Montag, November 02, 2009

Getting A Handle on Why Elites Fail...

First of all, a hat tip to NeoNeoCon: she got there first.

There's a fundamental thread in liberal thought: that they are smarter and more clever than the rest of us, and hence of course we should do as they say. Scratch a liberal with an education and you'll generally find someone who is quite proud of their academic achievements - I have found fewer vain than academics from obscure fields - and who really, really do believe that they would do a much better job if only their lessors could be persuaded to simply do what is quite obviously so good for them.


First of all, Dunning-Kruger Effect: a cognitive bias where the unskilled aren't aware of this lack of skill and think very highly of themselves, while those who are indeed skilled tend to underrate their abilities.

Second of all, and closely related, illusory superiority, also known as the "Lake Wobegon Bias" for that fictive town where all the children are better than average.

Third, and closely related as well, "clever sillies", those whose native intelligence (and high degree of education) nonethless does not prevent them from engaging in, well, silly behavior (truthers, 9/11 conspirators, etc). Here the problem is one of a fundamental inability to have anything remotely resembling common sense.

What's the point of covering these three cognitive biases?

First of all, this. We know that the Great Society of the Democrats in the 1960s created more problems than it solved (and indeed it failed to solve most of the problems it tried to, given that the War On Poverty was clearly won by poverty); La Pelosi and her Democratic friends are driving at high speed off a cliff to bring the Great Society programs to their logical conclusion. Smart people doing some really dumb things are fine in the private world, but we're talking trillions here.

Second of all, this. It's more subtle: here we are talking about the continuing delusion of the left that socialism didn't really fail, it just wasn't done properly. The article I link to doesn't make that case, but rather underscores how this position is untenable. For the arguments that socialism wasn't wrong, see here, here and here for but a few of many such articles.

In either case, it's extremely tempting to tell those involved that they are stuck on stupid: however, as many involved are demonstrably smart, yet so very wrong, there's got to be an alternative explanation (and the suggestion that I am the one stuck on stupid is to be expected, yet, of course, quite wrong: the economics of both examples here are quite clear to anyone having common sense).

This point is brought out more clearly than I could state it here.

My experience is that having your core beliefs challenged can be an affirming experience, one that leads you to a better understanding of what you actually do believe in and why. Living as an expat abroad, I've had this happen to me on a regular basis, especially during the 1980s and during the latter Bush years: challenges that others bring, others whose intellectual abilities are quite clear, but who remain so fundamentally wrong, so unable to see that their intellectual edifices are of sand and not granite as they have believed, who while postulating a thesis fail to think things carefully through not only logically, but also based on common sense.

Without common sense, any elite is doomed to failure, because ignoring common sense leads to the worst of worlds.

I agree with Buckley: I'd rather be governed by the first 400 names out of the Boston telephone book than the academics of Harvard.

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