The Life Of The Mind

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-04-12 21:00:00 No comments

Who has any use for conservative intellectuals? — Crooked Timber

It is an unfortunate, but fairly obvious truth that most intellectuals, both on the left or right, don’t have particularly original ideas. Go to the Aspen Ideas Festival, or TED, or any of their ilk and you won’t find much that is genuinely surprising or exciting. Instead, you will find a lot of people whose stock-in-trade is not so much innovation as influence.

I don't mind it so much if someone doesn't have original ideas, but is a gifted explainer and educator. But there's a fair difference between being an explainer/educator and being an "influencer".

An influencer seems more interested in being well-known, being influential, than in being motivated by a thirst for the truth. They are more interested in putting on display their sense of confidence in their view of things, than they are in demonstrating how their doubts motivate them to test what they know. Most of these folks have thriving careers cluttering up the shelves of airport booksellers, delivering TED talks, and delivering all manner of unfalsifiable smart-assery.

I keep thinking, the chief tragedy of the life of the mind is in how those who are most sincere about it attract the least attention, because such sincerity requires humility and skepticism. That last includes skepticism of one's own self, and few people find skepticism charismatic.

We're not fascinated by or drawn to people who say "I don't know," even if they do so with confidence. We're drawn to people who say they know something with great confidence, even if that something is entirely wrong. It's not the knowledge we're drawn to, but the attitude of self-assurance, because we want to have some of it for ourselves too. Truly original ideas are hard to come by; real thinkers, even more so.

Tags: intellectualism science skepticism