How Valuable is Intelligence?

May 2, 2010 at 11:08 am (By Amba)

Ann Althouse (on a roll this morning) quotes P.J. O’Rourke in a (highly intelligent, ironically) expansion on William F. Buckley’s remark that

I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.


I’m sure up at Harvard, over at the New York Times, and inside the White House they think we just envy their smarts. Maybe we are resentful clods gawking with bitter incomprehension at the intellectual magnificence of our betters. If so, why are our betters spending so much time nervously insisting that they’re smarter than Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement?…

The C student starts a restaurant. The A student writes restaurant reviews. The input-worshipping universe of the New York Times is like New York itself—thousands of restaurant reviews and no place we can afford to eat.

Let us allow that some intelligence is involved in screwing up Wall Street, Washington, and the world. A students and Type-A politicians do discover an occasional new element—Obscurantium—or pass an occasional piece of landmark legislation (of which the health care reform bill is not one). Smart people have their uses, but our country doesn’t belong to them. As the not-too-smart Woody Guthrie said, “This land was made for you and me.” The smart set stayed in fashionable Europe, where everything was nice and neat and people were clever about looking after their own interests and didn’t need to come to America. The Mayflower was full of C students. Their idea was that, given freedom, responsibility, rule of law and some elbow room, the average, the middling, and the mediocre could create the richest, most powerful country ever.

That’s wonderfully said, but it is, of course, not a condemnation of intelligence but an argument for multiple intelligences.  O’Rourke is talking about a particular, narrow kind of neck-up intellect, based on a very top-heavy books-to-real-life-experiences ratio.  Brains in jars, disconnected from hands and guts.  Would you even call that “intelligence”?


  1. Ron said,

    I suspect that for those who obsess about their brains, their bodies are a shame and hopefully something they could leave behind if they could.

  2. amba12 said,


    At one point that might have been true, and maybe that’s true of a subset of geeks; but the supposed “meritocracy” in Haahvahd, Washington and New York is very into the latest health club fitness craze. They scupt their bodies into sleek, molded, stylish computer cases for carrying their brains.

  3. Ron said,

    That’s about enforcing peer solidarity, not health. They want to tell a story where beauty, brains, and truth are their property, thus showing you why they deserve those 8 figure bonuses.

    They would not exercise at all if the amount of exercise needed for health reasons didn’t flog their mere bodies into proper metaphors.

  4. Ron said,

    We don’t allow the non-attractive to really make fun of/critique the attractive.

  5. Jason (the commenter) said,

    Politicians are fools, propped up by lazy, incompetent journalists and funded by corrupt, greedy businesses. If only we did have a government of bookish intellectuals! Or barring that, used car salesmen.

  6. amba12 said,

    Are you sure we don’t already have a government of used car salesmen?

  7. realpc said,

    There is nothing wrong with being the kind of person who reads and studies and thinks a lot. It’s only a problem if you think that makes you qualified to run other people’s live.

    Being “‘intelligent” is useful if you work in certain kinds of fields. What we call intelligence in our society is, I think, mostly just patience with details. If we study any scientific subject we must learn to focus intensely for hours, days, months, years, on intricate systems full of tiny details. We must train our minds to not get bored and constantly wander.

    And if you can train your mind in that way — and I guess almost anyone can — then congratulations you are now an “intelligent” person.

    Of course your intelligence will be limited to certain specific fields because we you can only assimilate so many details in one life time.

    Now is this “intelligent” person really better qualified to govern than someone with less focused, more general, knowledge?

    What we need in politicians is energy, motivation, some degree of compassion, and most of all plenty of practical common sense.

    But being a nobel prize winning scientist would be no help at all, it seems to me. It would probably be a disadvantage because the scientist wants to be in his lab focusing on tightly controlled details, not out in public trying to manage chaos.

    I’m not sure about Sarah Palin though. She has the energy, motivation and common sense, etc., but a politician should be more knowledgeable about history.

  8. Christopher said,

    First, a large overly generalized mischaracterization of Europe and Europeans. Nice. Really? Does she know the history of what most everyday Europeans have been through in the last 100 years.

    Second, most of our Founding Fathers were intelligent in the ways condemned in this piece. Jefferson and Franklin fit right in with French society, after all.

    Third, multiple intelligences are precisely a more thoughtful way to approach this without automatically bashing academic curiosity. This piece reads like an age-old American favorite, anti-intellectualism.

  9. Jason (the commenter) said,

    Are you sure we don’t already have a government of used car salesmen?

    Used car salesmen know how to make a profit.

  10. Icepick said,

    Used car salesmen know how to make a profit.

    I don’t know, Jason, a lot of our pols have made considerable profits for themselves. (See for example Harry Reid.) Surely you weren’t expecting them to do something for the country?

  11. amba12 said,

    Excellent comment, Christopher, sorry I was asleep (at the wheel) when it arrived (WP requires an admin to approve first comment from a new commenter). Won’t happen again, welcome.

  12. PatHMV said,

    Intelligence is only beneficial in the service of wisdom. I know a lot of really intelligent people who neither have nor seek wisdom. Many politicians I know or know of fall into this category.

    What is wisdom? In the end, the understanding that we can’t know everything, can’t predict everything, no matter how intelligent we may be.

    The crucial difference between our founding fathers and the European way of thinking is that our founding fathers knew that no simple set of rules could adequately govern our country, so instead of focusing on rules and figuring out what is best for everybody, they created a system which would succeed, over time, by virtue of the very imperfections of the men (and eventually women) running it.

    Today’s intellectual thinks that political science and government is all about figuring out what schedule the train should follow. In reality, the most crucial issue is the structure and process by which the train schedule is made. But that sort of structural issue, the key question of ‘who decides,” is largely beneath today’s intellectual.

  13. amba12 said,

    That’s a rich and wise comment, Pat.

    As you define it, wisdom is some combination of humility, practicality, and courage.

  14. realpc said,

    The American founders may have been brilliant intellectuals, but it just so happens that they profoundly distrusted humanity. Most of our academics these days are just the opposite — humanists who don’t see any reason why our species can’t understand and control everything.

    The American founders had a good idea at the right time, and it worked (for a while anyway). I do not think this country owes its success to intellectualism. Intellectualism is responsible for the communist revolutions.

  15. wj said,

    Well put, Pat.

    Real, I think it may be more a matter of those brilliant (at least at taking tests, including IQ tests) intellectuals distrust humanity as well — but they have no corresponding notion that the humanity that they distrust includes themselves and their fellows.

    This puts them in a position of thinking that they should have a mandate to tell everybody else what to do. Strictly for our own good, of course. Which the masses are too dumb to figure out for themselves.

    In many ways, their beliefs on this matter are identical to the ruling mullahs in Iran, Except that nobody here has actually set up a formal Guardian Council to guide us. Thank heavens!

  16. realpc said,

    Right wj, that’s what I should have said. They claim to have faith in humanity, but it’s really faith in EDUCATED humanity. They only trust themselves and other members of their tribe. They want the whole world to be modernized and educated, so all those ignorant people will be enlightened and will stop clinging to their guns and religion.

    Once guns and religion are gone, the whole world can have a big group hug and get along intelligently ad perfectly.

  17. Maxwell James said,

    Right before reading this thread, I read this piece about the internal Fed deliberations on the housing bubble in 2004. It strongly echoes realpc’s last comment.

  18. Maxwell James said,

    As a native New Yorker, I’ll also add that Mr. O’Rourke’s assessment of the restaurant scene there is stupid. NYC has plenty of flaws, but a lack of cheap eats is not one of them, especially if you happen to enjoy falafel, chinese food, bagels, and/or pizza.

  19. amba12 said,

    Thank you. That was a case of rhetoric at the expense of truth.

  20. Ron said,

    I totally agree that there are good cheap eats in NYC. (Waffel Truck!), but think when they talk about how expensive it is there it acts like a kind of ‘virual masking’, playing into people’s fears of cost…thus weeding out competition for good reservations….

  21. PatHMV said,

    Modern intellectuals tend to frame all questions as intellectual ones, meaning that there are discernible right and wrong answers. Were that true, then yes, putting a bunch of intellectual technocrats in charge would likely be the proper solution to governance. But in reality, most questions facing government and society as a whole involve both technical issues AND value issues. The technical issues do have objective right and wrong answers. The value issues, however, do not, and thus vary from person to person and group to group.

    Look at end-of-life issues. Some people (and this varies both by culture and by individual) place a high value on preserving life at almost all cost, fighting to stay alive even when “quality” of life is almost non-existent. Others have a more utilitarian value system and want to quantify costs of staying alive with costs of dying and make decisions on that basis. Still others value concepts like “dignity” and “bodily integrity,” and thus favor different solutions than either of the first two.

    The modern intellectual has a difficult time understanding that there even are any values involved in these issues at all. If they do see any “values” at play, it tends to be the “values’ of those opposed to the technocrat intellectual’s preferred solutions; the intellectual himself believes that his positions are purely objective, whatever they may be.

  22. amba12 said,

    The technical issues do have objective right and wrong answers.

    Not really. Silver-bullet thinking places technical questions and answers in isolation from cultural and practical ones, plus it often fails to anticipate blowback, unintended consequences. It often looks right on paper but proves wrong in practice.

  23. PatHMV said,

    Oh, I profoundly agree. I wasn’t being clear, as your statement is part of precisely what I was trying to get across, amba. In reality, the technical questions and the values questions are often so intertwined that they cannot be feasibly separated.

    But there are times when they are separable, but answering the technical aspect doesn’t address the values aspect. Take the proposal by the New York City councilman to prohibit restaurants from adding any salt to anything they prepare. There are a number of technical issues there that are potentially answerable. For one, bread without some salt is just not bread, and tastes awful; salt is a technically necessary ingredient for bread-making. So technical issue one can be fixed with a technical amendment to the proposal. On a larger technical front, we can through science determine the amount of risk posed to the population as a whole through “excess” salt consumption (I’m not sure science currently really has that answer, but it is the sort of thing amenable to scientific analysis). But all that tells us is that if we reduced salt consumption by X%, then the population average lifespan would increase by Y%, or we would save as a society $Z in high blood pressure medication which would no longer be needed.

    What science cannot answer, and why individual liberty is so important, is whether any given person would prefer to have a slightly higher risk of high blood pressure but get to enjoy salt, or to have a slightly lower risk of high blood pressure, but eat only a bland, very low-salt diet. Whether to have a long, safe, and sedate life or a short, risky, but adventure-packed life is one of the philosophical conundrums man has been struggling with since we started evolving out of the primordial ooze. Everybody’s going to feel differently about it.

    But the modern “intellectual” determines that because science proves that excess salt consumption is “bad” for you, then it can and probably should be regulated, and believes that a refusal to accept the regulation is a rejection of science and the scientific conclusion that salt is “bad” for you.

  24. amba12 said,

    Yes. It’s very “one-size-fits-all.”

  25. realpc said,


    Yes there are limitations to the scientific approach to government, but I think they are much more profound and fundamental that what you are describing. Yes if they proved beyond doubt that too much salt causes disease, then there would still be the values question of how much do we like salt vs how much to we want to avoid whatever disease it supposedly can cause. The same kind of argument could be made for all kinds of substances that may or may not be regulated by the government.

    But what you have not mentioned is the fact that only a very small percentage of scientific questions are ever answered beyond doubt. And even more questions have not been addressed by science in any comprehensive way, so of course they have not been answered scientifically. And yet more questions have not been asked.

    So the scientific information that is available for making policies is minuscule, relative to the amount of information that would be needed.

    Not everyone realizes that the limits of rational thinking are severe. We never have enough information to make any important decisions, so we are constantly guessing and estimating.

    And then we have the problem of creativity. Creative ideas just come from out of the blue and there is nothing in logic or mathematics that can make creative ideas happen. In fact, scientists and mathematicians use non-rational intuitive modes of thinking all the time.

    The really great irony is that logic is fundamentally illogical, and science depends as much on mysterious inspiration as on systematic rational processes.

  26. Icepick said,

    Maxwell, the bit with Greenspan and the housing bubble is good – funny, even. Lots of people back then were fervently pushing the creation of a gigantic housing bubble. Paul Krugman was pushing for such a bubble in print back around 2001 or 2002. In 2007, 2008 and 2009 he was decrying the foolishness of those who pushed for a housing bubble, but he had apparently forgotten that he had made such comments himself in print way back when. (I haven’t checked lately, but I imagine he still hasn’t acknowledged his own cheer-leading.)

    And then there’s the likes of Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The housing bubble was truly a bi-partisan, even post-partisan, affair. Now everybody denies they had anything to do with it. But you know what they say: Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan. The same holds for booms and busts. We should tar and feather the lot of them.

    (Annie, sorry but I haven’t had time to write up my Paper Plane Protest Plan. Besides, I don’t have bail money to pay for my freedom of speech.)

  27. A Thesaurus We Need « The Compulsive Copyeditor said,

    […] about the different worlds evoked by each word.  Among other things, it strikes me that politics, as discussed here, penetrates even here. Leave a […]

  28. wj said,

    The other challenge in what Pat calls “technical” matters is that some technical questions simply don’t have answers — at least, not currently known answers. That is true in physical sciences and engineering, and far more true in matters of social sciences, governance, etc.

    And that explicitly includes economics. Even if we assume, for the sake of discussion, that there are no value issues in what economic outcomes are desired, we are nowhere near knowing how to achieve those outcomes reliably. There are some economic models which work reasonably well in many cases most of the time. But even those are subject to completely missing the boat whenever some new factor (new technology, new fads, new political climate, etc., etc.) comes into play.

    Essentially, they are descriptive models, producing a simulation of what happened, rather than prescriptive models, which might predict what will happen in the future. They get used for predictions anyway, because politicians are unwilling to accept that something that they want is simply not available. But it rarely ends well.

    And the other social sciences are barely one step above common sense in the broadest sense. At best, they include common sense from a broader perspective — e.g. by including how people and groups work in more than one narrow case. But that is about the most that can be said for them.

    (Full disclosure: I’ve got a Masters in Anthropology to go with my Masters in Mechanical Engineering. The contrast between them was stunning while I was in school, and remains so. But I actually do know a fair amount about both sides of that particular two cultures issue.)

  29. amba12 said,

    That’s a cool combination, wj. If more engineers knew their anthropology . . .

  30. realpc said,

    “some technical questions simply don’t have answers”

    MOST, not some.

  31. Maxwell James said,

    Icepick, the sad & hilarious truth is that it’s usually the worst ideas that enjoy the most bipartisan support.

  32. Maxwell James said,

    If more engineers knew their anthropology . . .

    And if more anthropologists knew their engineering!

  33. wj said,

    Yeah, and if more social scientists just knew something of engineering . . . . ;-)

  34. realpc said,

    “the other social sciences are barely one step above common sense”

    Actually, one of the subjects I studied is psychology. It turns out that academics have a deep distrust of common sense, and are trained to ignore it. As a result, many of their theories are pathetically absurd.

  35. amba12 said,

    Either that or they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars proving the obvious. I will never forget reading a study that concluded that babies smile because they’re happy (granted I am paraphrasing the conclusion).

  36. realpc said,

    “babies smile because they’re happy”

    Did they also conclude that babies cry because they’re unhappy? Or was that a separate study?

  37. Icepick said,

    Icepick, the sad & hilarious truth is that it’s usually the worst ideas that enjoy the most bipartisan support.

    Then it’s best we maintain a sense of humor – preferably absurdist.

  38. realpc said,

    “Paul Krugman was pushing for such a bubble in print back around 2001 or 2002. ”

    Well actually if you read the whole, article where he supposedly did that, he was not pushing for a housing bubble. He was being critical of the Bush administration, as usual, and saying a housing bubble was their only hope. Not that a housing bubble is something to hope for.

    The paragraph with the quote is taken out of context, and you don’t see how he was being sarcastic and critical of the whole silly idea.

    And I am not a fan of Krugman at all, since he became a fanatical Democrat. Well he was during the recent Bush administration anyway. Maybe now he is getting over the derangement syndrome.

  39. Icepick said,

    Krugman advocated the conditions for the creation of a housing bubble many times in many places. He has tried to weasel out of it since, but the record is clear – he wanted low interest rates to create a housing boom to fuel a consumer resurgence to get out of the recession of 2001-2002.

    Krugman’s “crimes” are largely irrelevant for two reasons. First, he had no policy authority at all at any time, so he didn’t actually cause anything. Second, he had no real ability to influence policy since he has been nothing but a parrot for the Democratic Establishment for a long time now. But it would be worthwhile if he would at least admit that he was wrong once in a while.

    But back to the specific case in point. Back when he was advocating for low interest rates and a housing boom, we WERE ALREADY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BUBBLE. Lots of Krugman’s allies like to pretend that the bubble didn’t start until 2004-2005, but we were well into it by then. Not only that, but by the start of 2001 we were already past the previous high-point on the (now widely used) Case Shiller index. You can see that here. You can view the really long-term chart here.

    The bigger problem is that by the late 1990s no one really knew what was going one with the wider economy, so when the next recession came they tried all the old tricks. I’m still not entirely convinced we really know what’s happening now, but we’re getting even more of the old tricks now. I doubt it will work any better than in did for the last recession.

    And for anyone still readiing that needs a little more doom and gloom, I offer this bit of fun: Long-Term Unemployment: 80 Percent Of People Jobless Last Summer Still Out Of Work This really isn’t new to anyone following these things closely, but it’s always good to spread the word. Actually the best part of the story is this bit:

    Of the people who found work, only 13 percent found full-time jobs, and 61 percent said their new gig was just “something to get you by while you look for something better.”

    Remember this the next time someone tells you how much better things are getting – even those finding work now are getting hosed.

  40. realpc said,


    Ok, I believe you about Krugman. And he also advocated the massive stimulus and complained it wasn’t nearly big enough. As for his being irrelevant, I don’t know, since the Democrats like “smart” people and might listen to him.

    This whole crisis can probably be blamed largely on “smart” people. Although of course the “smart” people are blaming it on greed and malice, which of course they associate with Republicans.

    And I agree with you, we are not enjoying a recovery right now.

  41. Icepick said,

    Real, this crisis can be blamed on pretty much everyone, although the amount of blame will vary. About the only people that can’t be blamed are people who hold zero debt (perhaps minus a mortgage and student loans) and who also do not work in the finance, construction or real estate industries, or some other associated industries. I know some of them are out there (I believe you and Amba both qualify, as does my mother), but most of us have contributed in some way or another. The big problem is that the gains and the pain have been far from equitably distributed. That is not a stable situation for the body politic.

  42. Icepick said,

    And I still maintain that Krugman is irrelevant, because he tells Dems what they want to hear: Spend More! Regulate More! Government Takeover! Tax the Rich! Tax EVERYBODY! (I’m sure if he hasn’t already that he will soon come out for the VAT.)

  43. realpc said,

    How did you know I have zero debt, and don’t work in finance or real estate?

  44. realpc said,

    Krugman wants us to be exactly like some of the Scandinavian countries. I know it’s wrong, but I find it hard to argue against it. Progressives have shown that the Scandinavians are happier, less violent, less religious, more financially equal.

    I don’t actually believe their research. And even if it is partly true, there can be many different explanations.

    But the European, and especially Scandinavian, example is constantly help up by American progressives as something we ought to copy, especially regarding health insurance and unemployment insurance.

    Then the conservatives and libertarians answer by saying well they are less innovative and not as free. Well so what? Most people would rather be safe and happy than live in country that constantly churns out new expensive gadgets.

    I really think that if the Scandinavian countries were as large and heterogeneous as the US, and if they had to pay for their own military defense, they would not be able to sustain their level of socialism. I don’t even think they can sustain it much longer even without all that.

    I think the Scandinavian countries paid for all their social programs with their past wealth, which they acquired when they were extremely capitalist. And that wealth will run out, if it hasn’t already.

    Well all that is way off the topic. But since you brought up Krugman, it is how Krugman thinks, I am pretty sure. He thinks the only reason we aren’t identical to the more socialist of the European countries is because there are too many ignorant conservatives in American who can’t let go of their guns, religion and greed.

  45. Icepick said,

    How did you know I have zero debt, and don’t work in finance or real estate?

    I feel certain you’ve mentioned the debt thing before. As for not working in finance or real estate, that’s just a guess. Given the last two years I would have thought it would have come up if you had. But really the second part is just a guess.

  46. Icepick said,

    David Brooks recently wrote a column covering some of that ground.

    Roughly a century ago, many Swedes immigrated to America. They’ve done very well here. Only about 6.7 percent of Swedish-Americans live in poverty. Also a century ago, many Swedes decided to remain in Sweden. They’ve done well there, too. When two economists calculated Swedish poverty rates according to the American standard, they found that 6.7 percent of the Swedes in Sweden were living in poverty.

    In other words, you had two groups with similar historical backgrounds living in entirely different political systems, and the poverty outcomes were the same.

    A similar pattern applies to health care. In 1950, Swedes lived an average of 2.6 years longer than Americans. Over the next half-century, Sweden and the U.S. diverged politically. Sweden built a large welfare state with a national health service, while the U.S. did not. The result? There was basically no change in the life expectancy gap. Swedes now live 2.7 years longer.

    Then there’s the following exchange:

    A Scandinavian economist once proudly said to free-market advocate Milton Friedman, “In Scandinavia we have no poverty.” And Milton Friedman replied, “That’s interesting, because in America among Scandinavians, we have no poverty either.”

    And here’s an article that discusses some of these topics. Ah, well, not that it matters. Brooks dances all around one of the salient points so as to avoid getting fired, and we just can’t mention that Swedes are Swedes for a reason.

  47. Icepick said,

    Speaking of intelligence, Washington DC and Epic Fail, there’s this article on how the Healthcare Reform Bill is going to destroy the economy.

  48. amba12 said,

    I sent your Swede comment to a Swede of my acquaintance.

  49. realpc said,

    I read P.J O’Rourke’s book that compared socialist and capitalist countries — he found good and bad examples in each category. Sweden was one of the socialist examples (although of course it isn’t socialist, just more so than the U.S). O’Rourke said Sweden was a very nice place and the people he met seemed happy. However, he said the generous social programs were financed by past wealth, which had run out, and Sweden had gone into debt because of them.

    So I think the explanation is that socialism runs an economy down in the long run, but can seem to work in the short run. The Soviet Union must have had enormous wealth right after the revolution. They were able to coast along on it for decades.

    So even though socialism is not a viable system, it can appear to succeed for a limited time in limited contexts.

    So what we have seen in Europe is periods of more or less socialism. When the economy starts to run down they swing back towards capitalism.

    But Krugman knows all that. But maybe he is at least partly right, and maybe we could have better social programs than we have, I really don’t know. And I agree with him that free market fundamentalism is wrong also.

    Anyway the Scandinavia argument of progressives is something conservatives should figure out how to answer.

    “We don’t want universal health insurance because it’s un-American” is not a rational argument.

  50. Icepick said,

    Real, the usage of accumulated wealth to fund a welfare state won’t deter American leftists – that would be a feature, not a bug. And that will be an easy sell. “If America can afford to put a man on the Moon … etc, etc.” (Don’t bother mentioning that after this fall we won’t even be able to put a man in LEO anymore. And don’t bother mentioning that we don’t have any accumulated wealth anymore, only debt.)

    The second arguemnet can’t be made. Consider the context of improving the quality of the teachers we employ. If you really want to improve the outcome of a given school don’t change the teachers, change the students. Down here in Florida we grade our schools. It would be easy to turn an ‘F’ school around by getting rid of all the students and busing in students from the nearest ‘A’ school, and vice versa. But we’re not allowed to notice this fact because to notice this we must notice other things. And those changes would stick, too. But we’re not allowed to notice this, because if we do we may notice other things.

    Incidentally, we’ve seen some noticeable improvements in local (East Central Florida) school grades since the housing market collapsed. We also saw the murder rate drop 40% in one year. How did that happen? I can’t tell you. I KNOW why, but I can’t tell you. If I did someone might mistake me for being an Arizonan.

  51. realpc said,

    “And don’t bother mentioning that we don’t have any accumulated wealth anymore, only debt.”

    But don’t they understand there is a limit to how much you can spend on credit?

  52. reader_iam said,

  53. amba12 said,

    WOW — so “intelligence” LITERALLY means “reading between the lines”!!!

    (By the way, I use, and recommend, the Online Etymology Dictionary very frequently.)

  54. realpc said,

    I don’t think any of us are saying intelligence is literally not useful. The absence of intelligence would be completely useless. What I think we are talking about is the tendency to worship human intelligence, which is found more often in progressives. When your perspective is non-religious and non-mystical, then the smartest thing around will seem to be educated humans.

    When progressives are religious it tends to be human-centric. And of course very often they reject religion because western religion can be very intolerant. Also because contemporary science has become materialist.

    The liberal tradition may have begun with worship of humanity, as in Tolstoy. Tolstoy was Christian, but I think he was influenced by Darwinism. I think his point was that religion is important with or without the supernatural aspect.

    And if there is no supernatural aspect to religion, then it becomes worship of humanity, since there is nothing higher.

    So today’s progressive ideology is based in reverence for humanity and faith in its basic goodness, and its potential. Human beings do lots of bad things, but according to this ideology that is only when they are not raised and educated correctly.

    This connects back to the idea of the killer mothers I had posted about before. Children can be warped by psychopathic mothers, unless they get the right kind of psychotherapy.

    And of course progressives believe in the power of a modern western education to cure the intolerance, violence and insanity that can result from religion.

    Progressives are much less likely than conservatives to worry about unintended consequences. They don’t see the human mind as limited, so there is no reason smart people with computers can’t make models and predict the future.

    And that was a major factor in this financial crisis — faith in smart people with computers. I think malice and greed were minor factors.

    We probably do need smart leaders these days because things are so complicated. But it would be nice to have a ruler whose faith is in something higher than human intelligence. Obama might be genuinely religious, I don’t know. I have not heard him say anything human-centric and arrogant. But maybe he did and I didn’t hear it.

  55. Icepick said,

    But don’t they understand there is a limit to how much you can spend on credit?

    Haven’t you heard? We’re 21st Century Americans – the rules are all different now! Dow 36,000, baby!

  56. Icepick said,

    Progressives believe in the power of a modern western education to cure the intolerance, violence and insanity that can result from religion.

    Perhaps at some point they will come to realize that intolerance, violence and insanity are simply intrinsic to the breed we call homo sapiens sapiens. And to most other animals as well. (Well, not the insanity part – that seems to be a handmaiden to intelligence.)

    Incidentally, although intelligence has shown itself to be useful to hominidae for some time, I still believe that the question of whether or not intelligence is a long-term survival characteristic remains unanswered. It would take (at least) tens of millions of years for the question to be answered affirmatively, although a negative answer could come much sooner.

  57. amba12 said,

    We H. sapiens sapiens, as we flatter ourselves, seem to have just enough intelligence to mess ourselves up, both individually and collectively. We are marvelously inventive, good at “monkeying,” but short-sighted, with tunnel vision driven by primitive emotions, and higher brain functions most often used and abused to maximize access to lower pleasures. It’s a bad combination. I sometimes think curiosity is our purest motivation, even though it surely had Darwinian utility as well.

    In people’s personal lives, intelligence often seems to be as much a hindering burden as a useful device. For worldly success, drive of a rather basic, unrefined, self-aggrandizing kind seems far more important.

  58. Icepick said,

    I once read the following in a Larry Niven novel:

    “Intelligence is a tool to be used in pursuit of goals. Goals are not always chosen intelligently.”

    I’m not sure if he cribbed that from somewhere else or not, but it sums things up nicely.

  59. realpc said,

    Our intelligence is the most destructive force on earth. Not because it serves primitive goals, in my opinion. Just because it causes us to mess around with complex natural systems.

    We are intelligent, I believe, simply because it’s fun and we are here to have fun. Art, music, literature, science, philosophy, are all human ways of enjoying life.

    We are here to learn, create and have a blast. And, of course, suffering is part of all that.

    We are not here to make the earth a utopia for humans.

  60. realpc said,

    [We are marvelously inventive, good at “monkeying,” but short-sighted, with tunnel vision driven by primitive emotions, and higher brain functions most often used and abused to maximize access to lower pleasures.]

    Amba, when people use their intelligence for idealistic, supposedly worthy, goals, the results are just as bad or worse. What about communism?

    We just don’t know what is or is not good for us, and we cannot see the future. Our intelligence is inherently limited.

    Progressives believe our intelligence is unlimited, but often abused by greedy and short-sighted individuals. If only the “good” people (themselves) were in charge, intelligence could fix the world and make it nice for everyone.

  61. amba12 said,

    Larry Niven quote: superb!!

  62. amba12 said,

    Real, the people who dominate, by and large, are the ones with strong appetites, drives for power, or compensation for injury/inferiority . . . Of course that’s not all humans, but those are the ones the rest of us have to reckon with. They shake things up, which isn’t all bad by a long shot, but . . . creative destruction is rarely brought about by mere curiosity. And idealism is usually mixed with der Willen zur Macht.

  63. realpc said,

    ” the people who dominate, by and large, are the ones with strong appetites, drives for power, or compensation for injury/inferiority ”

    I think that is the perspective of scientific types. They think the world is messed up because science and technology are misused by the psychopaths who run things. My point of view is different, and I think if we had a bunch of super-smart nerds running things it would be as bad or worse.

    I think you more or less agree with the progressives on this.

  64. wj said,

    I was all set to make a pithy comment about intelligence being valuable primarily for what can be done with it. And then discovered that real (6:33 May 6) beat me to it. Sigh.

  65. amba12 said,

    real: I don’t think what I said is a progressive point of view. I think when nerdy types get power, they are nerdy types with a power drive. That is every bit as dangerous as the rawer type of power drive, if not more so because it appears to have a “civilized veneer.” I am in no way a utopian. Observing that something is true doesn’t necessarily mean you think it can — or should — be “fixed.” I just think that the forces that matter, in terms of really getting things done — for good AND for ill — are strong, basic drives: territory, dominance, sex. This is true whatever is being done and no matter what its veneer is. People without those strong drives, or in whom they are significantly conflicted, are not the ones who shape the world, for good and for ill, and no matter how “smart” or “simple” they are. I’m speaking from experience.

  66. realpc said,

    Amba I agree with you. The only difference is I think human intelligence in and of itself messes things up. What you said about power drives is also true, and that does make it all even worse. But I was disagreeing with you because even though you are not a progressive or a utopian, your statement came close to one of their basic premises.

    I always think of the book Island by Aldous Huxley when I think about basic progressive ideology. His book is straight out of a progressive’s fantasy world — good, kind, healthy, intelligent, educated, scientific types have created utopia on an island. Bad, nasty, unhealthy, unscientific, greedy capitalists attack them.

    Contemporary progressives think exactly like Huxley.They blame the financial crisis entirely on greed and corruption, never on smart guys with computers.They blame all the problems created by technology on greed.

    My world view and the progressive world view are very different. I know there are “bad” guys, and always have been, but I also think we are all bad guys to some degree. And I don’t think you can say when America dropped atom bombs it was a good use of technology, but if one of our enemies did the same it would be a malicious misuse.

    And all the progressives I know are driving their cars all over the place, while yelling about global warming and the environment. They don’t see the hypocrisy.

    Anyway, trying to stick to the point. When you see the powerful rulers as the cause of our problems, you are agreeing with progressive ideology to some extent. I think immense power is a result of technology. The troubles all originate
    with human cleverness, since the invention of agriculture and metal weapons. Or even before that.

    And progressives assume that more and better intelligence can solve the problems. To me, that is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline.

  67. realpc said,

    So I guess one question is whether our problems are caused by powerful greedy oppressors, or whether it’s just the nature of our species and the universe to evolve towards increasing complexity. And when a system outgrows itself, can’t manage its own level of complexity, maybe it just dies. Maybe the adventure of our civilizations, our species, all life on earth, is to evolve creatively until the point of self-destruction. Didn’t that happen with every great civilization?

  68. wj said,

    real, I’m not sure those two possible reasons for problems are mutually exclusive. It seems to me that there is something in the nature of our species to constantly try to develop alternatives, some of which involve increasing complexity. And it is also the nature of our species that there will be some powerful and greedy would-be oppressors, who will also cause problems.

    However, there is also something in the nature of the universe (and so in the nature of our species) which rewards simplification. For example, the first step in any new technology is frequently much more complex than the technology becomes after it has shaken down and matured. Think of it as Rube Goldberg type devices initially, but something simple and elegant later. (The fact that we find “elegant” and “simple” linked so often says something, doesn’t it?)

    And it is also worth noting that, while some members of our species certainly are power-hungry and/or greedy, there are also members who are not. In particular, there are some members of our species who use what power they do have mostly to restrain those who would like to use power only for self-aggrandizement. And not merely in self-defense, but in defense of all of society. I have seen the two types referred to as predators and anti-predators, which I think captures something of the essence of each. And the existence of the anti-predator type is pretty much a given, since otherwise the greedy and power-hungry would have long since taken total control.

  69. amba12 said,

    I’m not even talking about powerful and greedy oppressors. I’m talking about the drive, appetite, and sense of entitlement that allows some writers, actors, and filmmakers, as well as some entrepreneurs and scientists, to succeed while those more contented or conflicted don’t, or not to the same degree. I have become convinced that those factors — whatever they are: temperament? psychodynamics? — are the ones that really count. With them, a person will make maximal use of whatever capacities s/he has — for good or for ill.

  70. amba12 said,

    The concept of anti-predators is really interesting, wj. Because only they make a space where the rest of us, who aren’t particularly concerned with power one way or the other, can flourish.

  71. wj said,

    I think perhaps the term you are looking for is obsession. To rise to the top in any field of endeavor, on needs either absolutely overwhelming talent or (more commonly) a modicum of talent and an obsessive desire to do whatever it is and do it successfully.

    Without the talent, the obsession is totally insufficient to achieve success. But without the drive, the talent will succeed only in really exceptional cases. And I wonder if even then, there isn’t generally some obsession lurking in the background (parent, spouse, manager, whoever) and providing the necessary drive externally….

  72. realpc said,

    “the first step in any new technology is frequently much more complex than the technology becomes after it has shaken down and matured.”

    That’s over-complication, not complexity. A system should be as simple as possible, but as complex as it needs to be for its function. We keep writing computer programs that are increasingly complex, but we make them as simple as we can. In the early stages, we create something messy and over-complicated and then we refine it.

    So I am trying to say, it’s a different thing. Natural systems (including human technology) evolve towards increasing complexity. Not towards increasing messiness.

  73. wj said,

    For the concept (or at least the term) “anti-predator,” credit James Schmitz: “The Demon Breed” (aka “The Tuvela”). First published under the latter title in Analog in September-October, 1968, and in various collections of his stories later.

  74. wj said,

    I think new things end up complex because it is procedurally easier to just mash together a bunch of pieces, each of which does some function that we want/need. Without regard to whether there is a better/simpler way to achieve the overall end. To actually design something from scratch, and thus have a chance to keep it relatively simple, is the exception.

    Certainly that is how most computer programs seem to get written. The up side of that is that it allows people like me to make a career of looking at systems and saying “You know, if you changed this to be like that, it would be faster, use less resources, and be simpler for whoever is maintaining it in the future to understand.” Yes, the initial version was arguably over-complicated. But in my experience that is sometimes (frequently?) a result of time pressure to product something that sort-of works. And the urge to go back and clean up the mess is far from universal.

  75. realpc said,

    I guess we have the same kind of job wj. I disagree with your terminology — my first draft of a computer program might be long and disorganized, and the final product might be much shorter. But the final product is not less complex than the first draft. The thinking process starts out uncertain and confused, and things gradually fall into place. Uncertainty and confusion are a very different thing than complexity.

    Anyway, this is all terminology. I’m sure we can agree that life on earth has increased in complexity and so has human civilization.

  76. realpc said,


    Talent has to be developed, so there has to be drive and hard work. No one becomes famous with just talent and no drive or work. Think of Tiger Woods or Mozart — they were born extremely talented but it would never have amounted to anything without intense practice.

    So the talented person is automatically a driven person. Still, most of them never become extremely famous. That might be because a lot of luck is also needed.

  77. wj said,

    real, I would say rather that the visibly talented person is a driven person. (Regardless, as you say, of whether or not they achieve great fame.) But I know a fair number of people who are very talented (including some whose “talent” is high intelligence), but who have, in the terminology of another age, never amounted to much.

    Yes, their talent allows them to do some things easily. But because they lack any real drive, they have never honed that talent nor applied it to much of anything. They are not failures in life, necessarily. But given the amount of talent that they have, they have not achieved much.

  78. amba12 said,

    I think that an untold amount of human talent is “wasted,” if you want to use that word. Maybe not, because it is passed on down the generations, where it may find hospitable soil and flower at some point, and it is also usually enjoyed and shared with a circle of friends and family if not the world. But talent, even a high degree of it, is far more common in the population than achievement. The person who really develops a talent to a high degree is the rare exception. My own family is my example. I would say that as a bunch, genetically, we have quite a bit of innate musical talent, but none of us is a musician. This talent has lain fallow in us. Both of my parents are also gifted writers, but neither became a writer. But my father writes funny poems for my mom and my mom writes brilliant letters and e-mails to all of us. Here, for instance, is her lit-crit response to my forward of a photo titled “Wisdom and Patience,” in which a dog stands back while a skunk eats its food:

    Oh, how I wish you had time to read the occasional non-work piece. Absurdistan, Gary Shteyngart’s not-new but I think 21st-century reincarnation of 1984, is a tour de force that is like a dagger to the heart of all the sidestepping, rationalizing, double-talking euphemizing garbage that passes for sincere communication these days. And that goes for these stone-hearted plutocrats who are always carefully considering this and that, when it really translates to “What’s in it for Me–and it had better be puhlenty.” I am impatient with patience and wisdom. Wisdom is OK but sometimes you have to be monumentally impatient, as when the ball of progress is being timidly dribbled between two players who are both being bribed by the same crook. That book–Absurdistan–makes you laugh, cry, gnash your teeth in rage, dissolve in paroxysms of grief and frustration. . . . I am tired of patience! Wisdom is maybe OK, but it depends on whose wisdom.

    Doesn’t that make you want to read Absurdistan?

    Another thing about talent — I think it has a receptive mode. In other words, it takes musical talent to enjoy music, it takes literary talent to appreciate good writing. I like to say the listener is the fifth member of a quartet. Unexploited talent helps make life worth living.

  79. wj said,

    I think that it is incorrect to say that talent is “wasted.” As you say, if nothing else, it can be passed to future generations. But it isn’t wasted, even if all it does is provide some satisfaction to the person who has it. If you have a talent for writing, and use it primarily to write verses for your spouse (which certainly reminds me of my parents) the talent has not been wasted.

    The opportunity may not have been taken to share the talent with a larger audience. But the only way you can count that as a waste is if the talent is a) in seriously short supply, and b) urgently needed by the larger society. If your talent is for agriculture, and your society is starving, then it is arguably a waste if you are spending your life making pots instead of farming. But outside that sort of situation, the only way someone can say that a talent is wasted is if we accept that your talents belong to your society, and not to you. I don’t think I’m willing to go there — at least not unless there is a really dire situation.

  80. amba12 said,

    I guess I regret not going further with musical training. (I took piano lessons, including from an extraordinary teacher, but never practiced enough. I was frustrated by the clumsy sounds my hands were making compared to what I could hear in my head. I didn’t understand that dogged repetition would actually improve that, because I’d never seen anyone do it. I also think that the piano would not have been my own first choice of an instrument.)

    On the other hand, I think I use my musical ear in editing and writing. And dancing — the blissful fusion of musical and kinesthetic talents — though I haven’t done much of that for quite a while.

  81. amba12 said,

    I was frustrated by the clumsy sounds my hands were making compared to what I could hear in my head.

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was also lazy.

  82. realpc said,

    ” I didn’t understand that dogged repetition would actually improve that,”

    What a coincidence that you’re talking about that right now, because I just got home from a fantastic jam session. Lots of the people are talented, but most don’t make a living at it. There are millions more musicians (and artists, poets, actors, dancers, etc.) than what our society needs. That is mostly because of technology. In the old days every town had its dances and needed musicians. Of course, they weren’t famous, but they made a living.

    Anyway, now days it’s better to have these things as a hobby. And I can’t say enough about that dogged repetition. It is magic. That clumsiness gradually goes out of your hands, and every month or so you notice an amazing difference.

    And it doesn’t matter what age you start. Amba I really hope you will consider starting now, if you have any extra time. I cut a lot of non-essential things out of my life in order to experience this. Even some essential things. But it’s so amazing to do something that always gets better, just from dogged repetition.

  83. amba12 said,

    Thank you, real. I was thinking about you and the banjo. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that I could still do it, for my own pleasure. I don’t have time now. But maybe someday.

  84. amba12 said,

    In fact, I was going to ask you if you would record something short and post a sound file here sometime.

  85. realpc said,

    ” I don’t have time now. But maybe someday.”

    Yes I thought you probably wouldn’t have time now. But I really want to encourage you because I think they only recently discovered that we have neuroplasticity all our lives. Before, it was assumed you had to learn things when you’re still young, and it turns out it isn’t true. I played music all my life, but didn’t have much time for it and had other priorities. So by the time it became a serious hobby I was over 55. It really doesn’t matter. I am experiencing steady progress, as long as I practice a lot. Tonight I felt like that clumsiness was almost gone, and that is such a wonderful feeling.

    It’s also a wonderful feeling to know that I still have an infinite amount to learn and can spend many more years trying to learn it.

    So when you have the time I think you should start playing music again. Since you already had lessons it won’t be hard for you to start learning again. But now you have a different perspective, because you understand it takes work. But it’s a very relaxing and enjoyable kind of work.

    There are times when it’s discouraging or frustrating.. But then you have some really joyful moments when you finally get something you couldn’t get before.

  86. realpc said,

    “I was going to ask you if you would record something short and post a sound file here sometime.”

    Ok I’ll try to.

  87. amba12 said,

    We would love to hear you.

    And thank you for encouraging me. I will remember that when the time comes.

  88. realpc said,

    But we still don’t know how we human beings can fix our problems, since intelligence is so over-rated. Then of course I always end up saying things that make progressives scornful, because I believe there are higher levels of intelligence that we have to trust and depend on. In ancient times people took for granted that the gods, or fates, were in control. Our human powers come from higher levels, none from our individual egos. But the modern ego feels it should be in control, and I think that explains the progressive mind.

    So one reason I am at odds with progressives is I am always talking to their ego, not their whole self. From a narrow perspective, some of their arguments can seem convincing.

  89. realpc said,

    And another factor is that the ego is never aware of its own shadow, since the shadow is by definition everything the ego is not aware of. This is what causes demonization, because we like to think everything bad comes from outside us, and only good comes from within us. But that is very far from true — each of us contains a complete range of human emotions and needs. The ones we don’t like and deny are still there, even though we shoved them out of sight.

    For example, we all have cruel and sadistic impulses. Those impulses are natural and are there for our self-protection, so we can be ruthless towards enemies. We could not survive as a species without them. We deny we have them, so they are expressed indirectly.

    I think that progressives, in general, have no conception of a shadow. Their philosophy says it doesn’t exist, that every child is born good, or undetermined. Parents and educators, and the social context, make the child into a good or bad person.

    So for progressives human intelligence is unlimited — especially if they are atheists and don’t believe in higher intelligence. And human nature is potentially all good. Their favorite scapegoat is usually greed.

  90. realpc said,

    And then a progressive might ask me, since I distrust human intelligence, what I would do if I were a political leader. Offer burnt sacrifices? Of course I don’t have answers and the problems are enormous. I think I would try to follow the example of the American founders (after learning more about them). I would be strict about the constitution. The original ideology of this country was distrust of rulers and appreciation of the need for conflict and dissent.

    I would be anti-utopian and would distrust experts. When the financial experts said we had to bail out the banks or there would be a great depression I would not have believed them.

  91. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    we still don’t know how we human beings can fix our problems

    And then there’s the fact that many of our problems have been caused by our solutions to earlier problems.

  92. realpc said,

    “many of our problems have been caused by our solutions to earlier problems.”

    Yes that’s what I mean. We created most of our problems by trying to escape the natural sorrows and limitations of life. And progressives just want to go on the same way, trying to make things nice for our species. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and also with cleverness. I don’t mean we should stop being human, and we can’t anyway. I guess the worst problems now our destruction of nature and nuclear weapons. I have no idea or opinions on that. Progressives seem to feel confident they have answers, but their whole ideology is illogical. Therefore, I don’t trust their opinions.

  93. realpc said,

    Amba, I think you should get an inexpensive electric keyboard (assuming you don’t have a piano already), and just spend 15 minutes every day practicing. Don’t play scales or exercises, just play something you really like. It can be the same thing over and over, so you don’t waste time deciding what to play. There must be 15 minutes every day that you waste on something, so just stop doing whatever that is. And you will see progress and once in a while you might have a little more time. Eventually everything you learned, no matter how long ago, will come back. And then playing piano will become a natural part of your life and you will be very glad you got back to it.

  94. wj said,

    Pretty much every solution to a problem entails some kind of (frequently unanticipated) side effects. The test of the true merit of a solution is whether the problems created are smaller than the original problem.

    To take a current example: there are negative effects from the mechanization and industrialization of agriculture. Pollution from using the equipment, pollution from overuse of fertilizers, etc., etc. But bad as they seem to us, those are lesser problems than doing subsistence agriculture, and having those for whom there is not enough food just starve. (Even modern agriculture is hard work. But anyone who waxes lyrical about how wonderful must be to live off the land and be self-sufficient is simply demonstrating their total ignorance of what subsistence agriculture is really like.)

    So yes, solutions result in new problems to be dealt with. But it is worth the effort to remember just how bad the original problem was. If it was simply a matter of the natural and unavoidable sorrows of life, then the “solution” probably should be dropped. But it can be a challenge to see where a problem is an “unavoidable” one, and where it is one that simply hasn’t been possible to deal with in the past.

  95. realpc said,


    There are way too many people in this world, and that’s why we need mega-agriculture. It is not a choice between that extreme and subsistence farming, and there are probably many possible compromises between the extremes.

    Over-population is our ultimate problem. Progressives think the answer is give everyone a western education and help them become middle class just like us, and they will use birth control. Maybe they are right about that, I really don’t k now.

    But solving the problems that result from ever-increasing population by finding ever more unnatural ways to increase the food supply is just not sensible.

  96. wj said,

    Happily, it doesn’t require a western education. On the evidence, anything above abject poverty (and women not totally subjected by their husbands) results in the number of children dropping rapidly below replacement levels. At which point, the total population comes (gradually) down. And without any argument about being forced to accept western values, let alone coercion!

    The biggest difficulty, from what I can see, is that it will require some significant adjustments in our economies to deal with stable-to-gradually-dropping populations. In particular, retirement ages will have to head up to the point where they are (as they were when Social Security was set up) only 5-10 years lower than the average life expectancy. What we saw in the latter half of the 20th century, with people spending several decades in retirement, was a historical anomaly. And one which was only possible because of the large numbers of us Baby Boomers. While our parents were supported by the 3-4 children that were typical of their families, there were 5-6 workers supporting each retiree. When people have an average of just under 2 children per family, you end up (with current retirement patterns) with more like 1-2 workers supporting each retiree. Not going to happen.

    But how to get from here to there? Especially since a large fraction of my contemporaries have done little or nothing to save personally for their planned decades of retirement. And think that they have actually been contributing to a Social Security fund which is savings for retirement, rather than a straight transfer to existing retirees, with nothing left in the kitty for the future. It’s going to get ugly for a while, as we make the transition.

  97. realpc said,


    Social security isn’t nearly enough to live on anyway, so it’s hard to believe people think they don’t have to save for retirement. But in any case, we should not be increasing the population just so young workers can support retirees. Letting the population increase indefinitely would be insane.

  98. wj said,

    I agree completely. But, when (not if) we stop increasing the population, we are going to have to make some big adjustments to our economy.

    For a foretaste of how it may come down, just look at the reaction in Greece last week to the suggestion that they might have to (oh horror!) keep working past age 55. America might not get that bad . . . but I’d hate to bet the ranch on it.

  99. amba12 said,

    Fortunately, Americans are much more into working hard, to the point that their identities depend on it. Many baby boomers don’t WANT to retire.

  100. reader_iam said,

    Social security isn’t nearly enough to live on anyway, so it’s hard to believe people think they don’t have to save for retirement.

    However hard it might be to believe that, in fact many people DO believe that. They do. ****Oh. Yes. They. Do.**** More important, there’s a significant enough proportion of people who *have* believed that, for whatever reasons, long enough (for whatever length of time that might be) that we’ve got a problem. In addition, there’s close enough to a critical mass of people who believe that if social security isn’t enough to live on, then the allotment ought to be adjusted. Of course, the idea that the amount of social security payments “isn’t enough” was encouraged almost from the beginning. This, in turn, encouraged people to believe it was they were paying into a program that would eventually benefit themselves–that, in fact, they were making an investment in their *own* futures. And–really–who could say they were not encouraged to think that? That was the tool used for people who otherwise might not have have agreed, had they thought about it, to buy into the steady increases, over time, without significant protest.

    This is human nature, which–if one waits long enough–caught in a larger nature of things: Reap, sow.

    The other thing is that people keep saying this is all a boomer thing. Well, in many respects it IS a boomer thing. But let’s not forget that there was a generation between what is perpetually called the “greatest generation” and what is perpetually called the “boomer generation.”

    That one has been particularly good at ducking notice and also raking in the benefits, whether by commission, omission or sheer oblivion.

    There it is. I said ir.

  101. realpc said,

    “Many baby boomers don’t WANT to retire.”

    Is that really true of the majority? We all heard of it in previous generations, where men died soon after retiring because they were bored. But I thought baby boomers were more likely to be interested in being a whole person, with interests outside work. Also, a very large percent of workers don’t like their jobs, so they should be glad to retire. And another factor is that we never know when we might get screwed by age discrimination.

    It’s true that most people want to be involved in something that makes them part of some community. But I think now we realize it can be anything, and it doesn’t have to be a regular paid job.

    If most baby boomers didn’t save I think it was for other reasons, not because they are sure they won’t ever leave their jobs (voluntarily or not).

  102. wj said,

    I suspect that, in a lot of cases, the failure to save was due to nothing more complicated than a tendency to live in the moment. Think of it as the residue of “Do your own thing;” what remained even after it became obvious that some kind of job would be required in order to keep eating: “Live for today; let tomorrow take care of itself.” (In a few cases, I suppose, individuals who grew up warped by the prospect of nuclear holocaust. If there isn’t going to be a tomorrow, no need to plan for it. But I somehow doubt that is the reason in most cases.)

    Just to tie back to the original topic of this thread: what kind of intelligence is it which doesn’t plan for the future?

  103. amba12 said,

    The “intelligence” of a grasshopper as opposed to that of an ant.

  104. realpc said,

    Well I save because I’m an obsessive worrier and pessimist. (Of course I don’t believe American dollars will be worth anything, so what’s the use?) I do know people who have that overly optimistic worry-free mentality. However, another factor is that most baby boomers probably own a house (I don’t,), which means they save automatically by paying their mortgage. And anyone who has a regular job probably has a retirement account with their employer, although probably not a pension.

  105. wj said,

    Well, a regular job may give you something form your employer. But unless you stay in the same place for a decade or more, it probably doesn’t amount to much. (I missed having a substantial sum at Bank of America by leaving 3 months too soon — after they misled us about what the changed terms for vesting actually meant. Still bitter after a quarter century? Who me?) And I have observed that the number of people who make contributions to an IRA regularly isn’t all that high either.

    Not to mention that the kinds of jobs which give you either 401(k)s or pension plans are also the kind where you have a reasonable chance to piling up enough wealth to not need them overmuch. Unless, of course, you have a government job — then you get a great defined benefit pension, probably with full medical benefits. But for the rest of us…?

  106. realpc said,

    I couldn’t even think about saving money until I was over 45. I never have spent very much because I hate to travel and I didn’t have kids to send to college. Not that I saved all that much, and I don’t even know how much we’re supposed to save. I read several books and websites on it, but you get wildly different estimates.

    Anyway, things really seem to be very uncertain so far this century. We can’t count on anything, except that our taxes will go up and the value of our money will go down.

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