“Suppose we got it all wrong and the real crazies are the TV people in nice suits and $300 haircuts?”
That’s an observation by Richard Fernandez on Twitter, and he has a good point.
There’s a lot of craziness in the air these days.
But for the most part it seems to be flowing from the top down, not bubbling up from the bottom.
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.”
Ordinary Americans haven’t been claiming the way to promote free speech is to censor people or the way to end racism is to classify everyone by race and consequently treat them differently.
It’s not the working class that wants to “save the planet” by blocking traffic, starting forest fires or banning pickup trucks or gas stoves (though private jets remain surprisingly free from criticism).
All these crazy ideas and more are the product of our allegedly educated and intelligent overclass, the experts, policymakers and media types who in theory represent the thinking part, the brains, of our society.
But there’s something wrong with these people — the “brains” of our society are basically crazy.
Crazy is when you believe and do things that obviously don’t make sense or fit with the facts.
It’s important to have an intellectual class.
Exactly how important is open to question — in his recent book “How Innovation Works,” Matt Ridley argues that most 19th- and 20th-century innovations actually came from tradespeople and industry, not academics doing abstract research — but important enough.
There are dangers to an intelligentsia, though.
Communism and Nazism started as intellectual movements; so did such fads as eugenics and lobotomies.
The Tuskegee Experiment wasn’t the product of racist Klansmen but of the curiosity of credentialed public-health experts.
In a 1999 essay, Neal Stephenson wrote that “during this century, intellectualism failed, and everyone knows it. In places like Russia and Germany, the common people agreed to loosen their grip on traditional folkways, mores, and religion, and let the intellectuals run with the ball, and they screwed everything up and turned the century into an abattoir. Those wordy intellectuals used to be merely tedious; now they seem kind of dangerous as well.”
It’s gotten worse.
Ideas can be dangerous; playing with them can be like gain-of-function research with viruses — if they escape into the general environment, disaster can ensue.
Guardrails like custom, religion and moral traditions made such disasters less likely, but we have spent basically my entire lifetime weakening those guardrails.
At the same time, our ruling class has become less diverse and more prone to groupthink.
A century ago, the people running our government, our economy, our academy and our media were varied.
Now they’re all members of the same class, educated usually at the same elite institutions, incestuously intermarried and driven by class solidarity.
As J.D. Tuccille recently wrote regarding the press’ supine attitude toward government censorship, today’s journalists “love Big Brother”: “Prominent reporters and powerful officials know each other, share attitudes, and trust each other.”
Agriculturalists know that in a monoculture, diseases spread rapidly because the entire crop is identical.
In a social and intellectual monoculture, groupthink ensures that bad ideas spread the same way.
This is especially so because our ruling class has substituted reputation for achievement.
One can be a successful CEO if the company does badly, so long as it pursues the right political goals.
Journalists, bureaucrats and political operatives routinely fail upward because they play to their peers.
The result is that any crazy idea can flourish if it’s stylish. And it’s gotten more dangerous, probably because social media allow so much self-herding behavior by elites.
Dissent is instantly ostracized before it even has a chance to be considered.
A decade ago, the crazy ideas I listed earlier would have been seen as beyond the pale of civilized political discussion.
Now they’re all endorsed by leading American institutions.
That’s the hallmark of dysfunctional politics, and dysfunctional politics is what we have.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a professor of law at the University of Tennessee and founder of the InstaPundit.com blog.
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