Thursday, 10 October 2019

The World of the Wordsmith

This piece from 1998 is worth revisiting - an essay by Robert Nozick reminding us about the problem of self-regarding professional wordsmiths. A few quotes may give the overall flavour, but the whole thing is well worth reading.

Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?

It is surprising that intellectuals oppose capitalism so. Other groups of comparable socio-economic status do not show the same degree of opposition in the same proportions. Statistically, then, intellectuals are an anomaly...

By intellectuals, I do not mean all people of intelligence or of a certain level of education, but those who, in their vocation, deal with ideas as expressed in words, shaping the word flow others receive. These wordsmiths include poets, novelists, literary critics, newspaper and magazine journalists, and many professors. It does not include those who primarily produce and transmit quantitatively or mathematically formulated information (the numbersmiths) or those working in visual media, painters, sculptors, cameramen. Unlike the wordsmiths, people in these occupations do not disproportionately oppose capitalism. The wordsmiths are concentrated in certain occupational sites: academia, the media, government bureaucracy...

The opposition of wordsmith intellectuals to capitalism is a fact of social significance. They shape our ideas and images of society; they state the policy alternatives bureaucracies consider. From treatises to slogans, they give us the sentences to express ourselves. Their opposition matters, especially in a society that depends increasingly upon the explicit formulation and dissemination of information...

Intellectuals now expect to be the most highly valued people in a society, those with the most prestige and power, those with the greatest rewards. Intellectuals feel entitled to this. But, by and large, a capitalist society does not honor its intellectuals. Ludwig von Mises explains the special resentment of intellectuals, in contrast to workers, by saying they mix socially with successful capitalists and so have them as a salient comparison group and are humiliated by their lesser status.

Nozick's essay is interesting not only for what it says, but twenty one years later we may discern a growing sense of outrage at the most blatant wordsmith bias within academia, the media and government bureaucracy. The entire EU project is a wordsmith project, as is the climate narrative. Even supposedly technical/economic projects such as HS2 are wordsmith projects. Our energy policies are degenerating into wordsmith fantasies.

Huge numbers of people who use the internet as a news and information resource will be fully aware of all this and in any event the curse of the wordsmith is hardly new. Yet it seems to be where much of the current political turmoil originates.

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