The Intellectual Yet Idiot
Nassim Nicholas Taleb

This brilliantly written article would have been more powerful if Mr. Taleb had concluded that we all are guilty of the IYI syndrome. Without it, Mr. Taleb characterizes an unsavory group of people whom most of us would rather avoid. It’s important to humanize the IYI to give a purpose to the piece, to allow us to see the faulty qualities that we share, not to feel even more removed from the problem. As such, it is a missed opportunity for humility and reflection while leaving the reader with an overbearing and divisive tone.

Even Mr. Taleb presents himself as an IYI. All we need to do is observe how “intellectual” sounding this article is. It is one of those readings that makes the reader feel great about him because he knows he’s smart enough to understand it. The vocabulary is complex, the issues are diverse and sophisticated, and the explanations are out-of-the-box refreshing. There might also be some things the reader is not really sure about, but they can easily be skipped and only makes him feel smarter (e.g. What does “psycholoplasters” and “supremum” mean?). Ironically, Mr. Taleb’s knowledge and use of complicated words are the very reasons why he would qualify as an IYI. Since an IYI is educated, “has attended more than one TEDx talks in person or watched more than two TED talks on Youtube”, and “studies grammar before speaking a language”, it is in IYI’s best interest to write, and to read, such an “intellectual” piece such as this article.

Not to mention, like fellow IYIs, Mr. Taleb is very quick at offering his own opinions. He suggests the IYI is highly opinionated (“In the comfort of his suburban home with 2-car garage, he advocated the ‘removal’ of Gadhafi because he was ‘a dictator’.”), while at the same time, arguing himself that “people are perfectly entitled to rely on their own ancestral instinct and listen to their grandmothers […] with a better track record than these policymaking goons.” Sarcasm aside, one may still wonder which of the two opinions is more extreme or more credible.

Since no one is “intellectual” in everything, everyone is prone to give unsolicited and biased opinions. It would be almost unfeasible to argue that each one of us hasn’t had our own IYI moment (“The IYI pathologizes others for doing things he doesn’t understand without ever realizing it is his understanding that may be limited.”). When this is acknowledged, we have productive room for discussion. For example, should we have skin in the game before we speak? Or should we not be so harsh to other equally imperfect beings? Should we go out to drink with a minority cab driver to expand our understanding of others? What does being open minded even mean if it is not to get more educated? From Mr. Taleb’s definition, the IYI works really hard at self-improvement. He wants answers to complex questions or at least attempts to do so for his own peace of mind. Acknowledging that Mr. Taleb, and all of us are at times behaving like an IYI, would have brought about an introspective closure. It would have helped readers rise above the heavy level of sarcasm Mr. Taleb engages in and apply the principles he pointed out in their own lives. It would help the IYIs with entitlement issues see the bigger picture of another IYIs argument. After all, we the IYIs want to know, what is the lesson learned and how can we apply it in our own lives?

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