We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day – Our society’s ‘top brains’ have gone mad

It wasn’t farmers and factory workers who came up with the idiotic COVID responses — nor was it they who originated the more or less criminal idea of conducting “gain of function” research on making dangerous viruses more dangerous.

It wasn’t shopkeepers and bus drivers who thought the way to deal with burgeoning urban crime was to get rid of police and release criminals without bail.

It hasn’t been landscapers and auto mechanics championing the notion that a child in the single-digit age range can make a lifetime choice about his or her genitalia or maintaining that even criticizing that idea is itself a species of “violence.”

Glenn Reynolds

Read the whole thing.

41 comments to Samizdata quote of the day – Our society’s ‘top brains’ have gone mad

  • Kirk

    I’ve been pointing this out for years, now.

    The whole thing went right off the rails back around the time of the “sainted” Woodrow Wilson, he of Princeton academic origin. If you trace through the weeds of it all, with your finger, the very beginnings started with the idea that “educational credentials are equivalent to virtue”, that such things conferred membership in some sort of natural aristocratic class.

    It started with WWI, here in the US: They conferred commissions in the military on men who had degrees. In all too many cases, that was all it took; never mind military competency or skill, if he’s got a college diploma, why… He must be officer material!!!

    The Israelis have found that the most you really need for company-grade officer duties would be a solid high school education. There’s nothing there in that set of skills that requires a college education, at all. Indeed, they’ve actually found that the US-style methodology of selecting officers strictly from the college-educated is fundamentally erroneous; the leadership skills and abilities to serve well at that level are not at all linked to education.

    So, Wilson got the ball rolling with this whole “meritocratic” system that doesn’t contain much in the way of actual “merit” by this point. They’ve dumbed down the degree programs so that everyone can get one, in the name of fairness, and actual scholarship is now rare. Witness the “Crisis of Reproducibility”, which mostly stems from the fact that the original work cited in most “Science!!!” these days is effectively bullshit.

    I think that they got off on the wrong premise; the things measured by the so-called “intelligence tests” are not those things which actual “intelligence” consists of. There are whole classes of things that aren’t covered by them, because you can’t easily test them on paper in a classroom over the course of a couple of hours; things like being able to work out whether or not “Cause A” is linked to “Effect B”, and the wisdom of following that course.

    The big thing that’s missing in our “meritocratic” little world is that there’s zero feedback into the system that produces these people that indicates how well they did, whether or not the results they produced were worthwhile. If you note, today’s modern mandarin goes from position to ever-higher position, entirely ignoring whether or not they produced positive results.

    I could point out case after case where negative outcomes garnered promotions and bonuses; most notably, the EPA functionaries that killed a thousand miles or so of a major tributary of the Colorado River. None were fired; none were disciplined; none lost their jobs. Zero accountability; zero responsibility.

    That’s the fork in the road that Wilson and his academic ilk set us on, and if we don’t get off of it, our civilizational epitaph is gonna be something like “But… But, they did so well on the tests…”

    Success in school and “doing well on the tests” don’t mean squat, when you fail in the real world. That failure should tell you something, namely that the training simulation which you’ve created in the schools has piss-poor fidelity with the reality that it is supposed to reflect. You can rail about the unfairness of it all, but when actual experience tells you that you’ve achieved nothing but failures? It’s time to listen to the voice of reality.

  • James Hargrave

    There is, or was, in Waynesboro (Virginia) home turf of W Wilson, a ‘correctional facility’ named after him. I thought it was a bit late to correct the damage he had done until I realised that it was a gaol (very suitable monument).

  • Patrick Crozier

    Er, aren’t we here at Samizdata part of the “brains”? And what were those brave men who framed the Declaration of Independence and signed it on Treason Day if not intellectuals? And in the very last podcast I ever recorded with the late Brian Micklethwait he was making the point that the Industrial Revolution – the greatest thing that ever happened – began as an intellectual exercise.

  • Patrick Crozier

    “It started with WWI, here in the US: They conferred commissions in the military on men who had degrees. In all too many cases, that was all it took; never mind military competency or skill, if he’s got a college diploma, why… He must be officer material!!!”

    We didn’t do that in the UK in WW1. This is what Douglas Haig had to say about the result:

    “Some of the best brains of our youth from Oxford and Cambridge were employed on such duties as dispatch riding and carrying messages. Few survived. Public School battalions, Sportsmen’s battalions, and such like absorbed in their ranks men who in civil life were leaders and should have been officers in war. Later we felt their loss, when, during long years of war, thousands of men died because they and the officers who led them had had insufficient time for training.”

    Britain and the US faced almost identical problems in the First World War: how to expand the size of the army quickly. But they couldn’t do it because you can’t. Both Ukraine and Russia are re-learning this lesson as we speak.

  • Mickey

    It takes a certain level of intelligence (or over education) to come up with the more stupid ideas that infest current discourse.

  • Paul Marks.

    Good article and good comments.

    As Professor Reynolds knows well – the Collectivist movement (Marxist and non Marxist) dominates the education system – and those people who think that all students just discard everything they have been taught when the enter the “real world” are wrong (horribly wrong).

    Liberty does not “evolve” it is not the result of “human action, but not human design” (whatever Hayek may or may not have said) – if people do not have a basic (basic) understanding of liberty they will not get it or, if they have liberty already, they will not keep it.

    The doctrines now taught in the schools and universities are evil – they are either some form of Marxism (which is where DEI comes from – Frankfurt school Marxism) or some other form of Collectivism (ESG is a form or Technocracy – which can be traced back to Henri Saint-Simon or even Francis Bacon), but the rot set in long ago.

    As far back as 1936 60% of Americans voted to re elect a person, Franklin Roosevelt, who had stolen monetary gold (and monetary silver) from the people and violated the gold clauses in all contracts – public and private. The people voted for to re elect this person because they (the majority of people) already, almost 90 years ago, had no real understanding of the importance of liberty.

    And it was not as if things were wonderful before Franklin Roosevelt arrived in 1933 – already under Herbert “The Forgotten Progressive” Hoover, the top rate of income tax was over 60% (just 20 years before the Income Tax was ZERO, it did not exist), and the government was actively intervening to prevent (yes PREVENT) wages adjusting to the Credit Money bust of 1929 – this government action was the direct cause of the mass unemployment, but people no longer understood basic supply and demand – and thought that government edicts could give them all sorts of nice things.

    Kirk rightly mentions the mad Collectivist Woodrow Wilson – and if anyone thinks the description “mad Collectivist” is unfair then look at Professor Wilson’s book “The State”, or “Philip Dru: Administrator” (a totalitarian wet-dream written by Wilson’s “other self” his chief of staff Colonel House).

    But “Teddy” Roosevelt (the rival of Wilson) also hated liberty – he also hated the limited government principles of the Constitution of the United States.

    Indeed as far back as the 1880s the “National Socialists” (yes they actually called themselves that – straight arm salutes and all) Edward and Francis Bellamy were pushing Collectivism in schools – pledging to “the flag” (not to the Constitution – they hated the Constitution) and working for a Collectivist nightmare that they hoped would arrive by the year 2000 (see “Looking Backward”). The flag companies just thought “good, more sales of flags” – they did not trouble themselves about the horrific evil that was being pushed by these Massachusetts intellectuals – for Harvard was one of the first universities to be corrupted, a fish goes rotten from the head. It is the elite who are corrupted long before ordinary people are.

    “There is a great deal of ruin in a great nation” – so there is, but evil has been growing for a very long time indeed. America, and the rest of the Western world (for the same story could be told of most other Western nations – if anything it is worse in many other Western countries) did not start to decay recently – it goes back a very long time ago. The corruption has just become obvious in our time because the decay (the corruption) has gone so far – civil society is now on the verge of collapse, not by accident but by design.

  • Paul Marks.

    As for money itself – the economist Frank Fetter (who died as far back as the 1940s) noted that in the 19th century the average person knew vastly more about money and banking than people of his own time did.

    In the 19th century the average American was very wary of paper money, and rightly so, and they also knew that credit expansion banking was a scam – a very complicated scam, but a scam.

    By the early 20th century the people had been taught that both Credit Money and bubble banking were just fine – as long as the government (which they had been taught was all wise and all knowing) was in charge of these scams.

    Henri Saint-Simon (back in the early 19th century) thought that bankers (Credit Bubble bankers – not “Shylock” money lenders) would be the ideal people to be in charge of a future Collectivist society – along with “scientists” (pushing “The Science” of course – no dissent allowed).

    What we are now facing goes back at least two centuries – if not much longer.

  • Kirk

    Patrick Crozier said:

    Er, aren’t we here at Samizdata part of the “brains”? And what were those brave men who framed the Declaration of Independence and signed it on Treason Day if not intellectuals? And in the very last podcast I ever recorded with the late Brian Micklethwait he was making the point that the Industrial Revolution – the greatest thing that ever happened – began as an intellectual exercise.

    You’ll have to show me where there is any proof that anyone posting here is “part of the brains” of modern society. You seem to think that commentary confers authority; I would never put myself forth as one of the “brains”, not the least because I want no responsibility for any of the manifest idiocy I see going on around me. You want to blame someone for today’s rampant stupidity? Go somewhere else, I ain’t accepting it.

    The real problem here is that the requisite feedback loops aren’t present. In a true market economy, bad decisions equate to bankruptcy for those making them; that’s accountability. You f*ck up, you pay. With your job, your livelihood, and a lot more. Modern “capitalism” has done away with that, in favor of failure-free and consequence-free cartels and government intervention.

    Likewise, in the intellectual sphere. If the intellectuals were worth a damn, they’d see that there wasn’t any such thing as accountability and responsibility being enforced through their system, and they’d take action. If only out of a sense of self-preservation. As they do not? And, act instead in preservation of privilege and unaccountability for those inside their little coterie of so-called “intellectuals”?

    All I can do is laugh in your face.

    Raw fact is, they claim to be things that they are manifestly not. They lie, they prevaricate, and they act consistently and effectively only in terms of their own short-sighted self-interest. This ain’t a recipe for survival, let alone long-term success. It will end in tears, and likely within my lifetime.

    I’ve never set myself up as some sort of anointed genius. All I’ve ever done is point out that the Emperor ain’t wearing any clothes, and is wandering the streets waving his wing-wang in our collective faces. If you have trouble recognizing that fact, well… That says rather more about you than it does about me.

    These people keep telling us how qualified they are for the trust we put in them, and yet keep generating massive failure. If you don’t recognize that fact, and keep buying into the bullshit, well… You deserve what is coming. In spades.

    Me? I see the light of the oncoming train, and I don’t have the slightest illusion that it’s some guy on a handcart with a flashlight… In fact, I suspect it’s actually the light of an oncoming falling asteroid out there on the end of the tunnel where the light is coming from, or a nuclear blast wave coming down the trackway. Y’all are gonna be surprised when all this stupidity comes due, bearing the invoices. I’m not; if anything, I’ll likely be surprised to see that there’s a lot not actually being billed for.

  • Y. Knott

    “There’s nothing there in that set of skills that requires a college education, at all.” Kipling’s “Arithmetic on the Frontier” illustrates that it’s a very old problem:

    “A great and glorious thing it is
    To learn, for seven years or so,
    The Lord knows what of that and this,
    Ere reckoned fit to face the foe –
    The flying bullet down the Pass,
    That whistles clear: “All flesh is grass.”

  • Snorri Godhi

    What is missing from the good professor’s article is acknowledgement of the connection between madness and the “progressive-American” diet, as i call it.

    Glenn Reynolds himself does not follow the progressive-American diet, and probably his diet is healthier than even the conservative-American diet.

  • Snorri Godhi


    what were those brave men who framed the Declaration of Independence and signed it on Treason Day if not intellectuals?

    That is why the good professor wrote: have gone mad.
    Not: have always been mad.

    And in the very last podcast I ever recorded with the late Brian Micklethwait he was making the point that the Industrial Revolution – the greatest thing that ever happened – began as an intellectual exercise.

    Actually, the first widely used steam engine was developed by a semi-literate blacksmith: Thomas Newcomen.
    Trevithick and Stephenson were not much more educated.

    James Watt did work at the University of Glasgow … as an instrument maker. He did not have a university degree.

    (I got most of the above from Terence Kealey’s The Economic Laws of Scientific Research.)

  • “And in the very last podcast I ever recorded with the late Brian Micklethwait he was making the point that the Industrial Revolution – the greatest thing that ever happened – began as an intellectual exercise”…I’d like to hear more of this line of thinking, not consistent w/my perception. Neither steam engine nor power loom nor Jacquard were intellectual exercises in any way that I can perceive.

    Is the podcast and/or a transcript still available?

  • Kirk

    @David Foster,

    It was no such thing, the Industrial Revolution. They want to claim it, but the sad truth is that the intellectuals had vanishingly small involvement in any of it. It was mostly tradesmen and merchants that built the modern world; do note who actually solved the riddle of longitude, and how hard he had to fight for his just rewards against the influence of the academy.

    I’m afraid that formal “intellectualism” as expressed by the majority of soi-disant “intellectuals” ain’t what they say it is on the boxes they stuff it in. When it works, it’s usually things that were the actual work-product of others, which they had little to do with actually producing, or it is utter shiite.

    Which is easily identifiable by the fact that it doesn’t work. Marx was an intellectual; nobody who actually ever tried to, y’know… Work with actual human beings and organize them for a task would have ever come up with his ideas. Same truth is evident across entire swathes of “intellectual endeavor”; how many grand and glorious theories have these types come up with, which have died ignominious deaths when they encountered reality?

    Contrast that with the number of things the “intellectual authorities” have fought tooth and nail, which some humble practitioner came up with and then proposed, to their fury? Ever examine the “intellectual history” of ideas like continental drift or the source of the channeled scablands here in the northwestern US? It is striking how those ideas were arrived at, against the “conventional wisdom” of the then-reigning intellectual class, and how long it took for them to begin to be listened to. Look at Ignace Semmelweis; poor man wound up in an insane asylum, because there was just no way possible for all those highly-educated and experienced doctors to be transmitting disease between their dead anatomy subjects and their patients that they treated…

    Yeah. I’m really not all that impressed with “intellectuals”, TBH. From what I’ve seen and studied in my life, when you look at them as a class? They’re astonishingly prone to all the human weaknesses and vanities that the rest of us are, all while claiming nobility of purpose and superiority of intellect while actually possessing little to no humility or ability to recognize or acknowledge mistakes, however…

    I would never claim to be a “person of intellect”. In my mind, that’s about like laying claim to some embarrassing feature of ancient lore, like phrenology. What they’ve made of the idea of “intellect” with their demonstrated work product makes it a shameful embarrassment, as in “…that’s so foolish/stupid that only an intellectual could believe it…”

  • Steven R

    For some reason that scene in Back To School where Rodney Dangerfield is in the economics class and totally destroys the professor’s theoretical knowledge with his real world experience comes to mind.


  • Snorri Godhi


    what were those brave men who framed the Declaration of Independence and signed it on Treason Day if not intellectuals?

    That is why the good professor wrote: have gone mad.
    Not: have always been mad.

    That, plus…

    Well, I could easily buy the idea that many/most founding fathers were motivated by “I’m smarter than the people in charge”, and let that bias their reasoning. They were men, not angels, and I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t believe that anyway.

    Despite the magnitude of their work, as far as operations are concerned, it was more-or-less taking a bureaucracy that had previously been a department of a larger organization & making it a stand-alone organization. Even still, they had to scramble to reorganize not too long after the separation due to (among many other things) optimistic cost & revenue estimates.

    Progressives goals require molding every human activity rather precisely based on the current trend in academia. Once a new trend comes, academics can dismiss the failures of the previous generation on the grounds that they were conservative.

  • Paul Marks.

    Patrick and Kirk – the Founding Fathers were not a paid administrative class of intellectuals, indeed many of the people who signed the Declaration of Independence were financially ruined by the stand they took.

    In America paid “minds” in a professional intellectual policy class date from the 1880s – public bodies such as the Interstate Commerce Commission (which has always been an utter disgrace – see the late Milton Friedman on the ICC) and the Civil Service – and how correct its foe Senator Conkling has been proved (but then R. Conkling was correct about most things – he is one of the forgotten heroes of the 19th century.

    In the United Kingdom it was much the same – do I have to go through the utterly dreadful record of Sir Charles Trevelyan the founder of the British Civil Service?

    To Trevelyan “laissez faire” meant ever-higher-taxes – he was so wrong headed he would be ideal as a writer for the modern Economist magazine.

    In case anyone does not know – in the few yeas Trevelyan was in charge of Ireland, the population fell by a third – 1 in 3.

  • Kirk

    If there is anyone left to look back on it all, the insistence of our “intellectual elite” on the primacy of theory over practical observation is going to be remarked upon. The fact that the rest of us fell in with their BS credulously and without criticism will be mentioned, as in “How could they be so stupid…?”

    The intellect is a tool. Nothing more, nothing less: A brittle, narrowly useful and highly dangerous tool. Without it being tempered by common sense, observation, and some feedback as to how well its work products are, y’know… Working, it is extremely risky to only use it as your guide.

    There’s a remarkably funny little thing out there on the internet entitled “Things I’ll do if I ever become an Evil Overlord”. Item twelve on that list runs as follows:

    “One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation.”

    This bit of humor bitterly observes a real truth, that you get to over-intellectualizing things and you wind up tripping over your own brilliance on things that the less well-endowed intellectually would have never run into. In the Army, the usual line was, with we low-browed enlisted types, that any Operations Order contained in multiple three-ring binders was generally not so much an Operations Order as a list of things that weren’t going to happen as they were planned. Operations Orders conceived and briefed off of the backs of ration carton sleeves, however…? Usually worked.

    There is an embodied truth here, with regards to the intellect: It’s not all that. We test for “IQ” and have turned the results of that test into a proxy for virtue and “being right”. The reality is, however, that there are an awful lot of things encapsulated within the general idea of “intelligence” which are not tested for and are thus left out of the whole question, like “wisdom” and “ability to link cause with effect”. I think that what’s actually happened since Benet came up with the idea is that we’ve selected for a certain form of what is effectively autism; the people we’ve put in charge of our hypothetical meritocracy on the weight of these tests and their supporting educational schemes are actually idiot-savants whose “intelligence” isn’t being effectively dampened by common sense or any form of accountability for error.

    Frame the modern world and its society as a nuclear reactor, if you will: It relies upon the heat produced by the intellectual types to operate, but the problem is that the reactor has been designed without any control mechanism like a real reactor would have, which would act to prevent the whole mechanism from running away and going critical. Where we are today? Chernobyl. Look at the major west coast cities here in the US; the intellectual class has taken their theories about social and criminal justice, put them into effect, and ruined most of them. Where’s the damping effect of any control rods going back in? Do you see anything like that happening?

    To continue the analogy, the whole thing is going to go into meltdown before long. What is left over, afterwards? No idea, but I’ll about guarantee you this much: The current intellectual class, having utterly discredited itself, will never again be looked at the same way.

    You can assert some awfully stupid things, in classrooms and the usual academic venues. When you move those ideas out into the real world, and try to make them real? Once you affect other people’s lives? You’re accountable; you will pay the price.

    The price, I fear? It’s going to be the intellectual class going the same way as the Ancien Regime of France, after the aristos finally succeeded in discrediting their entire class. I’ve often made dark jokes about Pol Pot having been somewhat right, but the truth is this: 1970s Cambodia may be a best-case outcome, once the proles catch on and start singing about a la lantirne

    I’d put the chance of a Harvard diploma being a death warrant out there on the unlikely end of the spectrum, but it’s still out there as an option. Same in Europe; people forget that the staid Dutch once ate a prime minister…

  • Patrick Crozier

    Thanks, tr

  • Myno

    Kirk, I really wish you wouldn’t be so cavalier with the term “autism”. Autism is a Spectrum. I’m on it. I happen to be highly functioning enough to avoid the sorts of errors you have encountered with others you label as autistic. To brandish that term about like a sword is to cut down folks you do not know for ills they may not deserve. Abuse of the term is a little like racism in that way.

  • It was no such thing, the Industrial Revolution.

    Sure there was, just like there was an Agricultural Revolution that made it possible.

  • Kirk


    Ya think I’m not on the spectrum, myself? That’s how I know my own kind, my friend.

    And, it’s interesting that you find the label denigrating, rather than descriptive. I see it as something to take into account, much like my own OCD. Which, in certain positions, can be a definite asset. I have a “thing” about accountability and locks; can’t leave anywhere without “setting” that I’ve secured them properly in my memory. If I don’t, I’ll obsess over it for hour after hour, until I am able to verify that, yes, I did lock that door.

    Huge pain in the ass as a civilian, someone to live with. As an armorer? LOL… I never had a breach of security due to one of my own lapses, and my mania for accountability served me in good stead throughout my military career.

    So, while I may use the term to describe these people, I’m also describing myself. I could so easily have become one of them, but I developed an abhorrence for the classroom and academia in general such that my life followed a very different path.

    And, the sort of autism that these educated-yet-still-idiot types isn’t in and of itself bad or useless. It’s how it’s been used, how it’s become enabled in our lives. There’s no tempering, no correction going on. And, that’s the problem. It’s as if someone discovered flint-knapped hand axes, and tried to use them as a tool for every situation, to include delicate work like neurosurgery. Each tool has a purpose, and misusing them leads to disaster. You don’t try picking up cigarette butts with a tracked excavator, unless you want to ruin your landscaping.

    Which is pretty much what we’ve done with this form of mis-defined intelligence.

  • Kirk

    @Perry de Havilland,

    I think you missed that that post was part of a conversation with David Foster, whose assertion that said Revolution was a product of the intellectual elite is about as inaccurate as you can get.

    You can, instead, make a damn good case that many of them strove to prevent said Industrial Revolution from even happening, being allied with the powers-that-were. The actual innovations and changes that made the Industrial Revolution what it was came in from the sides, via a lot of formally uneducated tradesmen and merchants. I’d say that many of them weren’t educated at all, but from the reading that many of them provably did, there were an awful lot of autodidacts among them.

    You have to remember… Edinburgh was about the only place you could get “educated” in the modern sense, back in those days. There were no schools of engineering or chemistry to be found in England; it was all classics, all the time. Which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but those schools did tend to ignore the basics of life while preparing the elite to serve Britain as government officials or clerics…

  • Myno


    Personally, I don’t find the term autism denigrating at all. I have found your prior use of it denigrating. Your response does help me understand how you’re using it.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Via tr’s link, i found this post by Brian Micklethwait.
    But i must admit that i found it a bit vague at first reading.

    One way to express my view on the matter is that there were at least 4 English Revolutions: Puritan, Glorious, Agricultural, and Industrial.

    Not sure how important the Puritan Revolution was, but i believe that the Glorious Revolution made possible the entrepreneurship that led to the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions.
    And while the Puritan and Glorious Revolutions were led by people well-versed in the Classics, the later revolutions were led by people of a more practical bent.

    But i am not sure whether my view is compatible with that of the much-missed Brian M.

  • Kirk


    The term is what it is; it describes a range of specific behavioral issues that can be good and bad. The problems with it come in with the uses they put it to.

    It’s also something that can be worked around and compensated for. I’ve been around people who were “natural leaders”, men and women who were automatically peer leaders in whatever situation they found themselves in. For whatever reason, charisma, force of personality, or just the natural confidence they had, those people would almost instantaneously become the center of things and everyone would want to do what they did. I think the current term for them in marketing is “influencer”.

    That’s another aspect of human personality, just like what I’m terming autism. Just like the intellectual skills and abilities that autism enables, that “influencer” thing can be misused and turn into an active problem. In the military, you learn to identify and coopt those sorts as quickly as you can, because if you don’t? Yeah; prepare for a lot of off-duty problems and even on-duty ones. You want that charisma being a force for getting what you need done, and done right. Fail in that regard? Oh, dear God, but you will be hating life.

    That’s exactly what has gone wrong with a lot of the educated-yet-idiot types. They’re not actually all that “effectively smart”, because they tend to get lost in the weeds of their own thinking, and they also tend to have very little grasp on what makes their fellow humans tick. The portrayal of Sheldon on Big Bang Theory rang so many bells for me, when I remember a lot of the officers I worked for in the Army.

    It’s a useful tool, that sort of intelligence. You absolutely need some of it in every organization, but putting it in charge of everything? Recipe for disaster, and that’s exactly what we’ve got going on.

    Intellect ain’t everything. Intellect has to be coupled with common sense and properly harnessed. There are times and places where it ain’t at all appropriate, effective, or even workable.

    And, I think that the whole thing started going off the rails when we enshrined things like “IQ” and educational credentials as being proxies for virtue and wisdom. You occasionally have to actually demonstrate merit, if you want to run a successful meritocracy. Right now, all you need are the right credentials, never mind your track record of abject failure or your manifest issues of mental instability coupled with demonstrated stupidity.

    Which I fear I have to point out, yet again, describes most of our “intellectual elite”, who can’t quite work out cause and effect for most of what they do.

  • Myno

    While making any general statements about autism is a fool’s errand, I’ll add a little specificity for those who may not be intimately familiar with the affliction. Which means talking about my own autism, as it is different for every person On the Spectrum. Something we humans share with the other Great Apes is the experience of projecting one’s self into another’s circumstance. A common “e.g.,” is watching football (either varietal) and seeing the ball on the ground next to a player who doesn’t and wanting to have him/her kick it, at which point one’s own leg snaps forward as if it could reach through the telly and strike the thing. That physical mirror link I have as well as anyone else. What I don’t have is the emotional analog of that. I can understand and over-analytically dissect an emotional encounter. What I can’t do, is put myself in the place of the other person and see things from their position. That emotional data is ample and available to “normies”, but I get nada. I have to use my overly analytic side to assess an emotional situation, because I lack the data channel upon which the rest of humanity naturally relies. Social situations are fraught for me, because I lack that direct input. I can’t easily “know” what the right thing to do or say is, precisely because I lack a lifetime’s worth of experiential data. I see that same lack in most of the folks I know On the Spectrum. It manifests in many different ways, depending on the rest of the individual’s personality profile and inherent mental capabilities. To the extent that my own limits are shared by others OtS, perhaps it will aid our dear readers to understand why we often act outside the lines.

  • Kirk

    Boils down to having to work out all the things that “normal” people do on the fly. Autistic folk do not have the instinctive understanding of what makes other people tick; you have to work everything out laboriously after the fact, and you often don’t get it right even then. The other thing is that you can’t recognize what is going on around you in terms of human interaction; you’re left having to reason your way through it.

    Which sometimes works out to your advantage; you often understand social interactions and what’s going on better than the participants, once you’re clued in and have enough time to process it all. It’s why I’ve been a life-long observer, studying the weird apes I’m trapped among.

    Gotta tell you that I’m not really all that impressed by a lot of you… Especially the ones who think they’re smarter than all the others.

  • I think you missed that that post was part of a conversation with David Foster, whose assertion that said Revolution was a product of the intellectual elite is about as inaccurate as you can get.

    In that case, yes, agreed. Industrial revolution was not a top down ‘gift’ from the intellectual elite.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Factual question to those of a scientific bent here: Is there, as far as anyone knows, a legit reason for “gain of function” research?

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @Jonathan Pearce

    Is there, as far as anyone knows, a legit reason for “gain of function” research?

    I believe that the justification is to “get ahead of the curve”, i.e. to anticipate the gain of function so that you can combat it.
    It sounds pretty weak to me.

  • Todd Turley

    There is only one outcome when destroying a foundation.
    Reynolds writes, “Guardrails like custom, religion and moral traditions made such disasters less likely, but we have spent basically my entire lifetime weakening those guardrails.”

    Truly, these are guardrails but only in the context of individual behavior. In Reynolds context – building or maintaining a classical liberal culture or society – basic principles or first things form the foundation.
    Thus, adherence to basic principles in policy making (acknowledging individual sovereignty when considering total economic shutdowns) makes “such disasters” impossible, not just less likely.

  • Kirk

    @Jonathan Pearce

    Factual question to those of a scientific bent here: Is there, as far as anyone knows, a legit reason for “gain of function” research?

    I used to work with a guy who was a microbiologist that the Army had snaffled up to work at USAMRIID. They’d sent him out to us in order to get him “re-greened”, because they felt he had rather too much time doing things other than “Army officer”. He’d worked around CDC and all the other agencies back east, and had a very low opinion of anyone working there, because “…all the smart ones went to work in biotech…” When I knew him, it was before 9/11 and the anthrax attacks. He pretty much laid out how he thought the investigation would work out, in such a situation, and he was spot-on. He knew the system, knew the bureaucracy, and it was his opinion that none of them knew what they were doing. He made for a very interesting late-night conversationalist whenever we had overnight duty watching the computers for battle simulation exercises. I learned a lot, and one of the things he said was that all the idiots were trying to justify their existence by coming up with research projects, one of which was this fad for “gain of function”. The theory is, if you somehow anticipate what natural selection is going to do to the viral or bacterial genome, then you can be ready for it. His take on it was that it was sheerest idiocy, and he went on and on for a couple of hours about the risks taken by those Australians who’d done the genetic engineering on mousepox. He believed that all of that stuff was going to end in tears, it needn’t be done, and the only reason that people were doing it was for the grant money and the same reason people want to climb Everest… Bragging rights.

    I’ve done a bunch of reading in that area, both before and since talking to him. I knew just enough to look at the mRNA stuff and go “Yeah, this ain’t validated in the literature…”, which led to me avoiding those supposed vaccinations like the plague. I think events have justified that. I would classify myself as a well-read layperson, and I haven’t really seen a good set of justifications for gain-of-function, unless you’re making bioweapons. The odds that your lab-grown “gain of function” is going to be close enough to what nature does randomly, and be of use when the naturally produced variant shows up is rather small, so as to be almost useless. The risks of a release into the general population aren’t worth the potential benefit, so far as my reading tells me. Of course, you talk to someone who’s invested in it all, and they’ll spin you hours of stories about what a brilliant idea it all is…

    I remain skeptical. Like Clovis Sangrail, I think the whole thing sounds pretty weak, as a justification. I mean, if you want to randomly kill a bunch of people? Sure, sure… Go ahead.

    This is one of those arenas where I think the “smart people” we’ve identified, selected, trained, and put in charge are proving to be absolute disasters. There’s no real justification for doing this crap, so why are they doing it? And, the people who should be doing overwatch on it all are so blinded by the brilliance and baffled by the bullshit that they let it go on without reining it in. Does the phrase “Too smart for their own good…” sound like a suitable epitaph for our species?

  • Kirk

    @Todd Turley,

    People seeking “social change” ought to have Chesterton’s essay about fences tattooed onto their eyelids such that they see it ever time they blink.

    A lot of the problem is that the mechanisms by which society actually works are entirely opaque, and not many of us really understand them. Even the sociologists that study a lot of this stuff can’t explain the why and how of many of these things.

    You look at a particular issue, say “Alcohol abuse”. The Prohibitionists thought that it was a simplistic problem; ban it, and it goes away. Well, no… Doesn’t work like that. The number of other issues that idiots with a similar mindset have sought to solve are legion, and about the only thing I’d say at this point is that any intervention tends to create far more trouble than it solves. We don’t know what we don’t know when we do these things.

    In my opinion, it all goes back to the way we create the class of people who supposedly run things in society. Most of them fail to ever get out of their offices and examine the actual social environment they’re trying to modify, and don’t seem to grasp that things don’t work in such a way that you can change things with a memo forbidding or mandating something.

    B.F. Skinner had an insight, and I think it is one that needs to be extended out into general social analysis. Every interaction that an organism has with its environment is a piece of an ongoing conversation, an endless back-and-forth of behavioral cues, rewards, punishments… You have to look at how that conversation is actually going, to determine how to modify it. Life is an endless succession of Skinner boxes; each “box” serves to either modify or reinforce a behavior. If you’re sitting in your office and railing about people walking on your nice green grass, writing incessant memos and chewing subordinate’s asses because people insist on walking on your grass and killing it…? You might want to go out into the environment and examine just why it is that those people are violating your grass in the first damn place. If the incentives to walk on it outweigh your punishments, wellllll… Guess what? All the memos and policy letters in the world ain’t changing squat.

    We don’t train managers or, really, anyone to go out and look at these things. Everyone just says “Well, that’s the way it is, and if I want to change it, I’ll change the rules…”

    That was the mentality that brought in Prohibition. They wanted to reduce the harms of alcohol, so they banned it. Rule-making, see?

    But, that didn’t work. Mostly because the underlying issues of “Why do people drink alcohol in the first place…” never got addressed by the Prohibitionists. Compare the approaches taken by the reformers in the British Army who wanted to reduce alcohol abuse in the troops; they went out, analyzed why the troops were drinking to excess in the first damn place, and then changed the environment such that there were non-alcoholic diversions and entertainments available to the soldiers. Some of whom still drank, but a bunch started going to the reading rooms and recreation facilities in lieu of getting blind drunk on the daily…

    Which approach worked better? Which created less social harm, in the long run?

    You talk about the guardrails, but the problem is that the people making these changes have zero respect for those guardrails, mostly because they don’t know they are there, or what purpose they serve.

    On another note, we do all of these things wrong. The laws that create a lot of these problems really ought to be framed and stated as scientific experiments: Any social legislation (all of it ought to work like this, but social structure stuff especially) ought to include a statement of the problem, a statement of intent as to what the legislation is supposed to accomplish, followed by a set of statistics laying out the metrics of the problem, a set date to re-evaluate and look for improvements, followed by a “death date” where the legislation becomes inactive if it isn’t working. Nothing should be treated as a permanent thing; conditions change, and you really cannot know the second- and third-order effects of something until you enact it and let it loose into the wild. Every piece of legislation outside basic rights ought to be periodically re-evaluated to determine whether it is still working as intended, and if it ain’t, then it goes away.

    If we did things that way, 99.9% of the issues we have would go away, because the majority of things are self-caused. The laws reducing criminality in California, for example: With the actual rise in crime, by now? The ideas would have been effectively proven erroneous, and we’d have gone back to the “bad old days” when you went to jail for shoplifting. Instead, we’re going to see more and more crime until it reaches a point where frustrated retailers are putting heads on spikes and the general public approves, because they’re tired of having to drive fifty freakin’ miles to find a pharmacy…

  • bobby b

    “Is there, as far as anyone knows, a legit reason for “gain of function” research?”

    Oppenheimer (the new movie) sets out one of the more successful gain-of-function sorts of projects. (Yes, I know it wasn’t a biological GOF they were seeking, but the rationale is the same.)

    You do them because someone somewhere else is going to be doing them, and you don’t want to wait for the subway attack of the new killer virus to start working on a solution. Knowledge will arrive – you want to be amongst those to whom it arrives first.

  • Kirk

    @bobby b,

    That strikes me as circular reasoning, especially when you consider that the actual release of a “gain of function” subject was paid for by the United States taxpayer via the NIH/CDC cabal that enabled research banned here in the US in China, a country presumably one of the ones we’re worried about doing this in real life, as a biowarfare attack.

    D’ya see where a person with half a brain, rather than a full one, would question that entire chain of premises? Seriously? You want to say it was good sense to do what they did, “just in case”?

    Personally, I think that every involved individual from Fauci on down ought to be put on trial, and if they had any knowing involvement in circumventing the clear intent of Congress when they passed that ban on doing the research here in the US, well… They ought to put up on gibbets outside every biolab in the country after having suffered the traditional “cruel and unusual punishments”, if only as an “encouragement to others”.

    This whole thing with COVID was rank insanity from day one, starting when NIH got the brilliant idea of doing banned research overseas. In sub-standard labs, no less.

    The real scandal with it all is that we paid for it from the beginning. And, further, the assholes like Fauci in the NIH structure are making bank out of the whole thing due to their patents on things that they did on government time, which I find more than a little sickening, considering. The interlocking series of self-interested acts that these clowns performed is awe-inspiring for the depth of their perfidy and failure to perform due care with their work.

    Which is why there’s been all the cover-up about “lab leaks”. They were pretty clearly covering their tracks.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Patrick Crozier
    Er, aren’t we here at Samizdata part of the “brains”? And what were those brave men who framed the Declaration of Independence and signed it on Treason Day if not intellectuals?

    Depends on what the meaning of is, is? Which is to say it depends on what you mean by an “intellectual”. If you mean “a person wholey involved in intellectual pursuits” then no. Most of us here have the grounding of having to work and earn a living by selling our services, so too were the founding fathers. Right now I am sitting in a type of chair invented by Jefferson.

    It is people who spend their lives in little more than navel gazing, publishing books that no-one reads, torturing students with pointless puzzles, or, in the case of government “intellectuals” pursuing policies that are untested because they think they are right and never suffering the consequences of their failures — these are the rot at the center of this thing.

    One need only look at climate scientists. We are supposed to defer to them because of their PhDs, but the simple fact is that they have failed to make one serious prediction that came true, and have made lots of extreme predictions that proved patently false. I assure you, if my success rate in my life were commensurate with theirs, I’d be sleeping in a cardboard box.

  • bobby b

    @kirk: “You want to say it was good sense to do what they did, “just in case”?”

    Yes, I do. The theory was right. The execution was perhaps lacking. I’m not defending the execution.

    As to, why do it WITH the Chinese scientists? Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. What better way to gain an understanding of exactly where in the process the Chinese might be, than to do it WITH Chinese scientists? The disincentive of Mutual Assured Destruction works best when two opponents are similarly-situated in terms of bioweapon development.

    And, when your legal system (rather naively) prohibits doing it on your own soil, but it needs to be done, you need to find a new locale.

    Oppenheimer et al. did the GOF work on the nuclear side. Would we all be better off if they had said “no, this is distasteful and warmongering, let’s stop”? Several other nations were not that far behind them at the time – I submit that you need to always be doing these “distasteful” things to guard against others who are having no such qualms. Imagine the world today had Germany or Japan gotten it right first.

  • Kirk

    @bobby b,

    All y’all of your ilk apply the “precautionary principle” in some very unusual ways.

    You see wisdom where I see rank insanity. I’m not sure how I’d process that if I were in charge, but were you someone in a position of power and insisted on following your “path of wisdom” while under my authority and responsibility? The way Fauci did, with Congress?

    I’d have no damn problem at all locking you up in a rubber room and throwing the key away. Extrajudicially, even.

    The entire premise you’re defending is stark raving mad.

    I’d also point out that if Oppenheimer had done as Fauci did, he’d have been paying the Germans to do the work on the bomb, which would have likely led to a German bomb rather before our own. With the predictable side-effects.

    I find your reasoning entirely reality-deprived.

  • Paul Marks.

    The idea that the United States could control Chinese scientists is mistaken – the Chinese are highly intelligent, try and influence them and you are the person is going to end up being manipulated.

    And there is also the brutal fact that the American, and general Western, government and Corporate leadership are not patriotic people – they just are not. They may have been back in the 1980s (CIA Director William Casey was a patriot – but he died in 1987) – but they certainly are not now.

    We must face the harsh reality – both Washington D.C. and Wall Street, are controlled by terrible people – and this is generally true in the Western world. It is a systemic matter – the system itself is now dysfunctional.

    The people with the real power are not “on our side” – in fact they despise us.

  • Kirk

    Paul Marks,

    We must face the harsh reality – both Washington D.C. and Wall Street, are controlled by terrible people – and this is generally true in the Western world. It is a systemic matter – the system itself is now dysfunctional.

    Absolute truth, in that paragraph. And, we’ve done it to ourselves through tolerating what our institutions have become under the people we’ve allowed to be selected, trained, and promoted within them.

    The FBI here in the US isn’t what it is just because of how it was founded and who ran it for the first fifty-odd years of its existence. It is the way it is because the people who have been hired there are men like Comey and Wray; Mark Felt is another exemplar.

    The culture in that institution militates for politicization, entitlement, and sheer venal stupidity. They’ve become so arrogant that they can’t see the tracks they’re standing on, nor the train coming on it. The end of the day, they’re going to wind up like Ceaucescu’s Securitate or the Swiss Guards of the French monarchy. It won’t be pretty, either, when it all goes down.