The Work Done by “Very Smart People”


Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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111 Responses

  1. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    This argument, btw, is what goes through my head every time someone accuses me of s**ting on the Founding Father for acknowledging some of the things they got wrong.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      We are a people so very much in love with the popular ideologue, that we can not love the idea, while acknowledging the limitations of the person who spawned it.Report

  2. Avatar Sam says:

    It is (hugely) unfortunate that our political realm is so biased toward those Very Smart People. It is perhaps my greatest objection to the idea of creating a political process which forces change to happen slowly and incrementally.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      I think what’s particularly unfortunate about it is that we always pick and choose what we take from those VSP’s, as Jason points out. And so the question becomes, how do we pick and choose? Obviously, based on present day prejudices (not in the pejorative sense, but in the sense of things we’ve already decided).

      I’m perfectly fine with looking for inspiration, arguments, and ideas in VSP’s from the past and the present, but then you have to decide for yourself, and you’re going to decide in your present historical and cultural context, and to then blame your beliefs on those VSP’s is the perfect example of avoiding responsibility. Wait, aren’t conservatives all about personal responsibility?Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I disagree somewhat.

      You can be a brilliant policy expert in some areas and an absolute idiot or absolute crank* in others. We need data driven policy. I also don’t see why I should take it as a factual statement that the Very Smart People Jason is talking about are indeed very smart.

      *I know a lot of people who I think are generally smart most of the time and then they post something absolutely ridiculous on facebook. Often a kind of hippie-naturalistic medicine against Big Pharma type of drugs. I am not always a fan of Big Pharma type of drugs but Western Medicine works! It is not a conspiracy.Report

      • Avatar Aidian says:

        “We need data driven policy.”

        This a thousand times over. At least when it comes to public policy, for the first time in human history we actually have the ability to base our decisions on something other than received wisdom and gut feelings.Report

  3. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Well said.

    When are you going to write the version about being duped by Hayek? 😉


  4. Solid post, Jason. The inclusion of The Pixies being the cherry on top.Report

  5. Avatar clawback says:

    We all rely on each other, to a degree that neither our rhetoric nor our sense of self-esteem finds convenient to admit.

    Careful now. Just a small step from this to You Didn’t Build That.Report

  6. One more thing, that argument is somewhat funny coming from Derb. He’s big on science (I don’t claim he’s good at it, just that he’s a big fan and tends to write about it), so he must know that smart people get things wrong.

    He also worked for and with William F. Buckley who made that comment about trusting the first 500 names in the Boston phonebook more than the faculty at Harvard (or something like that). Granted, trusting the masses is the same sort of fallacy, but it does contradict the Very Smart People viewpoint.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      “He also worked for and with William F. Buckley who made that comment about trusting the first 500 names in the Boston phonebook more than the faculty at Harvard (or something like that). “

      I think it’s a different argument today, what with the populism in movement conservatism. Buckley’s point was that – given the choice – he preferred wisdom to intelligence.

      Whenever I hear people on talk radio banging on Harvard, their point is that students and faculty at Harvard are actually not bright and academically weak; they’ve just been hired/admitted because they are anti-America and/or minorities.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        WF Buckley was the Saruman of his age.

        Suddenly another voice spoke, low and melodious, its very sound an enchantment. Those who listened unwearily to that voice could seldom report the words that they had heard; and if they did, they wondered, for little power remained in them. Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves. When others spoke, they seemed harsh and uncouth by contrast; and if they gainsaid the voice, anger was kindled in the hearts of those under the spell.”


        Saruman, Saruman!’ said Gandalf, still laughing. ‘Saruman, you missed your path in life. You should have been the king’s jester and earned your bread, and stripes too, by mimicking his counsellors. Ah me!’ he paused, getting the better of his mirth. ‘Understand one another? I fear I am beyond your comprehension. But you, Saruman, I understand now too well. I keep a clearer memory of your arguments, and deeds, than you suppose. When last I visited you, you were the jailor of Mordor, and there I was to be sent. Nay, the guest who escaped from the roof, will think twice before he comes back in by the door.’ “Report

      • Whenever I hear people banging on Harvard, I remember all the really awesome research I know goes on there and I summarily ignore everything they have to say from that point on.Report

  7. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Very Smart People are always in questioning mode. They’re constantly retesting their assertions and assumptions.

    Truth is, I was taught homosexuals were aggressive perverts. My first contact with a homosexual was just such an aggressive pervert who repeatedly abused me. Then a friend later came out to me, one of the good guys. I had to reassess and changed my mind on this subject. Didn’t change my mind about the nature of aggressive perverts. It did refine my thinking on the subject of homosexuals and homosexuality.

    Anyone who buys into the argument of his fathers without such a testing mechanism is not a Very Smart Person. He’s a damned old dogmatist. Such people are always threatened by testing. The Very Smart live under a regime of self-imposed testing and retesting. In software, it’s called regression testing: that which is good will remain good under testing. All else is dangerous dogma.

    The word Smart arises from the word Pain, schmertzen, perhaps originally Greek smerdnos, dreadful, painful. The truth will set me free but first it will put all my precious little assumptions and assertions through the wringer.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      The word Smart arises from the word Pain, schmertzen, perhaps originally Greek smerdnos, dreadful, painful. The truth will set me free but first it will put all my precious little assumptions and assertions through the wringer.

      Space awesome!Report

    • Avatar Les Cargill says:

      There were religious proscriptions against homosexuality well ahead of Catholic ones*, but SFAIK, the idea there is to sublimate such urges into the production of children to propagate the Faith. It’s purely in the service of that goal.

      *aren’t there Old Testament proscriptions?

      The Catholics were in competition with the mores of the Roman aristocracy – Stoicism, buggery and general loutsih bloodthirst. The continuing “Spartacus” series on STARZ is definitely a decent resource for *seeing* this behavior.Report

  8. Avatar Adam says:

    More brilliance from that Derbyshire piece:

    “The last homosexual. My personal bet is that homosexuality will disappear before homophobia does — possibly quite soon, in a generation or so.”

    His basis for this theory is that genetic testing will soon mean that everyone will make their babies straight in the womb. Which, holy shit, what?Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      I find much more plausible the notion that a “therapy” would be devised – one that would turn gay people straight.

      I’d avoid the stuff like it was poison. It would literally wreck my life. But I certainly imagine just about all straight people administering it to their children, perhaps in the same series of vaccinations that prevent measles and whooping cough, two other diseases you certainly wouldn’t want your own child suffering.Report

      • Avatar Sam says:

        Woah – you really believe that “just about all straight people” would prevent their children from being born gay? Goodness. I’ll tell you that you can put me in the apparently small group of those who would never consider it.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          If the tide turned back towards gay people being treated as they were 100 years ago, and you had a way to spare your child that, you wouldn’t use it? The only argument I can think of against that is that being gay is an essential part of her and you’d be harming her by altering it. I don’t see that, myself.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko says:

            Yeah, that’s absolutely correct. Consider things we presently believe to be taboo — cannibalism, for instance. If you could somehow know in advance that your child would have a propensity for this sort of behavior, you’d feel a strong impulse to do whatever you could to obstruct that. The social and possibly legal consequences of her violation of that taboo would be immense.

            Once, homosexuality was thought of like that. (Need I disclaim that this is neither an endorsement nor adoption of that attitude today?) It was so thought of by the Very Smart People Mr. Derbyshire, who isn’t with the contemporary cultural agenda and intentionally resists getting with it, fallaciously cites as authority for adhering to his obsolescence.

            Even now, we aren’t exactly out of the woods in terms of social and cultural disapproval of homosexuality. That I would spare my hypothetical daughter the social disapproval that comes from certain quarters about homosexuality is not the same thing as a desire that my daughter be heterosexual. It ought to go without saying that I would love her unconditionally regardless of whether she turned out to be straight or lesbian or transgender or bisexual or asexual or whatever — that would be as irrelevant to a father’s love for his daughter as would be her favorite color. My desire would be that she be happy.

            Part of achieving that might be trying to change the culture to make the disapproval of homosexuality socially unacceptable. I can’t say to eradicate that disapproval, because that probably will never happen. But if we can make that disapproval as socially unacceptable as racism has become, that’ll be at least a good start.Report

        • Avatar Ryan Noonan says:

          Walk back “just about all” a tad and I think he’s on to something. I would never administer such a thing (my wife has openly advocated trying to make sure our son turns out gay, whatever that entails), but I’m part of the Dupont Circle crowd, so it’s hard to take my opinions as representative of the foul creatures that live between the coasts.Report

          • Avatar Sam says:

            If the tide turned back? How would that work exactly? I’m having a very difficult time imagining that society suddenly sprints backward on its tolerance of gays/lesbians. It could happen, I suppose, but I’m struggling with the idea of people (outside of religious conservatives) doing this.Report

            • Avatar Ryan Noonan says:

              I think you’re responding to Mike here, but I’m in agreement with your skepticism. Tod’s first bar fight brought out a fair number of people who were pretty sure the world is going to descend into a new dark age or something. That seems totally implausible to me. For the last 500ish years, the progress ratchet has turned mostly in only one direction. And with growing globalization of all things, it’s hard to see how you cut off pockets of people the way Europe was sealed off from the rest of the world during the Middle Ages, so I just don’t see how you start going backward.

              Maybe some kind of science fiction thing like total nuclear war or Cylons or whatever could dramatically alter the playing field, but I see no real reason to predict those.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:

                I didn’t necessarily that a new dark ages would happen I just said it might be a possibility.

                Nothing is destined and I am not a tech-utopian or believer in the certainty of a post-scarcity world yet. At least I am not expecting Star Trek or the singularity in my lifetime and probably not in the lifetime of the next two generations.

                I just think a little bit of bubble popping is necessary when it comes to tech-utopians.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              Things change, especially over long periods. Look at the swings in toleration of Jews in Christian society over the past millennium if you need an example. Right now, things are noticeably better than when my father was growing up, and top universities had quotas and top law firms were restricted. (The episode of Mad Men where they’re scrambling to find a Jewish employee to show off to a prospective client is entirely accurate.) That’s changed because of revulsion for the Holocaust. Believing it can’t swing back the other way is an unjustified and and unsupported belief in the inevitability of progress.Report

            • Avatar North says:

              Most likely privation or ruin. Gay rights grew naturally out of womens rights. Both of those movements could be wrecked simply by some kind of civilization collapse.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Want to see how it works? Look at Scalia yesterday, that pudgy oaf, look at how he phrases his argument about Title 5:

              JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, maybe it was making that judgment, Mr. Verrilli. But that’s — that’s a problem that I have. This Court doesn’t like to get involved in — in racial questions such as this one. It’s something that can be left — left to Congress. The problem here, however, is suggested by the comment I made earlier, that the initial enactment of this legislation in a — in a time when the need for it was so much more abundantly clear was — in the Senate, there — it was double-digits against it. And that was only a 5-year term. Then, it is reenacted 5 years later, again for a 5-year term. Double-digits against it in the Senate. Then it was reenacted for 7 years. Single digits against it. Then enacted for 25 years, 8 Senate votes against it. And this last enactment, not a single vote in the Senate against it. And the House is pretty much the same.

              Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It’s been written about. Whenever asociety adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes. I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act. And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless — unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution. You have to show, when you are treating different States differently, that there’s a good reason for it. That’s the — that’s the concern that those of us who — who have some questions about this statute have.

              It’s — it’s a concern that this is not the kind of a question you can leave to Congress. There are certain districts in the House that are black districts by law just about now. And even the Virginia Senators, they have no interest in voting against this. The State government is not their government, and they are going to lose — they are going to lose votes if they do not reenact the Voting Rights Act. Even the name of it is wonderful: The Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?

              The normal political process won’t do, not for Scalia. Never mind that Congress made a law and extended it, never mind that Congress has also seen fit to put some of the original states under Article 5 back on the straight and narrow. Never mind that evidence exists to continue Article 5 of the Civil Rights Act in some states: to Scalia’s mind, the will of Congress doesn’t matter, shouldn’t matter.

              That’s how progress is turned back.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                I’m fond of how the fact that it had overwhelming Congressional support (including 100% votes from the states under it) means that it’s REALLY disliked and only voted for out of racial guilt or fear of being a bigot.

                It’s awesome logic, the sort I’d expect from a Supreme Court Justice: No matter how Congress votes, it’s proof they’re against it!

                Head Scalia wins, Tails you lose. Awesome.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                That’s the great thing about originalism. It totally removes subjectivity.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Ahem. It’s almost as if Scalia is tailoring his originalism to produce results that benefit Conservative Republican causes.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Don’t talk crazy.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Well played, Sam.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                Well to be fair, if you believe in originalism, black people aren’t really people.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko says:

                The logic, such as it was, was that Congress was too politically craven to do what it really wanted.

                Which means that each and every member of Congress knew or strongly suspect that the public would retaliate against him or her if he or she voted against the law.

                Which means that there was overwhelming support in the electorate as a whole for renewing the law.

                Which means, therefore, that people don’t really want this law at all. Overwhelming support = no support at all.

                …Yeah, I can see that.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Super space awesome.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                The is no more evil racial entitlement than letting Those People vote, because the more of it you have, the more of Those People vote, and the more laws they push for to let even more of them vote. It’s a vicious cycle.

                The virtuous cycle is not to let Those People vote, because then you’re done,Report

              • Avatar Barry says:

                Burt: “The logic, such as it was, was that Congress was too politically craven to do what it really wanted.”

                Correction: The logic, such as it was, was that Congress was too politically craven to do what Scalia really wanted.Report

              • Avatar Barry says:

                I’m too lazy to look it up, but I believe that the AUMF and Patriot Act also passed by similar margins, so to Honest Scalia[1], they get the boot as well.

                I’ll also ask people to consider what Scalia would say if the ‘toleration of homosexuality’ pendulum were indeed to swing the other way, and bans on homosexual behaviors were passed and then repeatedly renewed with increasing massive majorities.

                [1] He’s a Supreme Court Justice in Erehwon.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko says:

                As I read on SCOTUSBlog yesterday, when Scalia said this portion…

                I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It’s been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.

                …there were literal gasps of astonishment in the lawyer’s lounge. These would be the lawyers waiting to go up for their own arguments or to work to support the lawyers in arguments, most of whom are members of the SCOTUS bar and therefore regularly appear and practice before the Nine. When Scalia says something that makes them gasp in astonishment, that’s a signal that a milepost has been passed.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Scalia: Colorblind Racist.Report

              • Avatar Pub Editor says:

                Scalia’s well past his prime. Popes and Supreme Court justices tend to go downhill fast after the 20-year mark (if not earlier). Maybe senators too (compare John McCain in 2000 with John McCain in 2009, etc.).Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I’m still wondering how a program that requires checking to make sure there’s no discrimination amounts to an entitlement? If I always check to make sure I’ve given younger daughter equal computer time as elder daughter, is that giving younger daughter a special entitlement?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                The courts didn’t do anything when that black guy in Philadelphia was intimidating white voters by looking all black.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer says:

                And opening doors politely!Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                That was for two women, and you know how they vote. He didn’t open the door for even one conservative white male from a red state.Report

              • Avatar Barry says:

                No, but treating ‘them’ fairly always seems to be.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Scalia’s a walking argument for the elimination of “until they are 90 years old, still think it’s 1936, and still think Jim Crow should be legal” lifetime appointments to the judiciary though.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                The two main electoral of the strategies of todays GOP are gerrymandering and voter suppression. Attacking the VRA enables both of those, and the five votes likely to be in favor all come from Republican-nominated judges. This is not a coincidence.Report

              • Avatar Barry says:

                I second Mike – it’s clear now that the main hope for the GOP for the next decade is voter suppression and gerrymandering, the obvious thing to do if demographics are against you and you don’t want to change. Scalia undoubtedly wants to be replaced by a GOP justice, and he doesn’t have the time to wait for a changed GOP (which would also probably nominate somebody he wouldnt’ like).Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                I would have thought the lawyers understood Scalia’s stance on Racial Entitlement from Richmond v. Croson

                Those who believe that racial preferences can help to ‘even the score’ display, and reinforce, a manner of thinking about race that was the source of the injustice and that will, if it endures within our society, be the source of more injustice still.

                And from a far more famous case Adarand

                To pursue the concept of racial entitlement – even for the most admirable and benign of purposes – is to reinforce and preserve for future mischief the way of thinking that produced race slavery, race privilege and race hatred. In the eyes of government, we are just one race here. It is American. Report

              • Avatar Barry says:

                Burt, I’d appreciate it if you could send me a reference;
                I’ve been arguing with a friend, who finds that Scalia’s argument makes sense (and has nooooooooooooooo problem with neither of us having heard of such a thing before).Report

              • Avatar Bob2 says:

                He must be very upset about the previous Pope helicoptering off into the sunset.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Scalia would obviously have disapproved of an 80+ yr old man in a white dress and sparkling ruby slippers.
                (no idea where Benedict got the slippers. the last pope wasn’t nearly as ostentatious)Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko says:

                Sure he was. Popes have worn red shoes for centuries. It’s part of the official costume, and the costume was created the way it was to represent the Pope’s claim to be not only the successor of St. Peter, but also the successor of Caesar as the secular ruler of Rome (with all that implies).Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                They’re also huge Elvis Costello fans.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                The last pope wore sturdy brown shoes.Report

          • Avatar NewDealer says:

            “(my wife has openly advocated trying to make sure our son turns out gay, whatever that entails)”

            Hopefully this is just done rhetorically as an argument against the people who believe in conversion therapies the other way around. People should not try to influence these things one way or another.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:


      I wonder how many steps it takes to get from that to, “Hey, I’ve just thought of a way to solve racism.”Report

    • Avatar Zach says:

      It’s worth noting that Derbyshire wrote this nearly nine years ago. He assumed testing would be available by this point. A number of his other predictions are wrong as well.Report

    • Avatar Les Cargill says:

      If a family has one child ( a figure we’re slowly converging on ) then a homosexual child means no grandchildren. That’s an incentive.Report

  9. Avatar M.A. says:

    Not only that, he blatantly misrepresents his sources.

    And practically all of them were homophobes! My own father was a homophobe. Plato, as I have already mentioned, was one of us;

    O RLY? Plato had this to say about homosexuality:

    “Homosexuality, is regarded as shameful by barbarians and by those who live under despotic governments just as philosophy is regarded as shameful by them, because it is apparently not in the interest of such rulers to have great ideas engendered in their subjects, or powerful friendships or passionate love-all of which homosexuality is particularly apt to produce.”

    Does it cross to the point where we can just say Derpy Derb lies about his own sources and be done with him?Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      I hate to say it, but I think Derbyshire is right about Plato.Report

      • Avatar Ryan Noonan says:

        You certainly have an interesting approach, although my reading of the Symposium is that Plato is rejecting all physical love. Socrates turning down Alcibiades for Agathon (whose name means, literally, Intrinsically Good) isn’t about homo- versus hetero-sexuality; it’s about rejecting sexuality altogether.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          Mine would be merely an eccentric reading if it weren’t backed up by the Laws:

          one certainly should not fail to observe that when male unites with female for procreation the pleasure experienced is held to be due to nature, but contrary to nature when male mates with male or female with female, and that those first guilty of such enormities were impelled by their slavery to pleasure. And we all accuse the Cretans of concocting the story about Ganymede.

          The hierarchy appears to run from homosexual sex, up to heterosexual sex, and then beyond it to the realm of truth and the Eternal.Report

          • Avatar M.A. says:

            And yet the first quote applies as well. Plato recognized that good things – such as your own relationship – come from homosexual attraction too.Report

          • Avatar Ryan Noonan says:

            Oh, that’s a good cite. I haven’t read the Laws. Nice work.

            It is totally bizarre to put that together with the fact that Plato’s characters seem to have a lot of gay sex with each other. I imagine they all constantly felt like I do after I’ve eaten a half-dozen Krispy Kremes.Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. says:

            “The hierarchy appears to run from homosexual sex, up to heterosexual sex, and then beyond it to the realm of truth and the Eternal.”

            That’s exactly how I read him. It’s sort of a finger pointing at the moon sort of thing- don’t fall in love with the finger when you should go for the moon. Sort of.Report

      • Avatar M.A. says:

        Plato had negative things to say about acting on sexual impulses (homo- or otherwise) later in his lifetime. He eventually had very negative things to say about marriage.

        Cicero was very similar. While he was in the habit of using accusations of homosexuality to equate his opponents with women, he was basically dismissive of sexuality in general.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I think your reading of Symposium is very wrong, but your reading of Laws is dead on. In fact, I think Plato is essentially saying the opposite in those two things: in Symposium, homosexuality and bodily pleasure in general are encouraged as stimulating the mind, as well as being a potential virtue in war, while in Laws the pleasures of the body — and homosexuality is taken to be purely one of these — are harmful to the spirit.Report

  10. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    One irony is that Jason is very smart, as are many of the posters and commenters here, and when we disagree our highest aspiration is to make very smart arguments to each other. Another is that the most useful talent in punditry is to take ideas that are stupid, hateful, or venal and dress them up to look smart. (Lack of this is why none of us have written best-sellers or become talk radio stars.)Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Writing a best-seller is as simple as getting the right publisher, editor and endorsements.

      Clever prose doesn’t sell and never has. To sell well, you need to tell a simple story with simple words with simple people as a target audience.Report

      • Avatar Les Cargill says:

        As a kid, I read everything James Michener ever wrote. He wrote *sweeping* stories in simple words and they sold millions. They were also exhaustively researched and were close enough to the facts where when you read real historical works they touched on, you already had the rhythm of the story. Good mass market literature is still good, and in a way, better than specialist books. That’s Utilitarian in its shape, but I’d stand with it – I’d rather have a kid read “Poland” than (Harry) Potter. Ironically, like Joseph Heller, a move adaptation made Michener a mass market writer.Report

  11. Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

    I do not subscribe to the fashionable belief that human beings suddenly got much smarter and more moral around 1965, and that everyone who lived prior to that date was a benighted ignoramus.

    I wouldn’t take it that far, but our understanding of the world is pretty much cumulative over time, so total ignorance should be decreasing with time. There may not have been a huge nonlinearity in the mid 20th century, but better media and faster exchange of ideas may have resulted in our total ignorance decreasing more rapidly. I don’t see a good reason to dismiss out of hand the notion that we did become much wiser about morals over a generation or two. This is especially true if we define “moralality” as something along the lines of, “rules we use to live happily and peacefully alongside one another.”

    I wonder if he goes to the Old Wise Ones for advice on how to store raw meat the same way new agey types think that people a thousand years ago had a wealth of medical secrets that we don’t have today.Report

    • Avatar Les Cargill says:

      I’d be very skeptical that media got better. See Vance Packard and MacLuhan for details. Packard basically draws the line that Madison Avenue was populated by people who were in the OSS but did not make it into the CIA. He manages this story with a minimum of paranoia. But the fact remains that the US embraced propaganda en masse during WWII, and that made us very different after.Report

      • Avatar Barry says:

        “But the fact remains that the US embraced propaganda en masse during WWII, and that made us very different after.”

        I’ve seen work discussing this as of WWI; the advertising industry was well-developed by that.Report

  12. Avatar Kazzy says:

    You know who else was smart…?

    ” I do not subscribe to the fashionable belief that human beings suddenly got much smarter and more moral around 1965, and that everyone who lived prior to that date was a benighted ignoramus.”

    This argument has a very huge logical flaw in it: If he is conceding that perceptions/attitudes DID change around 1965 and that their wasn’t suddenly a huge enlightening, than isn’t he basically arguing that a whole bunch of people get a lot dumber than? Curious…

    Lastly, great video at the end. I love that song. A great seed song for Pandora.Report

  13. Avatar zic says:

    Really. This is similar to defending the Lost Cause. Because they were good and brave and heroic people, but on the wrong side of human dignity.

    And I’m going to go there: Hitler was a smart person. So, I’ve read, was that sorry and sad young man who shot little children in Newton, CT. And I couldn’t begin to list he great thinkers, poets, artists, inventors, statesmen who are very, very smart, and also gay, without leaving more of those wonderful people off then I included.

    The logic here is Apples are fruit; oranges are fruit, so apples are oranges.

    But I also take offense to the binary thought here. the yes/no logic. I’m still looking for door number three; and through that door, I see that humans are analog, they’re a spectrum of things, including sexuality. I suspect we’re unlikely to ‘cure’ homosexuality, but we’re very likely to ‘cure’ many of their fixed orientation when same-sex attraction isn’t stigmatized. And thatis what I think bigoted writing like Derbyshire’s is all about, fear that the gate protecting tradition isn’t locked tightly, that others might merit the privileges to which he enjoys while excluding them from that enjoyment.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      I’m willing to call many people Very Smart, including Karl Marx and even G.W.F. Hegel (though Schopenhauer famously disagreed on the latter).

      I’m not willing to call Hitler Very Smart. Have you ever read Hitler? Ugh. Even apart from the content, which is repulsive enough on its own, the man simply could not write.

      Still, I think something is at work here beyond the simple distributional fallacy. We all rely on the judgments of other people in everything that we do. Constantly. The trouble comes when we’re presented evidence to contradict those judgments and don’t do anything about it.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        This is why you and I will never really agree on anything: you felt the need to put the “even” before “G.W.F. Hegel.”

        I’m tempted to send you my copy of this: (as you can see by the price, buying one yourself is not wise).Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Smart is measured in many ways. Certainly, by all measures of humanity, he was extraordinarily stupid. But in some ways, to convince people to commit that inhumanity, there was some form of ‘smart.’ One that should be rightfully condemned.

        The point is that ‘smart’ in and of itself is a stupid metric; I was making it in agreement with you, Jason.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        But what has Derbyshire ever been called on to run? He is no Marx, Hegel, or Schopenhauer. At best, he will be a few sentences to a paragraph in future studies/histories of 21th Century journalism, social media and transformation, the Trayvon Martin tragedy, and maybe a handful of other subjects like our culture wars.

        He might be moderately talented as a writer but he has never been influential in policy. He wrote for a highly right-wing/partisan magazine as a limited contributor. He did not even seem to be regularly paid. Do we have any proof that his columns changed policy? After getting sacked, he moved on to an even more marginal and notorious organization.

        The three people listed above at least created whole ideas which changed the course of human history especially Hegel and Marx. No one is every going to call themselves as Derbyshireist in the future.

        The most telling thing about the Derbyshire scandal was someone at the NRO comparing Derbyshire to an “Oxford Don”. The comparison went further and said he was the Oxford Don who know your writing was horrible because you had been drinking at the pub the night before. The most interesting thing for the prose is the very revealing and outdated way NROers seem to see themselves. They are Oxfordians from a different era when the school was still almost exclusively filled with Eton and Harrow tories.Report

  14. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    The problem here is that being a Very Smart Person has almost no correlation whatsoever with Getting All the Right Answers.

    The problem is that Very Smart People aren’t correlated any more highly with Very Self Aware and Introspective People, and thus Very Smart People have just as much – if not more – cognitive bias as Your Average Joe.

    Plus, Very Smart People are very capable of dressing up their own cognitive biases so that they fool themselves with it. And, of course, Random Stupid Person can’t tear down an argument that they can’t understand, so Very Smart Person gets reinforcement, every day, that they’re correct.

    It’s a death spiral.Report

  15. Avatar John Howard Griffin says:


    It approaches being merely phenomenological, our dependence from time to time on the opinions of Very Smart People. Sure, they are often wrong. But there are only so many hours in the day, and none of us, no matter how Very Smart we are, can personally think through everything from first principles. We all rely on each other, to a degree that neither our rhetoric nor our sense of self-esteem finds convenient to admit

    immediately reminded me of this:

    In religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.

    – Mark Twain

    So very true.Report

  16. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    At some point, I’m tempted to conclude that Derbyshire is in fact a performance artist.Report

  17. Avatar ZillaMod says:

    It’s always so weird to me how self-congratulating the writer is to his/her own thinking. Does authorship make you infallible? (No, it doesn’t.) What have we proven? That Derbyshire can defecate thoughts on a page with proper syntax and get a tickertape parade from those who want to read the notes to their own mental jam session. Great. He found an audience who will pay to hear his dualing banjos, because that’s what he does. Guaranteed crowd pleaser for that crowd. If this is about authority, that’s a subjective matter. If I have to delineate anything in this wedge of a blog here, its that authority seems to be in the voice. Why? You will never ever hear Aretha Franklin apologize to anyone because she has a voice. Voice is autonomous. It is granted some authority by those who hear it. If you can manage the notes and not caterwaul… If you can get a crowd to sing along and make that their song, then you are not an authority. You’re an influencer and a magician, but only Very Smart People can pick apart the difference between an entertainer with a strong voice and an actual money-to-table analyst who can write. One serves the satisfaction of politicians for emotional manipulations, but it’s not enough to serve truth in reporting or even opinion. To have a real debate you can’t just send in the partisan rodeo clown to people who understand how a single issue cuts with regurgitated talking points and pre-preprepared “burns” allowed out by the MSM handlers. When people are looking for real authority in the public affairs debate, the identity politics becomes white noise. They don’t care about homophobia when their battling cancer and trying to hold down 2 jobs. Derbyshire’s authority steeps to the context of crisis. If homophobia is your crisis… I can find other things for you to do.Report

    • Avatar Maribou says:

      “They don’t care about homophobia when their battling cancer and trying to hold down 2 jobs.”

      You know what? For the piece of the “they” you are talking about that happen themselves to be gay? Many of them DO care, rather a lot, because the homophobia has concrete consequences that make both the medical crisis and the effort to keep employment under trying circumstances a lot harder. And the piece of the “they” you are talking about that have gay siblings, children, best friends, and other loved ones? Many of them care rather a lot too.

      I’m getting really tired of people assuming that anyone who isn’t middle class or richer isn’t affected by homophobia, when really (like any other kind of bigotry), the effects tend to fall disproportionately on those who don’t have the money, time, or energy to fight against it. Speaking of “the work done” – a lot of the work in fighting for civil rights has ALSO been done by people who can’t really afford to take those risks, but do so anyway.Report

      • Avatar Barry says:

        I think that the commenter meant that people who are working hard and dealing with life’s troubles have no time and energy to *be* homophobic, which is clearly not true (as well as for racist, sexist, etc.).Report