“Wisdom is the rarest quality of all”

Wisdom

Dr. Helen Smith has found nuggets in Thomas Sowell’s Intellectuals and Society:

Sowell points out that intellect is not wisdom; there can be “unwise intellect:”

Brilliance–even genius–is no guarantee that consequential factors have not been left out or misconceived.   Intelligence minus judgment equals intellect. Wisdom is the rarest quality of all–the ability to combine intellect,  knowledge, experience, and judgment in a way to produce a coherent understanding…Wisdom requires self-discipline and an understanding of the realities of the world, including the limitations of one’s own experience and of reason itself. The opposite of high intellect is dullness or slowness, but the opposite of wisdom is foolishness, which is far more dangerous.

One of the interesting things that Sowell discusses is the tendency for intellectuals to think that because they are brilliant in one area, that they are brilliant in all areas. They make asinine predictions–think global warming etc.–and are ultimately unaccountable to the external world should their ideas be found to be wrong.

If an engineer or surgeon made a similar mistake, there would be hell to pay. For today’s intellectuals, there is a shrug of the shoulders and they continue without repercussions in their ivory towers while being awarded grants and honors. Without consequences, it’s no wonder they rarely think about what they say, or the effect it has on the public.

However, the public has started to discount what they say and with the internet and other technology, has started to understand that without judgment and wisdom, the intellectuals are often not so smart after all.

Juxtapose those words with Rick Santorum’s… the words Santorum is being villified for from especially the left but also the right:

Our foundation was very strong, in fact is very strong. But over time that great, acidic quality of time corrodes away even the strongest foundations. And Satan has done so by attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity and sensuality as the route to attack all of these strong plants that have so deeply rooted in American tradition. He was successful. He attacks all of us and he attacks all of our institutions.

The place where he was, in my mind, the most successful and first — first successful was in academia. He understood pride of smart people. He attacked them at their weakest. They were in fact smarter than everybody else and could come up with something new and different — pursue new truths, deny the existence of truth, play with it because they’re smart. And so academia a long time ago fell.

You say, well, what could be the impact of academia falling? Well, I would make the argument that the other structures that I’m going to talk about here had the root of their destruction because of academia. Because what academia does is educate the elites in our society, educates the leaders of our society, particularly at the college level. And they were the first to fall. And so what we saw, this domino effect, once the colleges fell and those who were being educated in our institutions.

Santorum was speaking to a Catholic University and doing nothing more than attributing to Satan what Sowell apparently sources as merely the lack of wisdom.

Yet Santorum is painted as a fanatic or a kook… largely frankly by those Sowell might argue lack wisdom.

The juxtaposition I find striking.

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  • Commander_Chico

    I would not besmirch Thomas Sowell, whose work Race and Culture I have read and admire, with an association with shills and hacks like Dr. Mrs. Glenn Reynolds.    Hijacking Sowell’s subtle thinking to make bombastic arguments about global warming Sowell never made is an intellectual crime and an offense against wisdom itself.

    And then to extend the argument to that Falangista Rick Santorum and his personal Satan proves the point, although not in the way Rick thought:  dumb is devilish. 

    I smelled sulfur off of this post.

    • http://www.wizbangblog.com David Robertson

      Chico,

      Regarding the reference to global warming, it refers to people who are not experts in any scientific discipline pertaining to climatology, and yet who are included in that so-called “consensus” about global warming.

  • Meiji Man

    It’s not really a 
    juxtaposition. You need to remember that in today’s modern society open displays of faith, especially admitting that faith or faith based concepts influence one’s world view is severely frowned upon and socially punished. 

  • GarandFan

    “One of the interesting things that Sowell discusses is the tendency
    for intellectuals to think that because they are brilliant in one area,
    that they are brilliant in all areas.”Yeah, we’ve got a bunch of them ‘running the country’ right now.  And each succeeding day proves the depth of their ignorance in all things.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/EU5DQWQTTHTPO4A4ZYSL3AAV2U Adjoran

    If Santorum had not been saying substantially the same things on the campaign trail, even before religious audiences, I would agree it unfair to make something out of his 2008 talk.  But a fellow who says, “I’m not running for Pastor-in-Chief, I’m running for President” has to act like it.

    It’s irrelevant that I may agree with the substance of what he says.  The simple FACT is that this is precisely the sort of talk that scares the swing voters away from our side – aided by unfair characterizations from the left, to be sure, but that’s life.

    Obama’s only chance to be reelected is to attack our nominee because his record is abysmal.  Any of our potential nominees has vulnerabilities, but what we should NOT be doing is helping feed the attacks with more ammo. 

    You don’t have to like it, but you do have to recognize it, or else you are part of the problem.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/EU5DQWQTTHTPO4A4ZYSL3AAV2U Adjoran

    If Santorum had not been saying substantially the same things on the campaign trail, even before religious audiences, I would agree it unfair to make something out of his 2008 talk.  But a fellow who says, “I’m not running for Pastor-in-Chief, I’m running for President” has to act like it.

    It’s irrelevant that I may agree with the substance of what he says.  The simple FACT is that this is precisely the sort of talk that scares the swing voters away from our side – aided by unfair characterizations from the left, to be sure, but that’s life.

    Obama’s only chance to be reelected is to attack our nominee because his record is abysmal.  Any of our potential nominees has vulnerabilities, but what we should NOT be doing is helping feed the attacks with more ammo. 

    You don’t have to like it, but you do have to recognize it, or else you are part of the problem.

  • http://www.rustedsky.net JLawson

    Wisdom usually comes long after knowledge – because it’s almost always the product of knowledge and experience, which usually comes when what you think you know is shown by reality to be sadly incomplete or mistaken.

    And that teaching by reality is usually pretty painful in one way or another.

    (Come to think of it, suddenly I got the image of Obama going “Hey, ya’ll – hold my beer and watch THIS!” to the world as far as his management of the country goes.  That was… disquieting.)

    • http://www.ethnografix.blogspot.com/ ryan a

      “Wisdom usually comes long after knowledge – because it’s almost always the product of knowledge and experience…”

      Good point, JLawson.  A short story.  I used to work in commercial archaeology for a few years while I was doing my MA.  The best people to work with were the ones who paid attention and learned in college, but who ALSO had plenty of experience in the field.  Whenever new people came to the crew straight from college, there was always a learning curve for them to make the adjustment from the world of theories and books to the world of actually working in the field.  Books are great, and they can teach you a lot.  But hot deserts in mid summer teach you a thing or two as well.

      • http://www.wizbangblog.com David Robertson

        Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. would agree with you.
        (See the last Indiana Jones movie.)

  • http://www.ethnografix.blogspot.com/ ryan a

    “Well, I would make the argument that the other structures that I’m going to talk about here had the root of their destruction because of academia. Because what academia does is educate the elites in our society, educates the leaders of our society, particularly at the college level. And they were the first to fall.”

    I don’t really think Santorum’s argument about academia holds up all that well.  First of all, Thomas Sowell is a product of academia.  He certainly had an elite education (Harvard, Columbia, and the U of Chicago).  If academia is so inundated with evil (or whatever Santorum is arguing), then how did Sowell (who is admired by many a conservative) manage to pass through that system?  Second, while academia educates elites (like Sowell), it also educates a whole lot of other people too–not just the elites.  And there are all kinds of levels, from Harvard all the way to community colleges.  Lots of people aspire to go to college, and lots of people find it pretty rewarding.  

    So I don’t think that Santorum’s broad brush statements about the supposed evils of academia are really very constructive, or useful.  I really don’t see the point of making some broad claim that a whole institution has been infected by “Satan” or evil, or what have you.  If he disagrees with certain academics or individuals, fine, I can understand that.  But the sweeping claims about Satan infiltrating the academy are kind of silly.  Just my opinion.

    But I do like Sowell’s quote.  That’s a good one.

    • http://www.rustedsky.net JLawson

      Try substituting “overwhelming self-confidence and uncredulous belief in ideas that do not work in the real world”  for ‘Satan’, then.   Going into a situation with preconcieved (and wrong) ideas about how things are supposed to work leads quickly into a ‘learning situation’.  (Like in archeology – if you were concerned about the fragility of an artifact, you wouldn’t put it in a test rig to see how much stress it’ll take before it snaps.  Or at least, you wouldn’t (I hope!) normally do that!)

      The problem is, a lot of sociological ideas that sound good on paper take years or decades in real life to get to a point where you can even begin to predict a success (as in – “Hey, it works just like it says on the label!”) or failure (as in “We’ll just put this wall up to keep people from leaving… and shoot those who attempt it.  Because they’re just not grateful for what we’ve done for them so far.”) which tends to kind of damp out any learning and adjustments from immediate feedback.

      Add in the natural human tendancy to want to put their stamp on whatever’s going on, and you can have real problems coming from good intentions that go horribly awry. 

      I think a lot of people believe the social and economic systems we have in this country are so robust that no matter how they’re messed with they’re going to keep functioning – so they’re trying to change things to improve them (for various definitions of ‘improve’)  for which they’ll (naturally) be able to take credit. (Especially when it comes to the voters. Saying “Hey – I got you all these goodies that you don’t (seem to have to) pay for!” is going to get you more than “Hey, I balanced the budget and in two years or so we can cut tax rates!”)

      But sometimes I think we’re balanced on a rather thin wire, and though we can manage to maintain balance for a lot of different inputs, all it’s going to take is one good shove … and we’ll topple over.  And that shove may not even be recognized at the time as being what pushes us past a point where we can recover… 

      • http://www.ethnografix.blogspot.com/ ryan a

        Hey JLawson,

        “Try substituting “overwhelming self-confidence and uncredulous belief in ideas that do not work in the real world”  for ‘Satan’, then.”

        Ya, that’s probably a good substitution for what he was trying to say.  But even then, my point is that academia is a mixed bag.  It’s not populated by just one type of person.  Sure, there are people who are in la-la land, but there are also some great researchers and teachers.  Yes, there are plenty of real problems with the system, and those problems need some serious attention.  I agree with that.  But I just don’t see the point of writing off the whole institution of academia in such a flippant way.

        “The problem is, a lot of sociological ideas that sound good on paper take years or decades in real life to get to a point where you can even begin to predict a success…”

        Well, ya, that’s kind of the case with a lot of ideas/research in general.  And that’s not really new.  Newton didn’t just start coming up with ideas after a few months of casual study.  So it’s a process, and sometimes it’s a slow moving process.

        “I think a lot of people believe the social and economic systems we have in this country are so robust that no matter how they’re messed with they’re going to keep functioning…”

        Ya, I agree.  But I think that many people don’t really want to think about the fact that things can actually stop working.  If they read up on history, there are plenty of examples where large systems or civilizations basically ran aground–so these things obviously happen.  But a lot of people seem to think something along the lines of “well, it’s not going to happen in my lifetime.”  So they don’t pay too much attention, and the status quo keeps rolling along for better or worse.

        • http://www.rustedsky.net JLawson

          “But a lot of people seem to think something along the lines of “well, it’s not going to happen in my lifetime.”  So they don’t pay too much attention, and the status quo keeps rolling along for better or worse.”

          It won’t happen in their lifetime – until it does.

          Civilizations crumble – they all have, so far.  (Haven’t seen a fresh copy of “Phoenician News” in ages!)   I’m hoping things will keep going on for the duration of my lifetime – but what about my son’s?

          I’m already talking about and doing things with him at 13 that my father never did with me – talking about personal finance, ethics, what to do in emergencies, taking him to the range so firearms aren’t unfamiliar (and, unlike in games like Fallout 3, needing a fair amount of practice to build skills), finding friends who are willing to teach him things (like hunting) which I cannot.  Basic auto maintenance, basic mechanics.  Probably ought to do basic horticulture – but I’m working with his interests, and he’s NOT interested in plants.

          There are things he’ll need to know, and it’s better to teach him basics before he needs it, with resources readily available, instead of having to learn stuff on the fly with time and resources short.  (He gave up on Scouts – he thought it was fun, but thought they weren’t serious enough about what they were supposed to be learning.)

          Road trips are a heck of a lot of fun.  We talk for hours about all sorts of things.  The radio’s rarely on.

          (First road trip we went on was when he was 7 – he was my ‘navigator’, logging speed, altitude and lat/long from an old GPS, figuring out speed vs time for distance travelled, which gave us a chance to talk about satellites, navigation, maps and cartography, and the history of where we were passing through. I’ve always operated on the theory that a child is much more capable than we currently expect them to be, and can learn to handle fairly complex tasks (and ideas) fairly quickly if given a chance.)

          Now he’s looking forward to teaching his kids the same sort of things.  As a parent, I feel I’m doing my job right to prepare him for the future…

          Because the future always comes – like it or not.

  • http://www.brutallyhonest.org Rick Rice

    I like this from Sowell… seems relevant…

    • http://www.ethnografix.blogspot.com/ ryan a

      Ya, he makes some good points about teaching that I definitely agree with.  One of the problems with the university system is that the importance of teaching gets trumped by research.  Everyone wants the prestige (and of course money) of those big research grants, and the value of teaching can get lost in the process.  That’s the reason why I think that colleges that really focus on teaching are really valuable (including community colleges).  Also, I like this line from Sowell:

      “No college and no society can survive solely on the narrow self-interest of each individual. Somebody has to sacrifice some of his own interests for the greater good of the institution or society serving others.”

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_EJGOSD7BRBBY4ZQQEUCFQU4GHU W

    Academia just like any group is not homogenous. That said there are reasons people are put into groups. Sometimes group get so entrenched in there thinking that they create a almost homogenous mindset.
    Many of the academia group has always considered themselves smarter and wiser than those outside the group. The true wise ones did not.   The problem I see in today’s education basic and higher learning, is they do not really teach independent and informative thinking but instead try to indoctrinate people. It always has been that way to an extent but it is IMO much more prevalent now.
    Knowledge given by books, teaching or experience has one thing in common. How effective it is depends much on the reciprocal that receives it.  I have seen people who has years of experience doing what they do  but unfortunately they were  taught some things wrong in the first place so they continue to do it wrong.  Many that I know that have knowledge, know how to recite what they were taught but are not able to do much else with it. You have those who can parrot back knowledge and experience but can’t extrapolate from them very well.   

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