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Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Truth of the Intellectual

"Here comes the orator! With his flood of words, and his drop of reason." —Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin’s quote could be better said in today’s culture as; here comes the intellectual with his flood of opinions and nary a drop of reason or logic.

Today we have an industry of intellectuals, an industry that is promoted by the academics and intellectuals. Barack Obama is said to be the most intellectual person to occupy the White House since Woodrow Wilson, or perhaps ever. The media is constantly touting his intellectual prowess and his academic achievements. He has surrounded himself with like-minded intellectuals who have absolutely no, as Thomas Sowell claims, no consequential knowledge of the world. This is the main reason we are in the fix we are in today. These people have read and talked about creating jobs, yet they have never created a private sector job. They spout old and tired Keynesian axioms about government planning and intervention and never have to suffer the consequences for being wrong.

If an engineer or architect designs a bridge or building and it falls down he or she must suffer the consequences from their decisions. If an airline pilot misjudges the runway approach he has to suffer the consequences. If a businessman makes bad financial decisions he must suffer the consequences. When an intellectual is proven wrong he merely moves on to the next subject and begins touting his opinions once more. He has suffers no consequences for his erroneous beliefs and bad decisions.

As an example take the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman when in 2007 he said; “To understand what’s really happening in Iraq, follow the oil money, which already knows that the surge has failed.” Krugman, an intellectual and Nobel Prize winner was wrong. The surge did work. Was Krugman held accountable for his erroneous opinion? Did the editors and stockholders of the New York Times fire him? No on both counts, he just went on to his next left-wing rant. This is what intellectuals do. They spill out their opinions and other intellectuals fawn over his brilliance.

Bill Whittle of Pajamas Media has a very clear and concise 8 minute video explaining how the intellectuals of the left use information and data to fit their agenda while ignore facts that would contradict it.

As Whittle stated; how many people risked their lives to sail across 100 miles of shark infested water to reach Cuba for their wonderful health care, the health care the intellectuals tout so highly. How many people risked their lives to climb over the Berlin Wall to enter the worker’s paradise of the German Democratic Republic, a country that was neither democratic or a republic. The answer to that one is zero. Yet over one hundred people were killed attempting to escape to the west.

For 45 years we heard a constant stream of intellectual nonsense from academics and left-wing intellectuals about the advantages offered in the GDR. In fact most of them supported all forms of socialism and communism. When the Soviet Union disintegrated and communism in Eastern Europe all but vanished what consequences did these intellectuals suffer? They kept their jobs in the colleges and universities and just went on to the next cause de jour, like global warming.

There is a great interview with Thomas Sowell on his book Intellectuals and Society.

Mr. Sowell exposes the uselessness of the intellectual in our society and politics in the past 100 years. According to Sowell, There has probably never been an era in history when intellectuals have played a larger role in society. When intellectuals who generate ideas are surrounded by a wide range of others who disseminate those ideas — whether as journalists, teachers, staffers to legislators or clerks to judges — the influence of intellectuals on the way a society evolves can be huge.

Whether in war or peace, and whether in economics or religion, something as intangible as ideas can dominate the most concrete things in our lives. What Karl Marx called “the blaze of ideas” has set whole nations on fire and consumed whole generations.

Those whose careers are built on the creation and dissemination of ideas — the intellectuals — have played a role in many societies out of all proportion to their numbers. Whether that role has, on balance, made those around them better off or worse off is one of the key questions of our times.

The quick answer is that intellectuals have done both. But certainly, during the 20th century, it is hard to escape the conclusion that intellectuals have on balance made the world a worse and more dangerous place. Scarcely a mass-murdering dictator of the 20th century was without his supporters, admirers, or apologists among the leading intellectuals — not only within his own country, but in foreign democracies, where intellectuals were free to say whatever they wanted.

Given the enormous progress made during the 20th century, it may seem hard to believe that intellectuals did so little good as to have that good outweighed by their wrong-headed notions. But most of those who promoted the scientific, economic, and social advances of the 20th century were not really intellectuals in the sense in which that term is most often used.

The Wright brothers, who fulfilled the centuries-old dream of human beings flying, were by no means intellectuals. Nor were those who conquered the scourge of polio and other diseases, or who created the electronic marvels that we now take for granted.

All these people produced a tangible product or service and they were judged by whether those products and services worked —consequential knowledge. But intellectuals are people whose end products are intangible ideas, and they are usually judged by whether those ideas sound good to other intellectuals or resonate with the public. Whether their ideas turn out to work — whether they make life better or worse for others — is another question entirely.

The video 36 minute video shown here is one of the most succinct, clear, and informative explanation of the failure of the intellectuals and academics I have ever heard. It will well worth the time to watch the video and ponder on Mr. Sowell’s remarks.

In this last video you can see a young Thomas Sowell and Milton Freidman take on a British socialist and Francis Fox Piven over the issues of economic equality and the failure of the policies of the so called liberal intellectuals. You can decide for yourself who makes the clear and logical arguments that echo the writings Bastiat, Hazlitt, Hayek, and von Misses.

Now we have George Magnus a senior economic adviser at UBS stating to give Karl Marx a chance to save the world economy:

“Policy makers struggling to understand the barrage of financial panics, protests and other ills afflicting the world would do well to study the works of a long-dead economist: Karl Marx. The sooner they recognize we're facing a once-in-a-lifetime crisis of capitalism, the better equipped they will be to manage a way out of it.

The spirit of Marx, who is buried in a cemetery close to where I live in north London, has risen from the grave amid the financial crisis and subsequent economic slump. The wily philosopher's analysis of capitalism had a lot of flaws, but today's global economy bears some uncanny resemblances to the conditions he foresaw.”

The ideas that Karl Marx created in the 19th century dominated the course of events over wide portions of the world in the 20th century. Whole generations suffered, and millions were killed, as a result of those ideas. This was not Marx’s intention, nor the intentions of many supporters of Marxian ideas in countries around the world. But it is what happened.

Some of the most distinguished intellectuals in the Western world in the 1930s gave ringing praise to the Soviet Union, while millions of people there were literally starved to death and vast numbers of others were being shipped off to slave-labor camps.

Many of those same distinguished intellectuals of the 1930s were urging their own countries to disarm while Hitler was rapidly arming Germany for wars of conquest that would have, among other things, put many of those intellectuals in concentration camps — slated for extermination — if he had succeeded.

The 1930s were by no means unique. In too many other eras — including our own — intellectuals of unquestionable brilliance have advocated similarly childish and dangerous notions. How and why such patterns have existed among intellectuals is a challenging question, whose answer can determine the fate of millions.

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