The Distrust of Intellectual Authority →
I love this brief piece from Shane Parrish about the decaying respect for experience and authority on intellectual topics:
This overwhelming complexity of modern life “produced feelings of helplessness and anger among a citizenry that knew itself increasingly to be at the mercy of smarter elites,” writes Nichols. And Hofstadter warns, “What used to be a jocular and usually benign ridicule of intellect and formal training has turned into a malign resentment of the intellectual in his capacity as expert. Once the intellectual was gently ridiculed because he was not needed; now he is fiercely resented because he is needed too much.”
Don’t get me wrong. Reasoned skepticism and disagreement are essential to progress and democracy. The problem is that most of what’s happening isn’t reasoned skepticism. It’s the adult equivalent of a two-year-old throwing a tantrum.
Sometimes experts are wrong and the common citizen is right, but those occasions are few and far between. What’s growing is our inability to distinguish between experts being wrong occasionally and experts being wrong consistently. Participants in public debate search for loopholes and exceptions—anything that provides an excuse to disregard opinions they don’t like.
This sets up binaries and polarities, demanding that things be either true or false. This eliminates nuance. The reality is that most expert opinions are true at least in part, and the real value in disagreement is not dismissing the thing entirely, but taking the time to argue the weak points to make the overall better.
Social media and the modern internet culture of “dunking on” people through the single-sentence response that sounds good is a poison that infects a system where there could be reasoned dialogue. I believe it’s less the platform and more the cultural norms at fault for getting us to this point, where nuance is invisible and it’s all about viewing things through simplistic binary lenses. This leads to an anti-intellectualism where anyone is ready and enabled to tear down viewpoints they don’t agree with (or even ones they only semi agree with), even if presented by those with orders of magnitude more knowledge and experience.
I think our coddled culture of “you’re always right” and “you can be anything you want when you grow up” is creating an environment where it’s not only okay to have any opinion you want, but where people (from any walk) can’t challenge you.