Public intellectuals, pundits, and all that

In principle, public intellectuals should have something interesting to say, ideally not just interesting because ridiculous or incredibly stupid. The ideal P.I. might have a special area of expertise and apply that to current events and questions, or whatever struck his fancy.. He might have a wide range of interests and make connections that others can’t see. He might be smart, or independent minded, or both. It would be nice if he had a decent predictive track record, better than a dart board. He should be stubborn enough to resist currently fashionable errors.

As for ideology, that’s a poor substitute for understanding how things actually work.

In my opinion, elegant prose isn’t very important.

He probably does all this for $25 dollars a day and expenses, mostly gasoline and whiskey. That’s about all he’s going to get, because there’s not much demand for analysts, as opposed to cheerleaders.

If most PIs are schlockmeisters, that’s because of popular demand. Bullshit walks.

I invite nominations: either a P.I. that is actually good-for-something (if you can find one), or give an amusingly damning quote for one of the vast majority of vile drones.

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133 Responses to Public intellectuals, pundits, and all that

  1. Present company excluded, as the English say. How about Jason Malloy? He did a brilliant defence of James Watson years ago, and is collecting and analysing IQ data in a very productive way. Perhaps even more obvious, Ian Deary, for his monumental work on intelligence. Both of them to be put on your list.

    • Jim says:

      Actually James Watson himself was a “public intellectual” of some sort at one time. But he was purged for an offhand deviation from official ideology. Anyone who manages to become any sort of “public intellectual” and wishes to retain that status needs to be very careful about saying anything contrary to the received pieties.

  2. Peter Johnson says:

    Steve Sailer is incredibly productive and interesting. Two other interesting characters are jewamongyou (that is his chosen nom de plume) and Linh Dinh on Unz.com. Also, John Derbyshire.

  3. Yes, Steve Sailer is already an (unrecognised and unacknowledged) public intellectual

  4. Revyen says:

    I think Cochran is talking about public intellectuals as in famous intellectuals so Sailer and Malloy are disqualified. Should be somebody that is known among the chattering classes. Somebody like Steve Pinker seems pretty solid model in my opinion.

    -Charles Murray is another. Brought some realism to the understanding of the welfare state in the 80’s, to broad societal problems with the Bell Curve, human achievements in the 00’s, the social decline of America with Coming Apart.

    -John McWhorter as one of the few(if any) public intellectuals who have adresses the most stunting ideology in America:
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/07/27/antiracism-our-flawed-new-religion.html

    -Jonathan Haidt for a very interesting book to address the increasing political and social hostility in America, his campaign for intellectual diversity, his campaign against PC-culture and micro-aggressions.

    -I personally I enjoy historian Niall Ferguson quite a bit. Brought some much needed correction on the past study of empire which had been bogged down with moralising.

  5. Rik Storey says:

    I want to say Walter Block, but no one will touch him any more. Milo Yianoppoulos (or however it is spelled) would probably be high up although I think he just sounds intelligent rather than having actually been in an academic position before.

    • Milo’s a hoot but he’s no intellectual, not in the mold our host clearly has in mind. But the only perfect fit for that mold is that Cochran fella, the gene guy.

  6. Bernard-Henri Lévy. He used overblown rhetoric (Holocaust 2!) to push the French government to intervene in the Bosnian War. He did much the same in Libya in 2011. Of course, once Sarkozy jumped in, Obama felt he had to get involved as well. That worked out great. Not to mention providing pseudo-intellectual cover for the CIA-backed Euromaidan coup in Ukraine.

    As an intellectual, he’s a total fraud. He was tricked into citing a well-known spoof pseudo-philosopher named “Jean-Baptiste Botul,” (founder of the philosophical school of Botulism). He’s telegenic, rich, and well-connected. He’s also a walking trainwreck.

    Christopher Hitchens was in the same mold. He had a nice accent and could make a memorable quip now and then. But he was also totally clueless and no one should have listened to him about anything. This goes for all neoconservatives and Trotskyites (but I repeat myself.)

  7. Cattle Guard says:

    On the stubborn enough to resist currently fashionable errors front, Azealia Banks. Sure, she claims to practice witchcraft, but that’s a lot less dangerous and less wrong than fashionable views.

  8. dearieme says:

    Dead now, but the British columnist Bernard Levin was routinely interesting for years; his greatest success was predicting the downfall of the USSR many years in advance — on one occasion he even put a date on it which proved near-as-damnit right.

    • AKAHorace says:

      Nice to know that I am not the only one that remembers him. He not only predicted the downfall of communism, he said that it would be relatively bloodless. This was in the 70s.

  9. IC says:

    Razib Khan, Steve Hsu, Steven Pinker, James Thompson and you on my top list. I have my bias toward pure scientists.

    • IC says:

      Great Minds Discuss Ideas;
      Average Minds Discuss Events;
      Small Minds Discuss People.

      These general guideline for topic, discussion and comments moderation will make a blog site of great minds, attract great minds and comment discussion at great mind levels. Most scientists blogs are more or less in discussion of ideas.

      People gossiping blogs are for girls or ghetto boys.

    • Li says:

      Steven Pinker has some politically correct tendencies but is still worth a fraction of a red-pill. I usually prescribe his “The Blank Slate” to sensitive leftist types who ask me for interesting books.

      • IC says:

        I do not always agree with their views or ideas. But their focus is mostly on the idea to find truth in this world. Geeky stuff is very interesting to me. The stuff is often called useless knowledge (my girl friend words), lol.
        My girl friend thought I and alike were strange with interest in such stuff which had no real life benefit. She thought normal people should have real benefit like reputation or money at end. I told her that we got joy out of solving puzzles in this world like her playing Sudoku for fun, not for money or fame.

        Scientists are bunch of geeky puzzle solvers. Solving puzzle is really fun.

    • IC says:


      Examples of PIs: Great Minds Discuss Ideas
      Steven Pinker, Stephen Hsu and Dalton Conley

      • IC says:

        These intellectuals fit the following criteria:

        The ideal P.I. might have a special area of expertise and apply that to current events and questions, or whatever struck his fancy.. He might have a wide range of interests and make connections that others can’t see. He might be smart, or independent minded, or both. It would be nice if he had a decent predictive track record, better than a dart board. He should be stubborn enough to resist currently fashionable errors.

        Also they are not ideologues ( Indeed, poor substitute for understanding how things actually work.)

  10. JayMan says:

  11. Dale says:

    As a matter of contrast, we’re not bothered by the fact that natural selection selects for competitiveness regardless of how ugly we think the means of success are, but we’re really annoyed by someone who prospers in the public realm by dispensing the bullshit that people want to consume.

  12. amac78 says:

    Jonathan Haidt, a leftist political scientist who writes about the furious intolerance of academia’s Tolerance and Diversity movement.

    Randall Parker, who blogs as ParaPundit.

    War Nerd Gary Brecher. While often offensive and sometimes blind to nuance, his perspective on foreign policy can be very insightful. E.g. 2013’s <a href=”https://www.nsfwcorp.com/dispatch/little-kerry/>Little Kerry and the Three Bad Options, on the Syrian civil war.

    J. Michael Bailey of Northwestern University, whose subject of study is gender identity. His popular writing on this charged subject is thoughtful and civil. Sailer’s summary of Bailey’s becoming embroiled in charges of academic misconduct, here.

    K.C. Johnson, of Duke Lacrosse Rape Hate Hoax fame.

  13. ckp says:

    [greg quietly updates excel spreadsheet on which westhunt commenters to ignore]

  14. RCB says:

    Obviously Ta-Nehisi Coates.

    • gcochran9 says:

      My son Roddy, when small, was sure that there were two kinds of firemen: those with red trucks, that put out fires, and those with yellow trucks, that started them. I think he was on to something.

      So, about your choice – red or yellow?

    • “Remember the Algerian cab driver, speaking openly of his hatred of Paris, then looking at your mother and me and insisting that we were all united under Africa. Remember the rumbling we all felt under the beauty of Paris, as though the city had been built in abeyance of Pompeii. Remember the feeling that the great public gardens, the long lunches, might all be undone by a physics, cousin to our rules and the reckoning of our own country, that we do not fully comprehend.”

  15. someonecheeky says:

    Scot Alexander obviously

    • rye says:

      I think Greg and Scott have complementary personalities. I can definitely see the potential for a productive collaboration.

      • MawBTS says:

        The difference is that Greg Cochran is a full-blown shitlord while Scott Alexander is a hybrid SJW/shitlord. They’d get along OK writing about science, but I don’t think they’d be able to tolerate each other on transgenderism or most other topics.

        • gcochran9 says:

          I think that Scott is interested in science, could listen to a scientific argument, but doesn’t know a huge amount of science. Maybe I’m wrong.

      • candid_observer says:

        Scott Alexander writes too damn much, and thinks too damn little.

        This style lends him to being good at creating controversies, but not any good at settling them. I, personally, don’t get any kick out of thinking the world is confusing — I already know that. I like people who can manage to put it into some kind of order.

  16. list of contradiction in terms

    1) industrial park
    2) military intelligence
    3) jumbo shrimp
    4) honest politician
    4) public intellectuals

  17. Florida resident says:

    I vote for #1: Steve Sailer, #2: Charles Murray and #3: Steven Pinker.
    I also like Nicholas Wade and John Derbyshire.

  18. maciano says:

    I don’t think PIs remain interesting.

    During 00s Pat Buchanan & William Lind made me see the folly of interventionism. (I took it seriously until Pat wrote the WWII-wasn’t-necessary book.)

    Sailer’s Vdare essays & GnXp bloggers introduced me to HBD. That sure proved predictive and these guys never got rich out of it. (Your blog sure helped me a lot, too.)

    I think Don Boudreaux does a good job on explaining common economic fallacies, except for immigration (like all economists).

    People whose ideas I admire; Paul Gottfried, Elon Musk, Robert Gordon, Charles Murray, Samuel Huntington, Matt Ridley, John Mearsheimer, Michel Houellebecq, Thilo Sarazzin, and Gregory Clark.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Lind is a nut. Buchanan notions about WWII are all wrong.

      • maciano says:

        Yeah. I’m sure glad the Americans destroyed Hitlerism here. I read Pat’s book and it made me think less of him.

      • airgap says:

        Regarding Buchanan: How so?

        • maciano says:

          He said WWII was unnecessary, because it would have been possible to negotiate peace with Hitler. (His these is more nuanced than that, but that’s basicly it.)

          That’s wrong, because 1) the nazis were out for power, blood & territory and 2) Hitlerism in itself was so barbarous, that it would have been worthy to destroy it.

          • Jim says:

            Would it have been possible to work out a deal with the German military toward the latter part of WWII to remove Hitler from power and prevent the overrunning of Eastern Europe by the Soviets?

            • Murray Anderson says:

              No, because they weren’t in power. If Stauffenberg and his associates had come to power they were just as likely to have made a deal with Stalin to split Eastern Europe between them.

              • airgap says:

                I don’t think Goerdeler would have made such a deal. Do you think the military would have cut him out from power or something?

            • airgap says:

              Dunno about Eastern Europe, but Carl Goerdeler had been shopping “Support me and I’ll get rid of Hitler and make peace” to allied men of power since like 1938. They all turned him down. Stauffenberg was his last gasp after all his better plans failed. I’m not sure to what extent Goerdeler was turned down because folks thought he couldn’t deliver, but it’s not like his conspiracy was a joke.

              • Murray Anderson says:

                Goerdeler was just one of the conspirators, not the man in charge of everything. Stauffenberg was not his agent.
                He wasn’t offering to make peace in 1938, since there was no war.
                A new government in Germany in 1944 would have to make whatever deals it could. It would have been dominated by officers with a preference for dealing with Russia, assuming there was a choice.

              • airgap says:

                Fair enough; In 1938, Goerdeler’s line was “This crazy fucker is going to start a war unless you support me to get rid of him.” Goerdeler was definitely more central to the conspiracy than Stauffenberg. Whatever deals a new German government in 1944 would be forced to make, a new government in 1938 or 1939 or … would have more freedom. That the new government would necessarily be dominated by officers is not clear to me. You don’t think Goerdeler would have become chancellor?

          • Magus says:

            1- Commies were out for power, blood & territory. Soviet Union invaded Finland, Baltics, half of Poland, and would by war’s end occupy half of Europe, as well as soon after sponsoring take over of world’s most populous nation. Also, had tons of agents high up in the US/UK/Western intelligentsia/media/academia/govt.

            2- Stalinism in itself was so barbarous that it would have been worth to destroy it. Recall that by by say 1938 Stalin had killed easily over 5 mio+, potentially much more depending on estimate. Hitler? couple hundred at most pre-war.

            And of course in 1939 the world’s largest tank army was….. USSR. And going through massive military upgrade at the time.

            By your logic, WWII should have been West attacking USSR. Yet somehow that didn’t happen…. if anything West did everything it could to HELP the USSR. Funny how that works. One almost wonders if having an elite either explicitly communist (VENONA) or de facto communist aka progressive, might have had something to do with that. But that way lies madness.

            • gcochran9 says:

              I’ve explained this before, but you’re nuts.

              In practice, after the fall of France and Germany’s invasion of the USSR, western statesmen (Churchill, for example) had two choices: aim for a future in which the Soviets occupied half of Europe, or one in which Nazi Germany occupied all of Europe – up to the Urals probably, a self-sufficient superpower.

              That’s an easy choice.

              • gcochran9 says:

                As I have pointed out before, if that kind of low fire ratio ever existed, generals would have known about it. Eliminating or substantially improving low fire ratio – surely possibly by simple, direct threats – would have been the main goal of arms training, since it could have increased battlefield firepower several-fold without costing a pfennig.

              • airgap says:

                It wouldn’t surprise me if the low fire ratio thing was true of a soldier’s first engagement. That is, only about 25% of soldiers fire in anger the first time they’re in combat. Maybe Marshall heard this and went on a making-shit-up spree, because that’s the kind of guy he was.

              • gcochran9 says:

                Maybe Marshall was a compulsive liar.

              • airgap says:

                Maybe, but it’s an awfully specific lie, and very counterintuitive. How’d he come up with it?

            • iffen says:

              It is much more civilized to kill people for what they think and for which notch they occupy in the political and economic realm than to kill them because of their ethnicity.

      • Pale_Primate says:

        Lind has written some really good stuff on warfare, though. As a soldier I learned a ton from his writings on that subject. Best not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  19. brendan says:

    Robin Hanson: One of the very few people who knows lots about science and technology and who knows lots about – and takes seriously – the valid parts of the social sciences. He’s not famous enough yet to qualify as a P.I., but he’s getting there.

    David Friedman: Similar to Hanson.

    Charlie Munger: About as broadly competent and sane as very famous people get – but he’s not innovative. Just broadly accurate.

    Peter Thiel: Guy is clearly a full blown heretic on issues of equality, gender, race, democracy, etc. (Despite being gay and Jewish, so double points for him.) I think he’s regularly converting close confidants to his views based on what I’ve heard from many in interviews. Track record – check. Public talk/prediction is sparse because he’s got businesses to run, but I expect we’ll hear more from him over the years.

    …………..
    War Nerd on Max Boot:

    “Even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the [9/11] attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power.” [Boot]

    In other words, “True, Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11, but let’s invade Iraq anyway; it couldn’t hurt!”

    Boot was the hardest of hardcore Iraq hawks, even when the rest were finally admitting that it was a total disaster. He even advised Obama to get his take on Iraq from George W. Bush, who according to Boot showed “steeliness” in Iraq. I guess you could call it that… if it’s “steely” to gun your car at the biggest tree you can find and not swerve an inch until you plow into it.

  20. ghazisiz says:

    IMO, Charles Murray is the most influential of the counter-bullshit intellectuals. America owes Murray a great debt, which will no doubt be universally acknowledged only after he and his nearest are gone. In the next tier of general influence I would put John Derbyshire (not just his excellent blog posts, but also his book, “We are Doomed”). Steve Sailor and Greg Cochran are in the same tier as Derbyshire (Sailor has no book, but he has the distinction of identifying the 2008 catastrophe as the “Affirmative Action Recession”, while Cochran is recognized as the smartest guy in the room by everyone who reads him).
    But everyone knows this. It’s the next tiers that are really important. As Yagmur F. points out: “Followership is way under-rated.” The thousands of people who are intelligent enough and free enough to think and make up their own minds–these are the people who speak up in the workplace or classroom, and who end up pitching the pendulum away from its current extreme. These people will be found among those who comment or lurk on all of these blogs.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “It’s the next tiers that are really important.”

      moanman, plesuman, jizzhands mcfiles, arvorn, samhide, morducks, duck etc

      • Carl says:

        Deliberately misspelled nobodies with zero influence outside a NEET echo chamber. Unboxing videos get more views. Christ.

    • Carl says:

      Sycophantic hyperbole. It’s Sailer, btw, and you obviously didn’t bother reading his book on Obama.

  21. jasonbayz says:

    Theodore Dalrymple. I thought his books about culture and the “worldview of the underclass” were very good. Here’s a good quote from Dalrymple:

    <

    blockquote>Of the thousands of patients I have seen, only two or three have ever claimed to be unhappy: all the rest have said that they were depressed. This semantic shift is deeply significant, for it implies that dissatisfaction with life is itself pathological, a medical condition, which it is the responsibility of the doctor to alleviate by medical means. Everyone has a right to health; depression is unhealthy; therefore everyone has a right to be happy (the opposite of being depressed). This idea in turn implies that one’s state of mind, or one’s mood, is or should be independent of the way that one lives one’s life, a belief that must deprive human existence of all meaning, radically disconnecting reward from conduct. A ridiculous pas de deux between doctor and patient ensues: the patient pretends to be ill, and the doctor pretends to cure him. In the process, the patient is wilfully blinded to the conduct that inevitably causes his misery in the first place.

  22. The Z Blog says:

    In my opinion, elegant prose isn’t very important.

    I’m struggling with this. I used to enjoy reading Chris Hitchens, despite disagreeing with most of his opinions. His superior writing skill was enjoyable, but also challenging. As a result, I thought harder about his choice of topics than otherwise.

    The whole point of offering up opinions is to change/open minds and elegant prose is a great aid. There are some bright minds listed in the comments here who harm their cause with poor presentation.

    • MawBTS says:

      Hitchens is often sharp and clever, but a good prose stylist?

      “clanking, ill-carpentered sentences”

      Carpentry involves working with wood. Wood doesn’t “clank.” Most of Hitchens’ writing is like that: lots of little mixed metaphors and solecisms. Sounds OK when read at great speed, but I wish his editor had used his red pen more.

      Like Greg says, prose isn’t important. Unless you believe sloppy, contradictory prose indicates sloppy, contradictory thinking. Then, maybe it is important.

      • The Z Blog says:

        Your deep knowledge of his writing undermines your point. Hitch had a head full of batty ideas, but he he could hold your interest because he was very good at expressing them.

        One of the problems many HBD bloggers have is they post 5,000 word essays loaded with jargon. The message they are sending is that they don’t know the material well enough to be brief and they are more interested in signalling than attracting new people to their banner.

  23. Anonymousesesese says:

    When Trump defeated Cruz in Indiana (which caused Cruz to drop out and made Trump the de facto nominee), Dave Weigel wrote a story with this title:
    “Cruz’s defeat is a surprise victory for transgender rights movement”

    And it included this sentence:
    “In fact, there is no evidence of men using pro-transgender ordinances to get away with rape or molestation.”
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/05/03/cruzs-defeat-is-a-surprise-victory-for-transgender-rights-movement/

  24. MawBTS says:

    Thomas Friedman used to be good for a cringe. The trouble is his job has now been automated away.

    http://thomasfriedmanopedgenerator.com/about.php

  25. Race Shmace says:

    Steve Sailer is an updated George Orwell, but with a better sense of humour and wider range of interests. And he likes Evelyn Waugh.

    The late Larry Auster was no good on science but very good in other ways. See for example: LAPD coins new phrase for rampant black homicide of non-blacks. He would have been rich and famous if he’d taken the course that you might have expected from his genetics (cf. Charles Krauthammer, Jennifer Rubin, et al).

    amusingly damning quote for one of the vast majority of vile drones…

    Yet race is not necessarily a good guide to disease, or indeed to any aspect of human diversity. Imagine that some nuclear nightmare wiped out the entire human race apart from one small population – say, the Masai tribe in East Africa. Virtually all the genetic variation that exists in the world today would still be present in that one small group. That is a dramatic way of expressing what geneticists have discovered about human differences. Around 85 per cent of human variation occurs between individuals within single populations. A further 10 per cent or so differentiates populations within a race. Only around 5 per cent of total variation distinguish what we call ‘races’.

    the science of race and the politics of ignorance, dr kenan malik

  26. airgap says:

    I don’t think somebody counts as a public intellectual if his only platform is a blog that respectable people won’t mention. A PI writes newspaper columns and goes on talk shows and that kind of thing. Otherwise he’s just an intellectual.

    If this restriction eliminates anyone worth mentioning (positively), maybe that’s the point.

  27. Richard Harper says:

    Tyler Cowen. (Lots of great suggestions so far – Pinker, Sailer, Murray, Razib, Thompson, Cochran, and others. Also, somewhat like Tyler’s Marginal Revolution blog, Unz seems to be running a kind of an incubator for future P.I.s.)

  28. Philip Neal says:

    Best of British: Geoffrey Sampson, linguist, patriot, free market conservative and race realist. He is not a pundit – he does not blog or write for the newspapers – but he has written extensively about public policy and has all the right ideas. He was one of the first people to see that Chomsky’s linguistic theories are politically motivated and mathematically vacuous, and he was Watsoned for his views on race and intelligence.

    Worst of British: Timothy Garton Ash. He wrote some fine reportage about the end of Communism, but since then conventional wisdom has had no stauncher, smugger champion. “19th-century methods confront 21st-century ones; Mars, the god of war, against Mercury, the god of trade; guns versus butter.” “Around the world people are asking: can Europe’s centre hold?” Etc.

  29. Halvorson says:

    Randall Collins’ big book on violence gave me a lot of useful, non-obvious information that I wouldn’t have found anywhere else. The book’s thesis: men everywhere are quick to threaten violence but most are extremely reluctant to stand face to face with a real adversary and actually inflict it. Criminals tend to be terrified before a mugging, even when armed. Mafia hitmen prefer to shoot their targets from behind, so as not to be unnerved at the last second. Soldiers shit and piss themselves when under fire and sometimes fail to shoot back, even when the enemy is extremely close.

    Collins operates a blog that is intermittently insightful. Even when I disagree with the guy, it’s nice to see posts that end with a list of 40 books used as references:

    http://sociological-eye.blogspot.com/

    • gcochran9 says:

      I must have grown up in one of those ‘mystery spots’ where the laws of psychology are suspended, because people didn’t have that much trouble punching other people (like me) in the face. After one punch, neither did I.

      Or, perhaps, Randall Collins is utterly full of shit.

      • Halvorson says:

        I don’t think his main argument was that stories of teenage fist fights are an invention of the insane. Read the book and let me know if think Collins is making anything up. If you can go cover to cover and not learn a single interesting thing you can come back here and do a victory lap.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Since I think all the examples you gave were nonsense, I don’t think I’ll bother. If I throw in, as a prior, my general estimation of sociologists, I’d have to un-read the book.

          • airgap says:

            I’ve heard the armed-muggers-are-scared thing before, notably from Marc “Animal” MacYoung. Also, the one time a couple of knife-wielding muggers tried to rob me, they were clearly scared shitless.

            As regards the reluctance to inflict violence, have you noticed how, although ultimately willing to throw punches, most guys feel the need to talk shit to the prospective opponent for what feels like several hours first? And they throw punches, rather than crushing genitals or gouging eyes. I’d call that reluctance to be violent.

            • airgap says:

              Greg is probably right that Collins is full of shit though. He cites SLA Marshall’s ratio of fire thing as though it were the Word of God. I understand that there’s good reason to think Marshall is full of shit. Lots of people don’t know about the criticism of Marshall, but if you’re going to be a PI instead of some random asshole, you ought to check these things.

            • gcochran9 says:

              I think that muggers often pick their victims in a way that doesn’t leave them very scared – old ladies, for example.

              As for the bit about about ‘most guys needing to talk shit for what seems like several hours’: I’ve never seen that. In my experience, longest colloquy was “you really want to do this? OK. ”

              Punches are , or were, the currency – there was a general understanding that were limits to what could be done. Exceeding those limits would have negative consequences, like prison. I’d say it was fear of consequences, not distaste for violence.

              It seems to me that there’s a market, strongest in academia, for completely false theories of human nature.

              • Jim says:

                When I was a graduate student at Columbia University long ago when there was a lot of street crime in NYC a representative of the NYPD gave a talk to a group of us graduate students on the problem of street crime. He said muggers sought out victims who either appeared weak or seemed to be inattentive and therefore could be easily surprised. If one thought one was being stalked the worst mistake was to pretend not to notice. If the stalker realized who were pretending he figured you were scared and so probably not armed. If he actually thought you didn’t notice him he figured he could surprise you. If by your actions you indicated that you were aware of the stalker then he both lost the expectation of surprise and had to consider the possibility that you were armed. He might well decide to look for easier prey.

                The guy from the NYPD told us that a lot of the muggers were in horrible physical shape from drugs and one solid punch might bring them down but their very weakness made them extremely vicious. He advised us if we were going to physically resist to give them everything we had and hold nothing back.

              • airgap says:

                Muggers do try to pick the safest victims possible, but they have two problems. One is that they may be jonesing and thus have a strong desire to get some victim now. The other is that even when you mug an old lady, you aren’t 100% sure that a cop or NRA life member isn’t going to suddenly come around the corner. You’d try to pick terrain that makes this unlikely, but you’ve got a lot of factors to balance. If you’re a scumbag, you probably know other scumbags who’ve told you all sorts of crazy stories about how their crimes failed (gotta pass the time in prison somehow), which means you can imagine all sorts of things going wrong.

                People probably spend less time talking shit in environments where everybody already more-or-less knows each other, and has a vague sense of how tough everyone is, like in a high school. I’ve never seen a scuffle outside a bar that didn’t have a substantial posturing session buildup. The parties are subconsciously trying to determine whether the other guy isn’t much, much tougher than they are, among other things.

                I don’t think humans actually dislike violence. I think we just have inhibitions, which is why I said “reluctance,” not “distaste.” I also don’t think these inhibitions are based on rational calculations of the probable consequences of violence.

              • spottedtoad says:

                There’s a fair number of mammals where male competition is pretty graduated, so as to avoid killing each other. Butting heads, slapping necks, etc.
                When I was teaching in the Bronx, I’d see a lot of it- kids would bump chests or call out “hold me back hold me back,” and so on, and almost never throw a punch.
                The girls, on the other hand, would pull hair, scratch eyes, and really try to hurt each other.
                I walked behind a school in India once, and two boys were really wailing on each other though. So “varies with culture” seems accurate to me.

              • lemmy caution says:

                There seems to be a lot less low level violence today than in 1990. Fewer stupid bar fights and high school fights.

            • MawBTS says:

              As regards the reluctance to inflict violence, have you noticed how, although ultimately willing to throw punches, most guys feel the need to talk shit to the prospective opponent for what feels like several hours first?

              In Australian football they do “chesting” – where you want to fight someone but are too yellow to throw the first punch.

      • airgap says:

        How much trouble did you and the other kids at your school have shooting other people?

      • Brian says:

        In Shreveport of the 1960s it was fundamental form of communication.

    • another fred says:

      And yet, just one small variant, the 2-repeat of MAOA, is found to be associated with a 50% increase in the probability of engaging in shooting or stabbing, to say nothing of the more subtle effects of other variants. That variant only occurs in a small segment of society. Perhaps one day we will “tease out” its effect on society at large.

    • lemmy caution says:

      I liked the book too.

      http://www.nysun.com/arts/why-we-fight-2008-02-13/71206/

      The idea of forward panic is interesting.

  30. wijjy says:

    Matt Ridley. Does a good job of shouting against the clearly wrong.

    wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Ridley

    website: http://www.mattridley.co.uk/

  31. Julian says:

    For an amusing read I’d recommend Paul Johnson’s ‘Intellectuals’ which essentially sets out the appalling person failings of several prominent figures who have been seen in this category.

    Steven Pinker, Jon Haidt, & Richard Dawkins are some of the better PI’s. Dawkins has obviously become quite controversial since he started including Islam in his polemics against religion.

    Otherwise it’s easier to think of ones who have managed to outrage the progressive consensus. Examples, include Martin Amis (on Islam), David Starkey (London riots). Actually, Cambridge historian Starkey seems to have caused outrage to various groups going on this quotation:

    “This is not the case for Dr Malachi McIntosh, director of studies in the English department at King’s College, who said: ‘David Starkey is widely known for his racist, sexist and classist comments and because of that does not represent a community composed of people from all places and walks of life.’

    http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/in-defence-of-david-starkey/17667#.VzhF_JDSWS4

  32. Julian says:

    I would also add the late Lee Kuan Yew.

  33. Charlie Bustamente says:

    Peter Turchin. His book Ultrasociety is worth your time.
    Mark Steyn is well-spoken and mostly correct.
    Scott Adams of Dilbert fame also worming his way into the collective consciousness with interesting analysis of Trump phenomenon.

  34. Xenophon Hendrix says:

    Freeman Dyson still lives.

  35. biz says:

    On the vile drone side, Tom Friedman (of course), Tallahassee Coates, Reza Aslan, Karen Armstrong, Chris Hedges, Cornell West, Chomsky, etc.

  36. Anonymous says:

    Don’t forget the the public conscience, Paul Krugman.

  37. jon says:

    Roger Scruton comes to mind. But he’s not as well known in the US.

  38. Pincher Martin says:

    Jack Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group and popularizer of index funds.

    I can think of few public intellectuals who have had the positive impact Bogle has had. Before he founded Vanguard in the mid-seventies, almost no one in the public knew what an index fund was or why the low-cost version was a superior investment choice for the public.

    Bogle took an idea that had been floating around in academe for a while, operationalized it through his business, and then advocated for it in numerous public appearances. He’s written a couple of excellent best-selling books that explain his investment philosophy.

  39. The real test is which one of these jokers has original ideas that will last for generations. The fairly obvious answer is none of them. Charles Bukowski will be treasured generations from now but he couldn’t give a shit about intellectuals and never tried to be one so of course he doesn’t qualify.

    I like the big picture that doesn’t place so much self centered emphasis on the present. The human panorama of multiple generations, past, present, and future. I don’t think it’s popular to think this way, and I don’t think any of the above mentioned wordsmiths are any good at it. A distant perspective on us. Cochran loves a combination of science and history and I guess that is as close as you can get to that perspective.

    I think we will genetically engineer smarter people in the next century and in the big picture nothing else much matters. I bow to science and the army of technocrats who quite selflessly labor to make small munches into the greater unknown. Intellectuals…….as a an admitted squirmer in short attention span theatre, I don’t much care.

    • albatross says:

      1 You can’t know the answer to that without living several more generations.

      2 Not all ideas that have a huge impact on the world deserve to. Marx and Freud both had a huge impact on the world lasting generations into the future–they were clearly extremely influential thinkers. But if you’re looking for good models of the world, neither man would be a great choice.

  40. Harold says:

    Nick Szabo.

  41. frank says:

    I’m surprised nobody mentioned Nassim Taleb (slayer of BS vendors, scam artists, journos, and faux intellectuals) yet.

  42. DH says:

    E.M Jones

  43. spottedtoad says:

    Vaclav Smil? I’ve read sensible things he’s written about energy, but he seems generally to be someone who does the math before he writes.

  44. iffen says:

    “there’s not much demand for analysts, as opposed to cheerleaders”

    There is a precipice between the understanding of the implications of genetics by knowledgeable, scientifically oriented people (present company) and that other world (politics). No one (that I have read) has any clear ideas about how to integrate this knowledge into politics and policy. When you look down from the edge of the precipice you see a small number of cheerleaders. Most of the cheerleaders are like fish in water with this knowledge and want to: send’em back to Africa, institute apartheid, fire up the ovens, institute forced sterilization, etc. Until you get some cheerleaders that can devise and explain some practical policies and politics based on this understanding, benefits to the commonweal will be haphazard and serendipitous. Maybe we need a good slogan. “Equality: It Lets Us Be Different.”

    • Dr Swaggins says:

      Everyone gets an IUD when they turn 13. They get to remove them once they graduate high school and get married. Make high school a little challenging, and all of a sudden the dum dums lose their depressing level of fecundity.

      Also, whenever there’s a labor shortage, bring in immigrants from Poland, the Ukraine, etc, and IQ test them beforehand. Anyone with an IQ below 95 or so stays, the average IQ of the immigrants will be high.

    • Dr Swaggins says:

      Oh, and pay smart people to breed.

      • iffen says:

        I don’t see the problem as a shortage of smart people. We seem to have a reasonably good supply (although it makes sense that if we had more then one of the extra ones might solve that nuclear fusion problem). Many smart people seem to be satisfied with their own success and do not seem to worry all that much about the group. There is a shortage of the ones who can look at the political and economic problems and devise solutions that allow all of us (including us dummies) to flourish.

  45. baloocartoons says:

    Robert Ardrey is probably too narrow, but he had a big impact on me way back. Scott Adams, I agree, is making a mark. Top of the line is Steve Sailer for blogging, Pinker for books. I reblogged the post and made a graphic from it, BTW. http://ex-army.blogspot.com/2016/05/pundit.html

  46. jason hardy says:

    Noam Chomsky

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