Throughout my career as a college professor I’ve wondered whether people in the intellectual “elite” are really as smart as they’re paid to be. I know that most of my colleagues in the humanities and social sciences are no smarter than the average; they’re just more verbal. And I’ve found that most of my colleagues in the natural sciences aren’t nearly as brainy as their equations make them look. They’re expert in their fields, which may be very small worlds, after all, but they’re no more competent about other things than anyone else. They may be nice people and good people to know, and many of them are, but that doesn’t make them Keepers of the Doors of Life.
Yet they think they are, and lots of people are dumb enough to agree.
I would call this the Fauci phenomenon if I thought that Dr. Fauci was a scientist. So I’ll call it the Oppenheimer phenomenon, after Robert Oppenheimer, who actually was important in his field. At some point he decided that he should learn about politics too — so he went out and bought the complete works of Marx and Lenin, to get himself up to speed.
They may be nice people and good people to know, but that doesn’t make them Keepers of the Doors of Life.
How dumb was that? The works of Marx and Lenin had long been completely discredited in truly learned discourse, and should have been discredited by all intelligent readers as soon as they were published, because they are full of obvious fallacies. When not wielding equations, Oppenheimer was less than competent.
My colleagues are like that. Virtually none of them realize that the socialist economics they smugly assume to be right and needful were exploded when our great-grandfathers were still alive. And that’s only one example of things you would expect a bright person to know or be curious to find out — if there’s a bright or a curious person around. Since the 1970s, planet catastrophism has prevailed in “educated” — by which I mean credentialed — circles, taking several forms: global cooling, population explosion, nuclear winter, population explosion, President Reagan’s arms program, AIDS, global warming, climate change, President Trump, covid, climate change again. Each type of alarmism has featured an array of “evidence,” which has soon become obsolete, to be replaced by other “evidence” when the predictions based on it fail to come true, as invariably happens. Even the approximations are never anywhere close to being right.
So did the professors, and do the professors, respond with skepticism to new or revised claims? On the contrary, these are people who listen with respect as buffoons like Fauci command the nation to do things that no normal person would ever come up with — closing beaches, wearing face masks while walking alone, obeying 10 p.m. curfews, wiping down shopping carts to make sure no virus will leap from their wiry surfaces and enter a victim’s nose. These are people who have nothing to say when, after a year of this nonsense, a year replete with harassments, arrests, and bannings from social media of people thought to be soft on covid, yet another oracle drops from Mt. Olympus (April 25), contradicting the ones before:
Fauci [says] that the risk for people engaging in outdoor activities is “miniscule” . . .
“What I believe you’re going to be hearing, what the country is going to be hearing soon, is updated guidelines from the CDC,” Fauci told ABC’s This Week. “The CDC is a science-based organization. They don’t want to make any [sic] guidelines unless they look at the data and the data backs it up.”
“But when you look around at the common sense situation, the risk is really low, especially if you’re vaccinated,” he said.
After he said that, I was waiting to see how many members of the credentialed class would cry, “Good Lord! Just the other day you were advising everybody to wear two masks. And if you haven’t been following science and common sense for the past 12 months, why do you expect us to listen to you now?”
Naturally, none of them said anything. But they haven’t been silent in other respects. Daily they become ever more clamant, ever more insistent on indoctrinating the populace, ever more concerned with banning all skeptical discourse. Twenty years ago, the atmosphere in which they lived was already so thick with intolerance that surveys revealed practically no teachers at “elite” universities who were not some kind of leftists — a phenomenon that could only have resulted from a conscious or unconscious hiring ban on holders of other political views, views almost always irrelevant to any academic field. Now these people are even more intense leftists.
If you haven’t been following science and common sense for the past 12 months, why do you expect us to listen to you now?
They are also more intensely sheep, and more intensely superstitious.
A sheep will watch a wolf take out another sheep, and continue grazing near it. A college professor will watch his colleagues be attacked as racists, misogynists, homophobes, and transphobes, and never remind anyone of a need for clear definitions, dispassionate judgment, and a patient hearing of evidence — all “core academic values,” it is said. A professional scientist will silently or approvingly watch the withdrawal of scientific articles from peer reviewed publications because their evidence suggested, or might be taken to suggest, that current wisdom about climate or covid might be wrong. A professor of law will sign any number of petitions protesting some tyrannously “rightwing” policy, opinion, or inadvertent remark, but will sit silent while his campus bans speakers with whom administrators disagree, tries students in kangaroo courts, and defenestrates ideologically troublesome student organizations. Asked about these things, he will shrug, “Really? I didn’t know that.”
This is strange, for people who on other occasions claim to know absolutely everything. Which of course they don’t. A sheep knows how to graze.
The void of knowledge is filled with superstition. In the minds of the credentialed, truth is identified with “science,” and “science” with numbers; anything expressed in numbers seems scientific to them, even when the numbers are meaningless. This has recently become absurdly obvious, except to them.
A sheep knows how to graze.
On April 22, the president informed the world that in nine years the United States will “cut greenhouse gases in half” and by 2050 will reach “net zero” emissions. What “representative of the scientific community” steps forward to ask for a review of these prophetic numbers — where they came from, what their cost would be in jobs, money, and expense of human energy? No one asks what would provide the replacement energy — likely because the answer would involve some Evil Numbers: 8% wind, 2% solar, 90% unknown.
During the covid episode, politicians, prompted by specialization-obsessed scientists, proclaimed that everyone must stand at least six feet away from everyone else, that only 25% or 10% or 0% of certain indoor spaces could be occupied, that masks would reduce the risk of infection by 85%, and so forth, on and on — ideas that “turned out,” as scientists often say in cheerful tones, to be false. And, by the way, were from the beginning known to be false by all people of common sense. The same people were sometimes genuinely curious about numbers, and they began to notice what was happening to the covid statistics: the curves of infection for the various states in the union looked very much the same, regardless of whether extraordinary decrees of “distancing” or “masking” or “self-quarantining” had been issued or not. Go to google and type in “covid statistics,” add the names of states, and you’ll see what I mean: strikingly similar numbers. But did this make any difference to the credentialed class? Certainly not! Only non-credentialed people notice such (again obvious) things.
What we are seeing among the credentialed intellectuals is not intellectuality at all. It is the fanatical credulity that we thought was no longer practiced even in religious circles, a fanaticism that can be indulged by anyone, with or without an academic credential. The only qualifications are an absence of critical intelligence, a lack of intellectual curiosity, and a superstitious faith in anything that flatters the illusion that one has power over events, or at least over other people’s minds.