated to the level of “truth” perhaps does not belong there.

He continues:

The IYI pathologizes others for doing things he doesn’t understand without ever realizing it is his understanding that may be limited. He thinks people should act according to their best interests and he knows their interests, particularly if they are “red necks” or English non-crisp-vowel class who voted for Brexit. When plebeians do something that makes sense to them, but not to him, the IYI uses the term “uneducated”.

Again, well put. For some reason the elites assume people cannot determine their own interests better than the elites can. The high of arrogance.

While rich people believe in one tax dollar one vote, more humanistic ones in one man one vote, Monsanto in one lobbyist one vote, the IYI believes in one Ivy League degree one-vote, with some equivalence for foreign elite schools and PhDs as these are needed in the club.

Wait, I’m sorry, what does Monsanto (Soon to be “Bayer Plant and Seed”) have to do with this, I suspect we’re about to take a severe left turn into stupid.

The IYI has a copy of the first hardback edition of The Black Swan on his shelves, but mistakes absence of evidence for evidence of absence. He believes that GMOs are “science”, that the “technology” is not different from conventional breeding as a result of his readiness to confuse science with scientism.

Yep, there we go. A thought experiment: replace “GMO” with “vaccine” and “conventional breeding” with “chickenpox parties” and suddenly I think you’ll be closing this article faster than the Cubs blow their postseason.

I suppose, in the most technical sense GMOs aren’t “science” as much as a “product of science.” I’m not sure why one puts quotes around “technology” there, it’s pretty clear that’s what a GMO is.

And listen, I’ve used the flippant “we’ve been breeding for millennia” now. I know it’s a facile argument and not really strong. As a matter of course, GMOs are more akin to grafting than conventional breeding, admittedly with more technological flair.

Also, given my background, I’m not deaf to the concerns at play here. Obviously, CRISPR-Cas9 techniques are going to push genetic engineering beyond where it stands now, and we’ll be inundated with people trying to use science to “perfect” the human condition. But let us not turn molehills of genetically engineered plants into mountains of human genetic enhancement. They operate on entirely different planes.

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.

There you go again with GMO bashing? Historically, what exactly have we gotten wrong on this front? (For that matter not love for Milton Friedman who was more or less right on Stalin, Mao, housing projects, and urban planning?) Need I remind you that since the advent of modern agriculture, depending on when you count likely less than 70 years ago, first would countries have not had anything even approaching a famine. Less than a century ago we were facing the dust bowl. Phenomenal!

The author wants to lump together a bunch of things that simply are not commensurate. He goes from a decent article on the failures of elitism to flailing about with his own hatred of GMOs. Ironic considering his constant cry that people just don’t understand how thinking works. Thus our problem. It’s so easy, in the age of the internet, to decry find truck with decrying the experts. Lots of people will jump in an cheer you on. But wrapped up in this is the danger of us more or less carrying out what A Canticle for Leibowitz called “The Great Simplification,” where in our quest to unburden ourselves from the experts we simply wantonly destroy anything even marginally associated with them and rock ourselves back to the Iron Age.

Fun shit.

2 comments to “Anti-elitism vs. Knownothingism”
  1. I had exactly the same reaction. It’s disconcerting to be nodding along with an essay and then watch it suddenly swerve off into Crazyland.

  2. I’ve a couple of graduate degrees, one STEM and one not. So I wonder why I have a TRUMP sticker on my SUV.

    GMOs are okay unless for higher pesticide loads. Vaccines are good. CO2 worries are nonsense. Low carbohydrate diets are great. Too much and illegal immigration is bad. Islam is more than a religion. The Singularity is coming.

    Guess I pick and choose whichever seems valid to me, or IS valid 🙂

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