Intellectuals, Idiocy & Skin in the Game

Nassim Taleb, coined the term Intellectual Yet Idiot (IYI) to describe those individuals who assert themselves as “experts”, and “intellectuals”, but are in fact not, and in many cases, quite the opposite.

This ever-present group of pseudo-intellectuals proudly brand their Ivy League degrees and display their pompous, elitist, and know-everything attitude for all to see, while at the same time exhibiting obvious traits of foolishness, naivety, arrogance, and just plain stupidity (unfortunately, they are completely oblivious to their shortcomings)

Taleb describes the characteristics of IYIs in his article here, which I strongly recommend reading.

Some of the prominent characteristics of IYIs are:

  • They lack skin in the game (meaning they support actions and policies from which they are personally shielded from, in case such actions or policies have negative effects)
  • They don’t know what they don’t know
  • They propose simple solutions to complex problems and propose complex solutions to simple problems
  • They attend the top universities
  • They tend to work in academia, government, and media
  • They berate others for doing things they don’t understand, when it is actually their lack of understanding that is the issue

Examples of IYI behaviour, advocacy, policy-making, and moral posturing is in abundance today. The expansion in the size of governments and universities has allowed IYIs to grow in number. Think tanks, NGOs, and industries that rely on state handouts and various forms of corporate welfare, have also spawned their own brand of IYIs.

And, of course, let’s not forget the media and entertainment industries, where the IYI phenomena is endemic; these “experts” and celebrities revel in their virtue signalling and proclamation that they know what’s good for you.

Examples of IYI syndrome:

  • Those who speak glowingly of socialist states (and even openly advocate for socialist policies) while never actually living in socialist states. While socialism has been widely dismissed by the general population, it seems to be prominently celebrated and revered by the following three groups: university professors, journalists, and Hollywood celebrities. Any members of these privileged groups moving to Venezuela anytime soon?
  • Those who were proponents of getting rid of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi in order to “help” Iraq and Libya. They were “evil dictators” and had to be overthrown to “liberate” the people and instill democracy. Because they don’t understand Second-Order Effects, the result was a dangerous power vacuum that allowed for the most brutal Islamic fundamentalist groups to flourish.
  • Those who confidently and “scientifically” predicted that Donald Trump would do abysmally as a candidate for President.
  • Those who are ardent cheerleaders for globalism, free trade, and open borders because they are convinced it works and makes everyone more wealthier. They apparently read something about David Ricardo and his law of comparative advantage that he proposed in 1817, and felt so strongly about it, they never bothered to check how the theory has held up 200 years later.
  • Those who advocate for multiculturalism, but themselves live in predominately white gated communities and suburbs.
  • Those who advise governments and other institutions on pursuing economic policies that my prove to be destructive, but are themselves personally and financially insulated from their errors. Economists and financial advisors are some of the greatest pseudo-experts. Check out this video with a debate between Art Laffer and Peter Schiff that took place before the 2008 financial crises wreaked havoc on the United States. What if surgeons and pilots made mistakes as frequently as economists and other “financial experts?”
  • Those who prescribe a patient medication with potentially debilitating side effects, when the illness could be cured simply by advising said patient to avoiding eating certain food. It doesn’t occur to an IYI that the best remedy to cure an ailment may be to have the patient simply avoid what is irritating his body, rather than adding something to alleviate the discomfort.
  • Those who misuse statistical information and believe that deaths attributed to pandemics and terrorist attacks fall into the same statistical category as falls from ladders and electrocutions caused by kitchen appliances.

Is there any way to limit the power that IYIs have in our society, given that many seem to create more problems than they profess to solve? Not at the moment; they are too influential, wield academic power, carry significant political clout, and are too entrenched in our various institutions.

Creating systems and policies were everyone has skin in the game would be a good start towards containing the development of IYIs. For the time being, however, it’s best to develop an internal BS detector, so you can avoid being persuaded by their nonsense.

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