Crushing on Crushers
Why do intellectuals fall in love with dictators and totalitarians?
From Benito Mussolini to Hugo Chavez: Intellectuals and a Century of Political Hero Worship, by Paul Hollander (Cambridge University Press, 338 pp., $29.97)
The question Hollander asks is why intellectuals whose own experience of danger was that of a negative book review or a hostile tenure committee, and who were so sensitive to the slightest threat, real or imagined, to their freedom at home, were so often attracted to the oppressors, and even slaughterers, of foreign multitudes.
The answer has always been very apparent to me.
Simply put, intellectuals do not believe that the (largely) unfettered free will of the masses will lead us to a better world.
And I think the reason for this is twofold.
First, intellectuals (and those self-styled intellectuals who believe themselves smarter than the average) have a hard time conceiving the idea that people less smart than them, when left to their own devices, will make rational choices.
You see this all the time in news reports. From discussions on poverty (where the poor are framed as either witless victims of society or lazy layabouts who refuse to improve themselves), to discussions on nutrition and diet (where people are framed as incapable of resisting the addictions of the food industry) to politics (where people on the other side are slavish idiots or two-faced), we are faced with the fundamental proposition by journalists and others that we are surrounded by idiots who need our help.
We see this in polls showing strong support for severe restrictions on SNAP benefits, despite the fact that most economists point out the fungibility of benefits. (That is, unless you are desperately poor, recipients of SNAP benefits can substitute: using the cash they save with SNAP benefits to buy prohibited items.)
Just look at this article: How to Deal With Less Intelligent People.
It can be frustrating to have to deal with people who are less intelligent than you. You may feel that you are constantly having to answer questions or carry their weight. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to change their intelligence. You can, however, change the way that you interact with them and perceive them. Some small changes on your part can make dealing with less intelligent people a much easier task.
Only one of the tips even remotely suggest that perhaps your self-assessment of your own intellectual superiority may be wrong. Yet (as has been popularized recently) most of us have heard of the Dunning Kruger effect which observes that people of low ability suffer from an illusion of superiority because they are too dumb to self-reflect.
(The flip side of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which has been completely forgotten in all our discussions about the stupid is “the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.” That is, the more competent you are, the more likely you are to suffer from Impostor syndrome, the belief that your achievements and intellectual accomplishments are fraudulent. The more intelligent you are, the less likely you are to realize your intelligence.)
It’s also worth noting that those with intelligence tend to specialize in a handful of topics. With the death of the Liberal Arts (thanks to post-modernism), and with a Liberal Arts education being synonymous with that all important question “do you want fries with that?”, the intelligent in our society tend to specialize in a handful of topics. This exacerbates the illusion of superiority, as generally those with some mental horsepower craft little bubbles in which they are objectively superior–forgetting that outside that little bubble they’re probably as dense as a fucking rock.
We see this all around us, with stories of people like Stephen Hawking warning us about AI destroying the human race. Stephen Hawking may be the most brilliant theoretical physicist of our era, but in other subjects (from philosophy to computer science) his opinions have about as much intellectual backing as some random guy you pull off the streets of New York City.
When Stephen Hawking says that philosophy is dead, when he advocates Scientism, or when he discusses Artificial Intelligence–we give him far more credit than he deserves. Sure, Stephen Hawking may be vastly more intelligent than the average person–but these are topics he has not studied with the same depth as a philosopher, a theologist or a computer scientist.
Putting all this together it’s pretty clear that most intellectuals are ill-equipped to understand those they see as less intelligent. Worse, the majority of people, having specialized in areas which objectively make them more intelligent about a particular subject (like computer programming or psychology or health care or advertising or plumbing), see their intellectual superiority extending over the rest of their lives.
The counter to this problem is Ethics, or the philosophy of morality. The idea being that in the study of ethics we concern ourselves with understanding the best way for people to live–and if you conceive that this problem applies to others you see as less intelligent than yourself, you necessarily come to some sort of universality of individuality in moral decision making.
Yet this leads us to the second problem:
Modern intellectuals tend not to subscribe to a deep belief in ethics or morality, beyond a form of prescriptive ethics which formulates “right” and “wrong” as the pragmatic application of a set of rules.
You can see this all around us. From Neil deGrasse Tyson’s observation that “philosophy is useless” to Stephen Hawking’s observation that “philosophy is dead,” and with the dearth of active philosophers thanks to creeping post-modernism which strips meaning from existence in a nihilist “anything goes” which flushes intellectual rigor down the toilet, we now live in a world without moral reason.
All that is left is victimization, complaints and prescriptive training which attempt to answer the deep moral questions of acceptance and correct living through the formulation of mindless rules.
Don’t have the moral compass to respect those around you regardless of gender? Sexism awareness training, where you learn the signs and are trained on the proper reactions but without a moral compass as to why we should show respect.
Lack the moral compass to take a live and let live attitude towards the LGBT community? Diversity and tolerance training where you learn the signs of a lack of tolerance (including supposed “dog whistles”) and training as to how to respond and react to these signs–but without a real moral compass as to why we need to show respect.
We live in an era of “political correctness”–a mindless formulation of policies and learned actions which teach us to avoid certain language and certain actions–but without a real moral compass as to why we should respect one another.
Worse, those who observe there are moral absolutes are dismissed as either being hateful religious hacks or as old-fashioned idiots who are out of intellectual fashion.
George Orwell’s Newspeak (from the novel 1984) has become a user’s manual.
We no longer learn morality and ethics, because our post-modern world with deconstructed language and islands of victimized minority groups, “meaning” is null and void–at best relative construct promulgated by dead white oppressive philosophers.
Immanuel Kant’s notion of the universality of moral laws cannot exist in a post-modern framework where meaning is no deeper than the worlds used to express them. Adam Smith’s “Theory of Moral Sentiments” is reduced to an excuse for selfishness–as there are no “great systems of the universe” by which one can navigate, as those “great systems” are little more than a form of eurocentric intellectual imperialism.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, stripped of its original meaning that one should live by the seven heavenly virtues and predicated by John Locke’s idea that true happiness stems from quiet self-reflection and moral action, becomes a statement of unabashed hedonism and a recipe for rebellion against a Creation that exists only in word and thought.
In such a world stripped of moral and ethical meaning all that is left is Force.
So why do intellectuals flock to dictators and totalitarians, looking at people from Joseph Stalin to Hugo Chávez with respect and admiration?
In a world stripped of moral meaning all that is left is Force. With a world full of people who are incapable of taking care of themselves, top-down control is favorable to the chaos of bottom-up control.
The population, incapable of making any sort of moral judgement, will never self-organize in a working, functional society which hints at a deeper order to the Universe–even if that deeper order is simply an emergent phenomenon. That’s because in a world where meaning is no deeper than the page it is printed on, there can be no deeper order, no global absolutes.
So the population must be bridled and broken, like a bucking horse too stupid to live on its own.
And that requires a dictator.
The saddest part about all of this is the simple observation that throughout history, dictators have relied on “useful idiots” in order to bring themselves to power.
And the first up against the wall in the purges dictators inevitably need to cement their power (as no dictator can create the utopia intellectuals demand of them for reasons too deep to go into here), are the “pseudo-intellectuals”–those who see themselves as intellectuals but who are at best the petit-bourgeoisie: the people who have mastered a single subject, and in that mastery saw themselves as intellectuals who helped wave in the current dictatorial regime.
Dictators must shoot them in the head–because they are the ones who helped change the government, and as such are the biggest threat to the new regime.
We see this time and time again: with the Bolshevik purge in the early 1920’s, with the purge and executions in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s by Joseph Stalin, with the Great purge which left millions dead. We see this when Hitler consolidated power in Germany, with Hugo Chávez’s consolidation of power less than two decades ago. It’s a pattern throughout Latin America, in Asia, in Africa, and in Europe: the popular ruler who executes members of his own party–a necessity given they are the only ones who can remove him from power.
You see it today in Turkey as “President” Erdoğan consolidates power.
It’s a shame that most intellectuals hate the populous, and rail at the notion that “there but with the grace of God go I.”
And it’s a shame that most modern intellectuals look down at their noses at those who may question evolutionary theory, while they themselves do not believe in emergent phenomena, at least as it applies to history, civilization and culture–as if the pressures of evolution stop at the macroscopic level.
Because it leads intellectuals to the inevitable conclusion that, because of the idiocy that surrounds them by a flood of incapable self-interested idiots, the best way to order a society is to imagine a boot stamping on a human face–forever.