Monday 6 October 2014

There are (functionally) zero intellectuals in modern society - the basis of New Leftism and Political Correctness

To be a real intellectual is to be highly intelligent; and to be highly intelligent entails having high 'general intelligence' (or 'g') which is (as a generalization - that is to say when looking at group correlations) general to all specific cognitive functions such as the various academic subjects, general knowledge, reading ability, problem solving, learning for examinations, and the special IQ tests.

(g was discovered by noticing that all these cognitive measures correlated positively with each other in group studies.)

To be gifted in general is in contrast to being gifted in particular; to have a general cognitive aptitude - regardless of context - is to think in a way which does not depend on context; to be able to think in a way which applies across all cognitive contexts is to think abstractly - that is, to abstract from the specific and deploy the general.

So, whatever it is, intelligence is about abstraction.


Intelligence is not is what intellectuals do, it is what intellectuals are. It is not something switched off and on as required - it is the way that intellectuals think.

And since being intelligent is about abstraction, so intellectuals are abstractors - not by choice, but by their very nature.

Abstraction is the pair of spectacles through which intellectuals perceive the world.


Thus intellectuals have devised, and in general supported, the trend towards abstraction in public discourse which has characterized modernity.

This has been largely pernicious, because as a rule only intellectuals can operate in the realm of abstractions. So that when public discourse has been made abstract, non-intellectuals can only accept it or reject it - non-intellectuals cannot understand abstraction and they cannot evaluate abstraction.

And when intellectuals have - en masse - abandoned their responsibility to understand and evaluate the abstractions which other intellectuals have introduced into public discourse - then there is corruption and wickedness.

And when intellectuals lose their intelligence, then nobody at all can understand and evaluate abstractions - so society at large can only have cheer or boo abstractions - implement them blindly and uncomprehendingly; or reject them lock-stock and barrel: they cannot work with them.

That is precisely the situation of current modernity.


Our society has been saddled with abstractions from earlier generations which the intellectuals of modernity partly cannot, and partly will not, understand. Public discourse concerning these abstractions therefore merely amounts to hooray or boo.


Political life is dominated by abstractions such as democracy, equality, justice, rights - these are not only not understood - but there is no effort to understand them: they are slavishly or cynically implemented - or else rejected. Either way, the process is inarticulate and instinctive merely. 

Our society is utterly dominated by bureaucratic power, and utterly rejects the validity of personal power; and public discourse is utterly incapable of recognizing, comprehending or modifying this situation.

Art (high status art) has been for a century and more, dominated by abstraction. Nobody likes it and nobody can use it except as a career path. Art, which was great, has been destroyed as a force for good.

Science too has been destroyed by 'peer review' - a vague abstraction, vaguely defined and never evaluated, little more than a buzz word - yet dumbly implemented and dumbly cheered as science is converted to nothing more than cynical, lying bureaucratic careerism - so uncritical that it loses the capacity even to notice what has happened. Science is now merely another something to cheer or to boo.

Abstract 'physics-like' concepts of the Christian God have been inherited from past intellectuals, some (at least) of whom could work with them: perfection, infinite, omni-potent/-scient/-present/, paradoxical formulations of the Trinity. Modern Christians, including modern Christian intellectuals as a class, can only defend or attack these formulations, they cannot comprehend or critique them - and they cannot use them in their personal lives.


Past intellectuals made and gave society some good things some bad things. But modern intellectuals, as a class, are not intellectuals but pseudo-intellectuals. They occupy the social niches of intellectuals, but they are not intellectuals: they either will-not or cannot, but certainly do not do abstraction.


In general, modern intellectuals merely defend socially-dominant abstractions. Since their position depends on a (false) status as 'abstraction experts', and since modern intellectuals are (as a class) corrupt and incompetent careerists merely - modern intellectuals tend simply to defend those abstractions which seem likely to maintain their (false) status in the short-term.

Such is the situation. Modern (pseudo-) intellectuals are nearly all corrupt and overwhelming incompetent in the abstract realm - yet that is what they are for. They cannot and/or will not perform the intellectual work to know abstractions; but are too dishonest to admit the fact, and too incompetent even to comprehend the fact.


Modern society is being killed by abstraction, and modern so-called intellectuals are cheering-on the process.

It would seem an easy matter to improve things by discarding the murderous abstractions and dealing instead with specific persons and specific situations - but this is the one thing which intellectuals are united to oppose: and the intellectuals are the rulers.

(Rulership being a social position passively inherited from their predecessors - with institutions such as schools and colleges replacing genetics.)


So modernity is not just stuck, but being actively goaded towards destruction by supposed-ntellectuals who are clever enough to pursue their short term status, but too dumb and dishonest to understand what is going-on or even to know that they don't understand it.

Societies primary problems are regarded as incomprehensible or insoluble even in situations where the problem is simple, the answers obvious. Meanwhile the modern intellectuals occupy themselves on shadow games using abstract concepts like counters; playing a game for which they cannot learn the rules - and they wouldn't play by the rules even if they had learned them.


Consequently, speaking functionally - there are no intellectuals at all in modern society: that is to say, modern society has no class of persons who actually do the job of understanding and evaluating abstractions.

Instead there is a class of pseudo-intellectuals who at most pretend to do this job; and often deny that this job even needs doing - and do something different instead. (Especially Leftist political advocacy under other names and disguises.)

Since the social role of intellectuals is now being performed only by incompetent pseuds and lying fakes, nobody is doing the job: the job is not being done.



The Social Pathologist said...

It's not like the Left is getting much competition from the Right lately.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SP - Even when there are real intellectuals of the Right (Jim Kalb for instance, who wrote the Tyranny of Liberalism, or other 'traditionalist' religious intellectuals such as Peter Kreeft - both of these are Roman Catholics) they have zero substantive impact on modern public discourse.

pyrrhus said...

I will agree with your proposition if you insert the word "Public" before "intellectuals". I and a number of friends, classmates, acquaintances, and bloggers like you engage in no holds barred intellectual discourse about everything under the sun on Twitter, various blogs, and in person.
It is precisely the lack of PC boundaries to such discussions that prevents them from reaching a wider public this point.
Also, many public "intellectuals" are of inferior intelligence, but are very good at media politics.

Bruce Charlton said...

@p - Yes, but functionally it doesn't impact at all.

Mikolaj said...

A rather random place to link to an oldish article vaguely related to the topic and to your book about science. (BTW, sorry for not responding yet in some other threads, RL is obnoxious.:)

James K said...

Theodore Dalrymple (Dr Anthony Daniels) is a notable British public intellectual.

In the USA there are several others: Thomas Sowell, Steve Sailer, and Ron Unz for example.

It is probably just as well that public discourse in the UK is not much affected by intellectuals, because there are many more intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals whose contributions are negative: Polly Toynbee on the left, for example, and the neocons on the right. Until 25 years ago there was a bandwagon of Marxist intellectuals, and it is just as well that they did not have more influence.

Dalrymple, Sowell, and others excel in skewering PC thinking on economics, welfare etc. Their influence is subtle: their opponents on the Left would like us to think that there is a consensus among "nice" people on these subjects, and that anyone who disagrees with them is neanderthal, fascist, and definitely not nice. Dalrymple et al show time and time again that there is no such consensus, and that socialist ideas, however well-meaning, are often wrapped up with layer upon layer of lies and wishful thinking.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JK - I know them all. For about 20 years in a small way I was myself one of these (e.g. Anthony Daniels once asked me to fill in for him at a talk - it didn't actually happen, but he regarded me as a fellow spirit). I more or less stopped this in 2008 and fully in 2010 when i became convinced it was counter-productive overall. I was giving fuel to the Left.

James K said...

Peer review is like democracy - it is the worst system ever invented by man ... except for all the others.

If in doubt, take a look at the non-peer-reviewed "literature" - you will find countless papers by people who believe they have discovered a flaw in Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity. It is usually a simple matter to detect the first equation with an error, but what comes as a surprise is the contempt the authors express for learning, and their belief that every practising scientist is part of a vast conspiracy to suppress the truth.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JK - you misunderstand the situation. Peer review was NOT the publication system in the golden age of science.

Now that peer review is literally everywhere in the professional literature - science is all-but dead.

Something similar could be said about democracy - once the inertial of systems has been taken into account.