Wisdom and Influence
We suffer from their disconnect
Here is a simple theory of history:
When wise people are influential, good things happen. When unwise people are influential, bad things happen.
I will just offer two data points. During the era of the American founding, influential people included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and other men who had great wisdom. Today, we have social media “influencers” who are idiots.
In politics, the Democratic Party is drifting way to the left, influenced by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, the Squad, and a cadre of young activists. None of them has any wisdom.
The Republican Party looks worse. The new Speaker of the House does not strike me as wise. Nor does the prospective Republican Presidential nominee.
Contemporary journalism is a disaster. The influential writers are partisan hacks. No wise person could trust Paul Krugman or Tucker Carlson.
Most galling of all is the disconnect between influence and wisdom in higher education. The dominant influence at universities used to be faculty. And they were faculty in real disciplines, not grievance studies. Professors can be petty and juvenile, but there was enough wisdom to maintain a decent atmosphere for seeking truth and reasoning with rigor.
Today, the influence comes from administrators. Most notorious are the DEI administrators. They are not at all wise. The critical theorists and the grievance studies professors cause harm both psychologically and intellectually.
I suspect that the rise of foolish influencers reflects the new information environment. The Internet rewards tribalism, not wisdom.
I conceived of the Fantasy Intellectual Teams project as a way to reconnect wisdom with influence. The scoring system rewarded points for commentary that showed wisdom. It awarded points for stating a clear proposition in which you acknowledge the strongest arguments for a different opinion.
Suppose that we could train a Large Language Model to score individuals on their ability to use reason in disagreement. We could also award negative points for using ad hominem attacks and mischaracterizing the other side.
Ideally, people would start to pay attention to rankings of individuals based on this scoring system. High scorers would increase their influence. That would help to reverse the social breakdown that has occurred over the past twenty years.