Not the cognitive elite

The immensely well paid staff of the World Bank issued a pile of nonsense about European financial problems in which they kept calling a positive feedback loop a negative feedback loop. Obama’s speechwriters issued an equally stupid speech to their black mascot in which they called the Falkland Islands the Maldives.

From time to time, people dig up tests that were given to high school kids in the eighteen seventies, and point out that today’s Harvard postgraduates would be unable to pass them.

To which those defending our current elite reply that the curriculum is different. Supposedly it is not that our current elite does not know $#!% from beans, it is that they know different $#!%, and beans were not covered in their curriculum, beans being a menial old fashioned obsolete topic unworthy of their immense brains. While today’s Harvard PhDs would flunk high school in the 1870s, 1870 schoolkids would, we are told, flunk Harvard. Well of course they would flunk Harvard. Back in the bad old days they did not know that whites are bad and blacks are good and that men are bad and women are good.  Learn to chant “Four legs good, two legs bad”, and you too can be a Harvard PhD in sociology or in interdisciplinary studies.

Perhaps I know the difference between a positive feedback loop and a negative feedback loop because of my background in computers, but why do I know the difference between the Falkland islands and the Maldives, while Obama’s gigantic entourage of speechwriters and fact checkers does not?

What people know is not necessarily a good indicator of intelligence. There is a lot of stuff to know, and plausibly people know different things – but smart people know the stuff in their own field, like the difference between the Maldives and the Malvinas. And if you are going to use the concept of feedback loop to analyze the financial system, you should know the difference between a negative feedback loop and a positive feedback loop.  And if you don’t trust your audience to know, use the phrase “vicious cycle”, or “run”, which are usually more precise, accurate, and appropriate to any situation where one might be tempted to use “negative feedback loop” inappropriately.

You will notice I have not bothered to explain the difference between a positive feedback loop and a negative feedback loop, nor explain which are the Malvinas and which are the Maldives – because I figure that most people who read my blog are considerably smarter and more knowledgeable than Obama’s staff or the IMF staff and would not appreciate being patronized.


10 Responses to “Not the cognitive elite”

  1. […] is a positive feedback effect (readers of this blog, unlike our “cognitive elite”, know the difference between positive feedback and negative feedback).  The more supply and demand favors women, the less they practice monogamy.  The less they […]

  2. […] so, that they’re dumber every day,  which has started many interesting discussions over at his blog. The thing is we lack hard data, so it’s all a battle of anecdotes on dumb or smart elites. […]

  3. jim says:

    For a group to run the world, needs to ally and coordinate. The old elite relied on familial connections, which meant that power was very much local. The old elite was defeated by a group which relied on religious and political connections, on ideological uniformity. As their religion/ideology has become more extreme, it has also become stupider, resulting in increased selection not only for conformity, but also for stupidity. At the same time, family breakdown has caused the old elite to disappear.

    Conservatives are, to a large extent, those males who reproduce and father their children, (non lek male reproducers) and to a lesser extent women and children under their influence. Libertarians reproduce more than leftists, but considerably less than conservatives. By and large, successful reproduction by males requires a certain old fashioned “don’t fuck with me” attitude that enables the possessor to personally impose patriarchy around himself in a society where such an arrangement is illegal and subject to socially disapproval, thus conservatism, like libertarianism, tends to select for people who do not work well together.

  4. Alrenous says:

    These aren’t the elite, no.
    However, it remains to be seen if the real cognitive elite are smart enough to avoid the public spotlight. E.g. the strategy for a smart, selfish cynic is to pretend to assiduously pretend to be progressive and never, ever get their name in the press. Run the microphone through anonymizing redirects before it reaches the megaphones.

  5. JD says:

    It’s because “negative” = “bad” among the idiocrats.

    • Matt says:

      JD has it. The World Bank might be a gaggle of fools, but at least one of them is trained in Semiotics, and that guy steers stuff like this.

      Half of the no-brainers that come out of official circles indicate ignorance. The other half, shrewdness. If I must be governed at all, and I must, so that others also will be, I want the minimum of both qualities. I want smart, honest, and thick. To that end, we’d truly be better off governed by the IT and janitorial departments of DC than by their Elites.

      • jim says:

        Half of the no-brainers that come out of official circles indicate ignorance. The other half, shrewdness.

        Possibly. Could you perhaps direct me to one indicating shrewdness?

        Bill argues that Krugman is a really smart guy and much smarter than Bill, which being an argument against interest by someone considerably more expert than I in Krugman’s field, I really should believe, but, seeing the crap emitted by Krugman, I find hard to believe.

        • Matt says:

          I think that “negative feedback loop” for “positive feedback loop” is shrewd. The cost is low: a few people are annoyed. The benefit is high: many people are made to feel that something bad is going on.

          • jim says:

            If you want to communicate that something bad is going on you say “vicious circle”.

            If you want to explain what is going on you say “run”

            Hence, not shrewd, stupid.

          • Alrenous says:

            ‘Vicious cycles’

            ‘Destructive feedback loops’

            ‘Feedback loops likely to cause sovereign insolvency’

            ‘Bank collapses to feed back into sovereign finance’


            ha, a couple they actually use

            ‘Adverse feedback’

            ‘downward spiral’


            ‘Negative feedback loops.’

            Only one of these makes you look like an idiot.

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