Anatomy of a Bubble

Michele Reilly
Aug 14, 2016 · 4 min read

Today, a core challenge is to get intellectuals to believe that anti-intellectualism is a thing. Anti-Intellectualism is a consequence of Pragmatism. Pragmatism creates a call for conformity, implicit pressure for agreement and unquestioning support for whatever is representative of power. Its philosophy is a submission to threats. Intellectualism as I am using the term, points directly away from those things.

The challenge is not to convince intellectuals to think for themselves. It is not to show them that just doing as they are told isn’t OK. They already know these things!

The challenge is to convince them that anti-intellectual ideology exists. And that it is not just ‘stupidity’ or ‘selfishness’. No ideology presents itself as anti-intellectual ideology. For instance, Pragmatism is understood to be a philosophy, and a valuable, essentially inarguable philosophy. They fail to understand that the supposed philosophy of Pragmatism is a narrativization of an anti-intellectual decision criterion, namely, the decision to yield to threats.

For instance, an academic in a ‘sexy’ field sees himself as a smart, cautious, effective consequentialist. He understands how — his part of the world — ‘works’, that is, in terms of rewarding and punishing people’s perceived credibility. Say he has an idea. The market converts the idea into a narrative about a leader, a speculative commodity, something that the public can believe in, and that the market can speculate on. Mostly the leader here is not the same person as the intellectual who initiated the idea.

Pragmatism in academia has created a new financial bubble wherein “do-gooders” and the members of a theory community are shafted. So-called do gooders don’t seem to actually affect policy. They affect policy as part of a memetic-reality-juice, validating financial schemes in an ecosystem of what I’m calling speculative commodities and arbitrageurs.

I am going to use the term arbitrageurs for the people who extract value through a process of creating uniformity of belief(s) over a particular mimetic or idea, uniformity within a given social realm.

Leaders or speculative commodities are not speculators themselves for the purpose of the model; rather they are assets to be speculated on. This person takes on the mantle of an idea in order for the speculators to switch from opposing it — along with the pragmatists — to blowing up a bubble around it.

What the intellectual probably doesn’t understand is that the set of threats to her/his epistemology is not random, effectively, they are not simply consequences of complex systems or stupidity. Instead an implicit long-term threat to their ideas is set up as part of a larger system for inflating a social, but mostly financial, bubble.

Now a highly credentialed pragmatists’ public backing of arbitrageurs, causes the crowd to believe in the leader. The speculative commodity asserting themselves, contributes to the intellectuals getting somewhat fooled that the leader really believes in the idea, memetic — regardless of any evidence to the contrary.

In the process, the speculative commodity’s stock, figurative and literal, is inflated. The arbitrageurs ride the bubble, ultimately passing him/her, now structured as an asset, on to the dumb money (for instance, NYC traders) who extrapolate this bubble. They lose money when it pops, but always pull the pragmatists in for credibility. At this point the pragmatists simply mandate to newcomers that the majority has spoken. Now the public has the implicit impression that things are too-big-to-fail. Official narratives have changed, and all losses will tend to be socialized.

Here’s a simplified example. The IPCC was never sold to the public. That wasn’t necessary. The IPCC is what the academics sell to themselves as a narrative for continuing their crony grants. Leaving open opportunities for new academic cronies. Most academics have enough integrity to acknowledge that “Water World” is total bullshit and “An Inconvenient Truth” are mostly overzealous hype.

The IPCC asserts that under reasonable assumptions, climate change can be expected to cause tens of trillions of dollars worth of damage and to kill tens of millions of people over the next two centuries. The rate of harm is expected to grow geometrically, so the vast majority of costs will not arise for generations, if they ever do.

The assumptions are individually reasonable, but no attention is explicitly paid to the fact that an argument with a half dozen assumptions with 60% probability of each attached, is only 4% sound, nor to the generally accepted decision-calculus that discounts future events for time and uncertainty. Without probabilistic thinking or time discounting, one can’t make reasonable decisions. Instead, political arguments are made, by sources that cite the IPPC, invoking wholly invented ‘narrow windows of opportunity to avert disaster.’

The IPCC concludes that climate change is almost certainly real, almost certainly anthropogenic, and might have a variety of very serious consequences eventually. It is sold as saying that a variety of serious consequences are highly probable, on time-frames much shorter than those it plainly states, and that ‘we’ must therefore ‘do something’ (during a very narrow window of opportunity). Great for economic stimulus, but not for sanity.

An impartial assessment would treat those conclusions as unwarranted. The silencing here targets efforts to emphasize the distinction between the validity of some relevant facts with a generic call-to-action to ‘save the planet’. Rinse and repeat for recent AGI efforts.

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