A couple decades back, I briefly dated a British woman who, in a political conversation whose specific subject is lost to memory, voiced the phrase:

Because we’re smarter than they are.

That, as opposed to the particulars of our discussion, seared itself in my memory. As did the general question that it answers: why should “we” (i.e. government) tell others what to do and how to live?

I’ve experienced that mindset and worldview, first-hand, on many occasions, and indeed it is a blatantly obvious foundational attitude for support of big-government and of the various forms of statism/collectivism. It is the notion that the Best-and-Brightest have a moral authority that often is interpreted as an obligation because they are smarter than the masses. Masses they not only wish to govern, but believe must be governed.

That last bit brings to recollection another quote, this one from Captain Jack Aubrey in the movie adaptation of Patrick O’Brians’ Master and Commander books:

Men must be governed!

Take note of the sotto voce corollary.

Often not wisely I will grant you but governed nonetheless.

This, in turn, completes a trifecta of recollections. Jordan Peterson, on a Joe Rogan podcast, lamented that:

There’s nothing stupider than a smart person who went wrong.

Peterson has discussed the ‘cognitive elite,’ offering a contrast to the economic elite that the cognitive elite routinely give the Alinsky treatment: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” The economic elite (hardly a homogeneous group, that ranges from self-made millionaires to trust fund babies to (the only ones deserving of scorn) rent-seekers and successful suckers on the government teat) are an easy target, given the human propensity to envy, tribalism, and distrust/depersonalization of “other,” and their existence is often leveraged by cynical power-seekers to stoke emotions in voters and constituencies.

This is nothing new. We find such history writ large across the past century, with the rise of socialist governments in places such as post-WWI Russia. We all know how that turned out, but the lessons therefrom, and from countless other attempts at planned or command economies and societies curated by the Best-and-Brightest, continue to fall on deaf ears, asthe cognitive elite, both old and new, persist in their belief that they can order and manage society better than people left to their own devices can.

Part of their failure to establish a permanent resentment of the economic elite is due in part (and a hat tip to Peterson here) because people can aspire to the ranks of the economic elite, especially in a free society. The economic ladder has been climbed by countless millions in this and other free nations’ histories.

Can that be said for planned economies? Or is it the case that the path to wealth in those societies is by playing the government game?

What’s better, becoming rich by selling a better mousetrap to the willing, or by using the coercive and monopolistic power of government for personal gain?

What’s better, working within the parameters of capitalism to succeed, or finding ways to capture a bigger slice of taxpayer dollars garnered via force?

Peterson notes that the cognitive elite breed greater resentment than the economic elite, because people can more easily aspire to the latter. And, I surmise, because the former seem to live in an “apart” world, a cloud city from whence they can set policy while insulated from its effects.

While my current focus is on the cognitive elite of the Left, the philosophical difference lies not on the left-right axis, but on the Nolan chart’s vertical axis, the “more vs less government” spectrum, and the authoritarians on the Right are just as worthy of suspicion, distrust, and disempowerment as those on the Left. As horseshoe theory tells us, they’re not much different.

Peterson’s lament about smart people echoes another’s sage words:

Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.

This illustrates another unfortunate aspect of high intelligence: the greater capacity for self-delusion. Intelligence correlates with addictive behavior, and it has been posited that the intelligent have a harder time overcoming their addictions because they’re better at rationalizing their behaviors and beliefs.

Power is among the most addictive things out there, for some, and rationalizing why “I” should have power, rather than someone else, is virtually a requirement for joining the ranks of the cognitive elite.

I’m not knocking experts or expertise here. Our lives are advanced by the pursuit of expertise, whether it be in science, medicine, or simple tradecraft. Experts offer a product to society: goods, services, or information. The cognitive elite’s ‘product’ is opinion. If it ended there, if they simply engaged with the rest of the world in the marketplace of ideas, there’d be nothing to kvetch about.

Nor am I knocking smart people. Smart people using their talents in positive ways in a free society are a boon, and elevate us all.

It is the combination of intelligence, expertise (the result of the application of intelligence to a subject), the belief that this expertise provides unique insight into how society should run, and a noblesse-oblige presumption of moral obligation to impose that “better” on those who aren’t as smart or expert, that creates the problems of big, coercive government. It’s the difference between presidents like Wilson and FDR and Obama and Biden vs Coolidge and Cleveland and Madison and Jefferson. Modesty, humility, and understanding the difference between “public servant” and “politician” do not enter into the equation.

Tack on the immunity from consequences, the insulation from the results of their policy decisions, and you get a truly toxic stew. The legendary Thomas Sowell:

It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.

When do the cognitive elite ever pay a price for being wrong? Even the politicians who get voted out of office emerge either already wealthy or with the access and rolodex that guarantees their courting by big players and big payers, and the academics who churn out garbage theory after garbage theory suffer not one whit from the outcomes of those theories’ implementations.

A friend, who runs a business that involves cold-call selling, told me one day that one of his recent hires, someone I knew coincidentally, was given a tough job, because he was selling to sole proprietors i.e. people spending their own money and are thus far more careful with it. Obviously, we can flip that and note that people who spend other people’s money are far less careful with it, which explains the shocking amounts of government waste, pork programs, garbage studies, patronage, duplication, and indifference to fraud.

Sixty years ago, William F. Buckley quipped that:

I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the telephone directory than by the Harvard University faculty.


Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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