Some early reader nominations for FITs

One commenter suggested Eric Weinstein. Another suggested John McWhorter. Another suggested Tanner Greer. All good suggestions, and you seem to get the point of the game, even though I haven’t posted a broader description.

Another commenter points to a list of important intellectuals. I think importance is one criterion–I scorn many high-status economists for doing what I call “playing small ball.” But importance is not a sufficient condition for belonging on a FIT.

Another commenter said that he would not want Scott Alexander running the world. Neither would Scott Alexander. The worst intellectuals to put in charge of things are the ones who think that they should be in charge of things. The dream of FITs is to generate a better prestige hierarchy of intellectuals, not to find intellectuals to put in charge of the dominance hierarchy of government.*

Back to your suggestions. Eric is a particularly interesting case. If Scott Alexander models carefulness, Eric models fearlessness. Fearlessness means not being afraid of conventional wisdom or of anyone else based on their status. Carefulness is intellectual carefulness, which means giving the strongest consideration to other points of view.**

The very idea of Fantasy Intellectual Teams owes a lot to Eric. It was listening to Eric that led me to focus on the problem that I term intellectual status inversion. But one concern that I have with Eric is that he is inclined to make it seem as if the problem comes from the evil intentions of groups of individuals, and I am instead inclined to think of it as a problem that emerged out of three well-intentioned changes in higher education:

1. Expansion, driven by the GI bill and the post-Sputnik increase in government support.

2. Opening opportunities to women.

3. The attempt to give African-Americans proportionate representation.

In principle, all of these could have been handled without harm to intellectual culture. But I believe that indirectly and unintentionally they produced intellectual status inversion. I will have to spell out my argument in future posts. I predict that no matter how carefully I make the argument, these posts will be cancel-bait. I expect to be accused of being anti-democratic, misogynist, and racist.

Finally, I should mention that I recently joined Clubhouse, an invitation-only, audio-only, Iphone-only (no Android or PC version yet) social media app, and the first time I was invited onto a “stage” it was by Eric. He was leading a conversation about how economics needs to change. I don’t recall much of what I said (I stressed my points of agreement with him). I ducked out pretty early (I hope I was not too rude) to take a call from the grandkids in Boston.

A friend of mine describes Clubhouse as a sort of Anarchic Talk Radio. Users form rooms in which to hold conversations. In a way, it reminds me of the chat rooms in America OnLine around 1993, except that on AOL you used text chat and on Clubhouse you use voice. It seems that what the founders have in mind are rooms with many listeners and a few speakers. I myself prefer a seminar format, with about 10 people, with equal status–no distinction between speakers and audience. You could use Clubhouse that way, but for now I think that the talk radio format is dominant. I give it a less than 50 percent chance of appealing to me (AOL didn’t).

The invitation-only approach does two things. First, it allows the app to scale slowly as they figure out how best to execute it. Second, it creates a sense of exclusivity, the way Facebook started out as just Ivy League college students.

I was struck by the large number of African-Americans who are in Clubhouse. My friend says that the founders of Clubhouse decided to “seed” it with two groups that they think are culturally prominent in the U.S.: African-Americans and tech start-up nerds (my friend called them “techno-libertarians” but I think that term is anachronistic). That theory of cultural leadership sounds to me like real Bay-Area-think. My first impression is that it results in a culture that is so far to the left that it makes Twitter look like a MAGA hat.
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*In the history of our country as I understand it, the idea of putting intellectuals in charge of things originated with Progressive movement. It received a big boost under FDR, who claimed to have a “brains trust.” It was further glorified under the Kennedy Administration, until the “best and the brightest” got us Waist Deep in the Big Muddy. According to Helen Andrews, the TV show “West Wing” further glorifies power-seekers. (I have never seen the show.)

**You can be careful and fearless at the same time. Bryan Caplan’s The Case Against Education models both. He should be on the list, but is he a first-rounder? I value humility, and it is hard to put that word in the same sentence with “Bryan Caplan.” It would seem as though he runs the risk of becoming overly attached to a wrong idea. But he is very careful when he writes a book or makes a bet.