Let me begin this by saying there are millions of people way smarter than myself. This is a necessary statement, as you will see because otherwise I’ll sound insane.
Though I’ll say there are only two people so much smarter than myself that I felt like a little kid trying to comprehend an adult. One of them was Ginny Heinlein. There is a third one I can almost keep up with if I run fast enough. And I’ve caught him in an error once, in economic forecasting, which has zero to do with this field.
Other than that life in this family is a daily act of humility as the other members of it are way smarter than myself. When they get going on something, particularly blue sky physics, I can just sit and watch like someone with two broken legs looking on at acrobats.
That said, my feeling of inferiority is tempered by the fact I often correct the English of one, the history of another and that I’ve read more than husband, (it being part of my job.) so I can pull up examples of things he was unaware of.
And that paragraph above is why I don’t believe in “Smart people” and “The top men.”
Even admittedly brilliant, stunningly erudite people have areas they know or understand or think about more than others. And in some of them they can be strangely and stunningly ignorant.
I won’t give the example of actors who run their mouths on politics and political systems, because that would be low hanging fruit. I’m not sure — and I know some of them are bright people but that’s not the point — what acting talent is exactly (which since maternal grandparents met on the boards and enjoyed some acclaim is kind of odd, right?) but it doesn’t seem to be a strictly intellectual function. Maybe it is simply an enhancement of that mimic ability that allows humans to adapt to the tribe when yet very young and to manipulate their caretakers so they survive.
I won’t mention authors, either, because authors are … well. I have no idea how others work. I know some say they do this rationally and purely from intellect, but you know what? We lie for a living. And we tend to claim as the origin story of someone’s favorite book whatever fits the rule of cool, even if the real origin story was to quote a meme with Yoda. “Young I was, needed money, I did.”
We are usually learned and competent in two areas that impress those who aren’t writers: the manipulation of words and knowledge of obscure facts.
In addition, I can sound incredibly smart — without trying to, just geeking out, because I read a lot of history and economics and my mind is a stainless steel lint trap. Meaning I retain the most obscure, bizarre and often irrelevant pieces of information seemingly for life. If I live that long, after I forget my own name and can no longer recognize my kids or — more alarmingly — my cats, I’ll be able to tell you the very last words that Leonardo DaVinci ever wrote was Il Caldo e Freddo. Which means “[My] soup grows cold.” (Actually the soup is cold, but what he meant is that he’d be right back but had to eat his soup before it got cold. Which will be the title of the last Leonardo Da Vinci Mystery, if I can clear the time and muster the discipline to write everything else on the way to those.
But again, most areas of human endeavor are opaque to me and I’m a babe unborn. I am in the end a savage with modern day creations. I can’t tell you why what I’m doing works, why the words get typed into this blog and will be shown to you. I can’t tell you why or how the computer works. I can’t even program the computers I use every day. My electrical gadget expertise stopped with assembling a tube radio from parts more than forty years ago, and I doubt I could do that now. Or keep my first tape recorder going through amazing feats of repair even though it had been made in (I kid you not) North Korea. (Someday I’ll do a post on how all the crappy regimes allow imports and entertainment from all the crappy regimes, or how we learned to have fun when we had Russian and Romanian movies inflicted on us. Too long a digression for here. Let’s say “Russian technology” is an improvement on “North Korean machinery.”)
Sure, I could learn all of that, and I’ve promised myself quiet time to study some of it as a reward for finishing books, because as the good doctor says, I’m a bad boss and a worse employee and I should just fire myself and find someone else to be me. But that too is a digression worthy of another post.
The thing is, when we come to this “Smarter people” or if you prefer “Top men” (even when they’re women) I will never know as much about any of these things as people who are objectively — if such a thing is possible to measure — dumber than I, but who have devoted their lives to one of them.
Which brings me to this post, or the precipitating event that led me to write it: Yesterday on Facebook I talked to a polite and rational liberal.
Having determined that someone — not me — asked him how he reconciled his beliefs in the inherent dignity and value of the individual with wanting Universal Health Care.
This man agreed most systems of universal healthcare are a florid disaster and do way worse than the mangled, government-raped thing we have, but he insisted that “Someone smarter than me can design a system that works.”
He also held out hopes that we could have a system like Sweden.
As I said he’s rational and polite, so I’m not including him in the following — I think he just heard it so much from other leftists he thinks it must be true — but I’m just going to say I’ve often wondered if the left’s obsession with the way a used-to-be extremely white country where everyone is relatively closely genetically related is rooted in their subconscious eugenic and racial beliefs.
But of course Sweden is not a model. Long before that thread was over someone who knew it better than I pointed out they now have a parallel private system, which people pay for (and is quite expensive) in addition to paying for the “universal” one out of their taxes. Because it’s so much better. The same thing is true of Portugal, btw. And you probably can’t find two more different cultures and modes of behavior than Sweden and Portugal.
And the problem is even with Sweden, or Great Britain, or any of that, there’s a ton of stuff we don’t know about these government-run systems. Such as, for instance, how much they actually cost. Or what their real statistics are. Americans (born and raised) tend to trust statistics from abroad as if they were their own, forgetting we’re the autistic kids in the nations playground, who actually say what we think, and believe facts matter.
I’ll point out in passing that it took me till two years ago to make sense of something mom told me from birth: when I was born extremely premature, the doctor who came over to examine me after delivery called the hospital to beg the use of an incubator. He was reportedly told that since mom had chosen to have the baby at home with a midwife, there were no incubators available. This seems like one of those things you read about on how a “patriarchal” system suppressed midwives in favor of doctors. And eh, maybe it was, though I doubt it. For one, given the transportation possibilities in the village at the time, trying to get to the hospital once labor started would mostly mean delivering on the road. A couple of years ago, a lightbulb went on in my head: given my birth weight and general expectations of survival, they didn’t want me to die in the hospital. Because I’d skew their numbers. And yes, Portugal had universal health care.
No matter what a governmental department — and I mean any nation — is supposed to do, over time their actions will be changed and decisions made so as to skew the numbers in their favor. Since inter-government people aren’t evaluated on profit (i.e. on how efficiently they use resources versus results) but on how good they look on paper everything is will be done to look good on paper.
Which endeth the semi-digression (yes, my mind is like an eighteen wheeler, occasionally lurching from lane to lane. Stop gripping the wheel of your reasoning so tightly and enjoy the ride) and brings us back to my point: you can have people way smarter than I design a universal health care system, or a long distance communication system, or an economic strategy. But the thing is, see, they are still humans.
If their incentive is to look good on paper, even if they’re the best of people and devoted to their seeming objectives, they’re going to have to do some “looking good on paper” or the only thing that will happen is that someone else will take over who does look good on paper.
Beyond that, they will come in with all their prejudices, their acquired and never examined opinions (“it works in Sweden” or “population is exploding.”) and a ton of other things likely acquired with mother’s milk and never thought over (because most people don’t) and they will be influenced by them.
This is fine when what they’re doing is designing something with objective parameters that follows immutable laws. Even then unintended consequences can bite you in the ass. Ask any engineer.
But when you’re dealing with humans, where each individual is the original chaotic system, and when you get them in a crowd they’re…. unfathomable incarnations of chaos, then the system tends to come apart fast or slow depending on how big it is and how much it’s supposed to cover.
Even the smartest person in the world, for instance, knows less about me than I do. And speaking of chaotic systems, my body is unfathomable. It was supposed to have stopped ticking 57 years and some months ago, and nine times out of ten when it throws a wobbler and husband drags me to ER, (over my strenuous protests that “It’s just my body being my body. If you give it an hour it will be okay again”) the diagnosis and proposed treatment is “Heck if we know.” Stupid docs assume I’m hypocondriac and get very upset when told I don’t remember any of this, it’s my husband who observed it. I’m amazed no one has accused him of Munchhausen by proxy. (And I’ll point out I was doing this long before we were married, just in case you’re silly.)
The tenth time the diagnosis is… weird? And the recommendations weirder. I’m probably not the only patient ever discharged with the instructions to “eat more salt” but I must be rare because the nurse tried to change it to “less.” If ever anyone gets discharged with instructions to “take up smoking and work to smoke a pack a day” it will be me! (Or at least that’s the joke in my family.)
Even the level of standardization our government (Yes, we should be thanking Obama. Ptui.) has introduced in health care has made it very difficult for off beat, strange body-systems. Yes, part of it is the shortage of doctors, and the time allotted per patient, but part of it just they’re treating us by statistics as much as anything else because of those stupid codes, and insurance. (“Attacked by ducks, second encounter.”)
What is a Smart Person TM supposed to do with stuff like that? Even when I’m in perhaps a group of 0.3% of the population, when you’re talking about something the size of the US that’s a lot of people. And other people have weird stuff of their own.
As for the economy… Brother. We know what smart people do. (And dumb people too, like Denver raising its minimum wage to stratospheric levels on the ASSUMPTION this will raise people’s income, instead of sending the low skilled into unemployment. Lord have mercy. I expect a lot of robots in the area in the future.)
Smart or dumb, no one can muster the level of complexity inherent in even 100 humans, much less 300 million, assuming that’s our current population.
There is no one smart enough, free or prejudices and preconceptions enough to handle that. (It could be argued my DST series is all making this point, actually.)
Because even the smartest human who ever lived, supposing he’s interested in bureaucracy (which would be a strange perversion) is still human, and will have his preconceptions and ideas that aren’t exactly rational. Worse than that, he will ASSUME everyone is as smart as he is, and as well intentioned. I’ve long observed the very smart CANNOT believe in stupidity beyond a certain level. And the very compassionate and sweet get easily duped by the evil. More so than the rest of us who have — Thank Heavens — a broad streak of darkness, and therefore know how the evil operate, because we see the impulses in ourselves. (And we watch ourselves ALL the time.)
And then there’s the way bureaucracy works. In any department, any office, any group of humans, decisions are made not by what is more rational or “smarter” but by horse trading, back-rubbing and horse-trading. At which, btw, anyone one standard of deviation or more above the mean (which is very mean indeed) tends to be beyond bizarrely awful. Because IQ differences aren’t quantitative, they’re qualitative. And you lose the instinctive rapport with the rest of the species the more different you are from them. (And who’d be surprised, considering if the difference is physical pack-apes will shun, ostracize or kill the mutant.)
So, policy in the end is not set by the smartest guy, muttering away in his cubicle in the corner (and from the policy prescriptions I read from very smart people, this might be a good thing. They tend to shun the pack, and the species, as much those shun them.) Policy is made by the empire-builder within the department who manipulates everything so that he has job security. There might be some input from Auntie Marge who has worked for the department forever and brings in cookies and chocolate cake on Friday because no one wants it to stop.
And that might be the big divide in our country between right and left. Beyond everything else, beyond the screaming and throwing things, the left believes in “Top
Men Women” who can design and carry out utopia.
Heaven knows why. I don’t. It is impossible for me to understand why their belief comes from, and I must assume it’s from “assumptions, half digested information and wishful thinking.” I’d also blame the unified media of the 20th century for hiding a lot of the cock ups that “top people” have made on the way to success. I think WWII set us in this idea that government COULD run things, because people didn’t know (and many still don’t) of all the slips betwix the cup and the lip. But who knows? The reason could be completely different.
The right, in the US, largely doesn’t believe in “Smart People.” We know they exist. We just repose no trust in them. The fact that the media has for decades been depicting as “Smart” people whose conclusions and ideas we were forced (from some life event usually) after examination to consider simplistic and borderline inane, doesn’t help us believe in “smart people.”
So in the end we’re stuck screaming across the divide “We would love perfect and free health care; yes, we think some people would greatly benefit from not having to worry about the daily bread, so they could create great things; yes, we’re all for improving the lot of the homeless and the addicted; yep, sure, some people are rolling in undeserved and misappropriated wealth.
It’s just that we think when we let anyone, smart or dumb try to fix that stuff, what we get is systems where bureaucrats prevent parents from saving their child’s life; universal income that disincentivizes 90% of recipients from trying to work and reduces them to the level of pets or prisoners of their vices; turns major cities into open sewers that are not safe to walk in, lest you be attacked by a feral human; strips all incentive from the hardest working, most productive people in a society and leaves everyone in equal poverty.”
In other words, we yell across the divide “Yes, yes, we would all love paradise. But we don’t think it can happen, and certainly not in a planned model. The lurching chaotic system of everyone looking out for their own individual interests (which they know better than everyone else) has done better than VERY Smart People TM planning in their lofty towers.
Because humans are unpredictable, regressive, full of irrational impulses and subconscious never examined certainties.
And sure you can hate them for it, but don’t go pretending you are some lofty, all-knowing, pure intelligence. Because you’re not. And you too are filled with all of those. Denying them only makes them worse.
The only solution is to give people as little power as possible over masses of other people. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best we can do, jumped-up apes that we are.
The problem is the divide is so fundamental and absolute, no matter how hard we shout, they can’t hear us. Examples will be useless. The fact that all attempts before have failed won’t deter them. They’re sure if they just find people smart enough we’ll have paradise.
Unfortunately mostly what they find is the rapacious, the power hungry and the good actors.