Pain tolerance and truth avoidance: why smart people keep believing obvious lies.
I don't know if this reinforces your thesis or dents it with a caveat, but my feeling is that modern academia selects first and foremost for conformity.
All the profs and other professionals I know or grew up with were always color-inside-the-lines rule followers who never skipped school, studied for every test, sweated every grade in every class, dedicated their last 2 years of high school to the SAT and college applications, were basically people who've followed every order, obeyed every authority figure and swallowed every lie since birth. And then you add in the facts of elite overproduction, the scarcity of tenure positions and the sterile, punitive and dogmatic monoculture of modern liberals, and you can see that (as William Deresiewicz put it) our academic institutions have been turned over to Excellent Sheep.
And I don't think "high intelligence" really tells you much about someone except that they have mastered some small corner of the world. I have known many uneducated people who have strong bullshit detectors, and many supposedly "highly intelligent" people who will parrot any talking point if it makes them sound cool and/or radical.
I think we learned all we need to know about the stupidity and conformity of our supposed thought leaders by studying the words, deeds and track records of the 20th-century "engaged intellectual." Of course it starts with Sartre and includes everyone from Sontag to Foucault to Chomsky and so many others, but there was not a single 20th-century Marxist mass murderer who didn't get fully fellated by some academic poser who sang their praises hoping to seem edgy and un-bourgeois. "Highly intelligent" professors can be just as stupid and blind as the rest of us, they just hide it behind institutional prestige, fancy credentials, and ritual incantations of whatever jargon is trendy at the moment.
This is an excellent explanation of what I saw in my circle; now former circle. Some of the most intelligent humans in society turned out to be utter fools.
Re: People can’t handle the truth …
As Jack Nicholson’s Marine colonel character famously bellowed in the movie “A Few Good Men” - people “can’t handle the truth!”
Especially truths that might make them question something that became so important to their own psyche or self view. People don’t want to admit they were wrong or duped about any fundamental issue, and often aggressively lash out at people who try to make them consider a different “truth.”
BTW, if you think about it, it was really Jack Nicholson’s character who couldn’t handle the truth.
His “truth” - one that caused him to become a Marine in the first place - is that countries around the world are trying to “steal Americans’ freedoms” or were “national security threats” to America.
Remember, the movie is about a Marine colonel who was the commander at America’s Guantanamo Bay military base in Cuba. He ordered those “Code Reds” (which got a character killed) to instill fighting discipline … to protect Americans like Tom Cruise’s character, who were enjoying cocktail parties in Georgetown … from, I guess, the threat of a Cuban invasion of Miami?
Anyway, it never occurred to the colonel that the U.S. government might pose the greatest threat to Americans’ freedoms and liberties. Or if he thought about this possibility (which he might today) … this “truth” might blow his mind. So he was really right. The real truth would have blown his mind. He couldn’t handle it.
Just like people can’t handle the truth that their fears of dying from Covid were preposterous. And that the people they venerate, celebrate and think are infallible (like Fauci), were really killers, liars and villains.
Any number of factors are at work in the feedback loop of ethical and intellectual failure that is contemporary academia.
To start, intellectual independence is not valued because it is not sought by governments, employers or managers. Hierarchically structured institutions select for conformity. Independent thinkers may be admired in theory, but only from a safe distance. Institutions infested with managers and HR types are actively hostile to those of independent mind. Higher education does not form an exception to this rule.
Secondly, autonomy can only exist when and where the material pre-conditions for it are present. Salary or wage-earning people are dependent by definition. Talk of intellectual independence is an affectation to hide the proletarianization of the academy.
Thirdly, serious education typically begins, if it begins at all, only in grad school. By the time most students are ready for grad school, it is simply too late to get them to think at all, let alone independently.
Fourthly, in the West intellectual rigour has typically been developed through analytic modes of thought and academic debate that derived their character from Socratic traditions of inquiry infused with the combative or agonistic aspect of the Greek city-states in the classical period.
Today this approach is widely perceived as obnoxiously male and aggressive: in the feminised world of academia disagreement is seen as a form of threat and active argumentation is confused with personal hostility.
Fifthly, the wider culture and general conditions of society are sending people mad. Most people today are immersed in audio-visual infotainment delivered by personal devices (especially laptops, mobile phones and videogames). Extended immersion in a simulacrum of dematerialised experience undermines any sense of reality.
This situation remains uncorrected by reality because of the socially and physically sheltered existence of practically everyone. And a couple of decades of exposure to the distraction of constant mass entertainment disrupts synaptic formation on a scale that makes concentration or learning both disagreeable and very difficult.
Finally, every negative or undesirable influence, example or tendency is vigorously encouraged by the wider society. There is no meaningful force or presence to challenge or counter any of the above.
Hope, if it exists at all, can only be found in the fact that declining rates of productivity growth, deindustrialisation and growing competition for energy and commodities guarantee that the expiry date for the Western model is fast approaching. Whatever happens, the use of higher education for child-minding on a mass scale is coming to a close.
Pain is information, nothing more. If we are animals, we let pain control us. If we are humans, we take action based upon this, including choosing to block out pain. This works for all type of pain, physical, intellectual, and emotional. Pain and suffering teach us and help us grow.
Jeremy Bentham, the Father of Utilitarianism, organized his system to avoid suffering to the most people. This has become the core of modernity and liberalism.
I don't want safety and protection from harm. I love engaging in a fierce discussion. Learning something new or changing my mind is a good thing. Many of my best days are those that I learned something new or changed my mind.
Wow, John, what an amazing article.
So much to touch on.
First, "they've dropped the ball something fierce," or they haven't, it was always supposed to be this way. They have been set up "six ways from Sunday" for this epic fail, and with proper leadership from the few that are in on "the game" here we are.
Second, "mass formation" and kabuki theater of "cult brainwashing" are all just parts of a "Stockholm syndrome" created by the same "elites" that fell into their own "techno bubble wrap" trap that makes them resistant to any orders of reality. While the rest of us are forced to live in this reality of "limited thinking" and "intense competition" whether it is for that great job you can't take the 2 weeks vacation at or you'll be replaced, or the "hot chick" that you know sucks at everything but exactly that.
Remember the Kobayashi Maru?
Well, I don't believe in a no-win scenario either, but I haven't yet figured out how to reprogram the gaming (crypto) computer, at least not without a lengthy jail sentence.
You are right about the thinking-pathways-pain thing. Probably a good thing that you didn't have access to essentially unlimited amounts of various painkillers like some of us. To say nothing of all the other psycho-active substances.
Personally, my moment came in the early 90s, right after George HW Bush uttered the words "New World Order" and I knew it was all a joke, my deflated Anti-Communist inner self got a real shot of nitrous oxide that day. And I haven't looked back since.
You see, being an Anti-Communist is the loneliest, poorest paying (why I dealt drugs with a license in 3 states), least respected, most criticized, labeled a fruitcake, patriotic position in our nation. Just ask "Tailgunner Joe." Oh wait, you can't, not at least since the early 50s.
As far as the excruciating pain, yep, broken bones, kidney stones, even a broken heart, well, not really, I knew she was a little slut, but it was great while the money, drugs, hot rods, lust, hate & jealousy from everyone else, held out!
Then I moved on to motorcycles, but not even they got me laid as much as my old '71 six-pack 'cuda. But you are right, I've been "red-pilling" myself since the end of the "Cold War," hint- it didn't end.
As far as returning to our "Academic Elite" or more accurately, "normalized retards."
Don't waste another thought or effort on them, they ain't never coming any of the ways back.
Simply not possible.
One of the key variables when it comes to an admission that you may be wrong is wrapped up in a concept call 'the consistency principle' of neural functioning. And it's to do with a type of pain, so sort of fits your thesis.
The consistency principle is basically the neural flow of information travels along paths of least resistance - these are the established thoughts, the things you believe and accept as reality. When there is a challenge to such thoughts, an 'inconsistency', it requires a different neural flow - albeit a small change. The brain, ever looking to conserve energy, doesn't much like this and will always try to maintain the status quo. Nevertheless, given enough passes of the new neural flow, it becomes a path of least resistance itself - the new thought/reality is established and when the world is processed in agreement with this neural flow - voila, we have consistency once again... until a new idea challenges the established neural architecture.
Each change in thought costs energy, is uncomfortable, and feeds into higher cortical constructs (like embarrassment that I'd been sucked in to a falsehood, or that the new truth is going to cost me socially, politically, or commercially, etc.) that further provide resistance.
Anyway - thought I'd throw that in the mix.
There is a letter somewhere written by an Indian Chief declining an offer from Harvard or some other Eastern University to take some young men from the tribe and educate them. He says something like , “Thanks but no thanks, we already tried that, and when we got the young men back from you, they were useless. They couldn’t run, couldn’t hunt, basically they failed all our tests and are ruined as men.”
> "But in all honesty I know a lot of highly intelligent people inside the academy, and with a tiny handful of notable exceptions they all fell for it, and they're all *continuing* to fall for it."
I find the "continuing" part to the most mind boggling. True story:
Just a couple of weeks ago I went back into the office for the first time in two years. Didn't wear a mask even though as a filthy, unvaxxed & unboosted American(TM) I'm supposed to. (Company policy is to wear a mask if you're unvaxxed/unboosted but in practice it's more of a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Instead of a closet homo, I'm a closet unvaxxed.) Anyway, the subject of the vaxx / boosters came up. My highly intelligent colleagues are talking about when they're eligible to get the second booster. I'm dying inside but I can't say anything 'cause I'm "breakin' the law" / breaking company policy. Plus it would be awkward anyway to ask them why they think the jab even works when everybody's gotten covid. Oh well, can't teach old dogs new tricks, I guess. They'll keep getting their jabs and I'll keep evading company policy.
Jesus says: "The truth shall set you free."
I say: "Jesus didn't tell you it would also piss you off."
As soon as I started working with PhDs I lost all respect for the degree.
If someone is interested in this topic I can recommend this book called Disciplined Minds. It digs very deep and I think it can provide a lot of meaning for what has happened. This book was also banned and the author fired from academia. https://archive.org/details/jeff_schmidt_disciplined_minds
Your work is consistently so beautiful, so thoughtful.
I think one of the factors relating to this extreme intolerance for pain might be the way recent generations have been raised...their parents don’t want them to experience any type of problem, mental upset, unmet need or desire, mild trauma, physical pain, offense, physical risk, or difficulty of any kind. Thus they ‘grow up’ (so to speak) believing they aren’t supposed to experience anything unpleasant. Also they develop no problem-solving, compassion for others, work ethic, moral values, or coping skills. In other words, they believe they’re the center of the universe. I still haven’t quite figured out why parents began doing this over the past approximately 20 years. It’s quite disturbing.
The truth hurts those who invest too much energy in *beliefs* - for people who genuinely try to hold fact-based opinions where possible, then finding data that rejects a belief is actually a GOOD thing.
One of the best 'awful truth' bits that hit all my buttons comes from Irish-Aussie comedian Jimeoin -
>>> HR Karen: "And what is your greatest weakness?"
>>> Candidate: "Oh, that's easy. It's my honesty."
>>> HR Karen: "HONESTY? I wouldn't think anyone would call that a 'weakness'."
>>> Candidate: "I don't give a fuck what you think."
It's really informative to tell that joke and watch the reaction (perhaps toning it down to "I don't give a _shit_ what you think" or "I don't give a _toss_ what you think" if there are elderly Baptist spinsters within earshot).
The reaction sorts wheat from chaff almost as reliably as the Monty Hall paradox or the properties of
>>> X XOR Z ∀ X~U() and Z~A()
..... A() is an arbitrary distribution;
..... U() is a uniform distribution; and
..... X and Z are binary variables.
The behaviour during COVID of people who are assumed to be clever, really breaks two ways:
① high-Verbal innumerates get shown up for their inability to do any quantitative analysis; and
② high-Math numerates show the world whether they hold 'corn pone' opinions (e.g., numbskulls like Niel Ferguson, who has been catastrophising since the 90s).
It is my strong prior that high-Verbal people are not actually very smart - they are like the grade 9 kid who stays one chapter ahead of his Chess Club. The cognitive 'grunt' required to be top-percentile in V is significantly lower than the grunt required to be top-percentile in M. Most high-M people will be relatively-high V... the opposite is absolutely not true.
Seems to me that V is deliberately overweighted in SAT and IQ-type psychometrics because if it wasn't, the people doing the testing would be exposed as not-very-smart.
Take a look at any set of PIAAC results: outside of the top couple of (cognitive) percentiles, people are functionally innumerate AND illiterate. They can read words on a page... but they cannot parse a complex argument or determine truth values from content with deliberate rhetorical or persuasive content. (That's the OECD's own definition of Level IV: less than 10% achieve that).
So we're back to Bias of Priene: HOI PLEISTOI ANTROPOI KAKOI... Most people are shit.
That doesn't mean they ought to be deprived of the full measure of rights, by the way. It just means that they should not be permitted to be involved in group decision-making, because they are too-easily swayed by verbally-competent bullshit-artists.
Interesting theory. Where I concur is with the lack of physicality among the intelligentsia, and the laptop latte lapping classes generally. Elsewhere on substack n.s.lyons’s ‘The Upheaval’ had posited that there are now two kinds of people in the world: the physicals and the virtuals (I massively simplify here). Academia is firmly in the hands of the virtuals and has been for at least the last decade.
The virtuals (those with enough digitalisation to work from home, teach via zoom, order everything online etc) are what made the lockdowns possible. Without the digitalised sphere having reached the extent it has to date, lockdowns and the other pandemic reactive measures would have crippled the economy too much for even any cabals bent on resetting us to cope with.
I saw the writing on the wall in my own university department a year before the pandemic, when my head of department passed on management’s message for us to develop more online and digital material. The lockdowns then were a godsend to these folk, as they could now ask for voluntary redundancies to cull the herd of digital refuseniks and old-skool academics still hell bent on teaching critical thinking … pardon the rant here on your page.