Wealth, Intellectualism, and Individualism, Part 6

In part 5 of the series on Wealth, Intellectualism, and Individualism, I outline the table of contents of the section on intellectualism.

Intellectualism is how you become a part of the process and the national debate, rather than merely a spectator. It’s a common misconception that to be ingratiated you must conform, be ordinary, but it’s actually the opposite: to become a participant, you must be exceptional.

As an example of how you need to be brilliant to be a ‘part of the process’, not dull and or conformist, and an example of how STEM has become so important, not only in terms of high wages and prestige, but for signaling competence – as STEM is a bastion of credibility and objectivity in an era of useless fluff degrees, media sensationalism, low-information partisanship, and sentimentalism – Terrance Tao, possibly the most brilliant mathematician alive, wrote an article about Trump being unfit to be president, which went massively viral despite the article having nothing to do with math, but because people, especially other smart people, perceive competence in STEM (abstract mathematics in the case of Tao) as being transferable to unrelated fields (sociology, politics), Tao’s opinions on political science are as equally valued as his mathematics research. This transference is also observed with brilliant physicists Stephen Hawking, Sean Carroll, and Michio Kaku, who are as well known for comments about politics, philosophy, and democracy, if not more so, than physics research. Because STEM is considered the pinnacle of intellectualism in the hierarchy of degrees, and thus competence, this transference is irreversible, meaning that a sociologist who tries to lecture about math would be chided (and rightfully so), whereas mathematicians can freely lecture about sociology (or pretty much anything) without losing credibility.

Another example: in June 2016, a post by quantum physicist Scott Aaronson about Trump also went viral, getting hundreds of comments and Facebook shares. My observation is if you want to write about non-STEM topics, ditch the liberal arts degree and get a STEM (which includes economics) degree – and boom – tons of traffic and viralness for your political opinions. Weird how that works.

As part of the post-2008 rise of the ‘STEM celebrity’ and the ‘intellectual rockstar’, Reddit AMAs by scientists get as many up-votes, if not more, as A-list celebrities. Richard Dawkins’ latest AMA got over 7,000 comments. Same for David Dunning, originator of the Duninking-Kunner Effect (victims of Duninking-Kunner are too dumb to know how dumb they are, a problem frequently encountered when debating online), whose AMA last year got over 4,000 votes and 1,000 comments. This also ties into the post-2008 resurgence in philosophy, which has become more STEM-like in recent years borrowing from fields as diverse as neurology, quantum physics, artificial intelligence, mathematical logic, computer science, and ‘theory of the mind’. Some examples include David Chalmers, an Australian philosopher and cognitive scientist specializing in the area of philosophy of mind and philosophy of language, whose groundbreaking theory of ‘philosophical zombies’ has made him something of an intellectual ‘rock star’ in recent years. Another is philosopher John Searle, who rose to fame with his ‘Chinese Room’ thought experiment. Robin Hanson, whose writings and presentations on ‘ems‘, ‘futarchy’, and the ‘great filter’ have spurred significant discussion and debate, has become something of an internet celebrity as of 2016. Nick Bostrom and his ‘simulation argument’, originally published in 2001, has in recent years received considerable coverage by the media. The overarching theme is that we have less free will than we may want to believe, either because we’re all ‘zombies’, simulated beings, or reducible to computer programs. These arguments for ‘predestination’ have become more popular in recent years, probably due to Social Darwinism becoming more relevant in our post-2008 economy, in which genes affect ‘free will’, socioeconomic success, and ‘salvation’.

Although STEM is often considered to be the pinnacle of intellectualism among millennials, liberal arts degrees are also respected if they are sufficiency intellectually rigorous:

Interestingly, on Reddit and 4chan, English, History, and Philosophy majors are also respected, too, as they sacrifice monetary gains to pursue a ‘higher’ calling. Such degrees, even though they may not pay very well or have immediate real-world applications, are a solace of intellectual purity, patience, and understanding in a society spoiled by instant gratification, ostentatious materialism, ‘low-information’ pandering, and sensationalism. Both STEM and some liberal arts (not the useless ones like child development or gender studies) combine authenticity, sufficient intellectual rigor, introspection, and abstractions. For the math major such abstractions include axioms, postulates and theorems; for the literature major, it’s words and grammar; for philosophy, it’s ontology and epistemology. ‘Low-information’ means not circuitous enough, too obvious.

Examples of respected fields include comparative literature (being well-read signals intellect and worldliness), philosophy (philosophy majors have SAT scores that are as high as STEM majors; philosophy is becoming STEM-like, and it signals a lot of intellect), history (a very respected field even though it tends to not pay well; signals worldliness and intellect), economics (which could be considered STEM-like because it involves math), and finance (also very STEM-like since it involves math and pays well). At the bottom of the pile are useless degrees, that have no intellectual signaling value or rigor, including but not limited to ‘marketing’, ‘communications’, ‘business development’, ‘child development’, and of course, ‘how-white-men-are-oppressive-studies’.

To be continued…