Nassim Taleb Exposes The World's "Intellectual-Yet-Idiot" Class

Tyler Durden's picture

Authored by Nassim Nichaolss Taleb via,

What we have been seeing worldwide, from India to the UK to the US, is the rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking “clerks” and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think… and 5) who to vote for.

But the problem is the one-eyed following the blind: these self-described members of the “intelligenzia” can’t find a coconut in Coconut Island, meaning they aren’t intelligent enough to define intelligence and fall into circularities?—?but their main skills is capacity to pass exams written by people like them. With psychology papers replicating less than 40%, dietary advice reversing after 30 years of fatphobia, macroeconomic analysis working worse than astrology, the appointment of Bernanke who was less than clueless of the risks, and pharmaceutical trials replicating at best only 1/3th of the time, people are perfectly entitled to rely on their own ancestral instinct and listen to their grandmothers (or Montaigne and such filtered classical knowledge) with a better track record than these policymaking goons.

Indeed one can see that these academico-bureaucrats wanting to run our lives aren’t even rigorous, whether in medical statistics or policymaking. They cant tell science from scientism?—?in fact in their eyes scientism looks more scientific than real science. (For instance it is trivial to show the following: much of what the Cass-Sunstein-Richard Thaler types?—?those who want to “nudge” us into some behavior?—?much of what they call “rational” or “irrational” comes from their misunderstanding of probability theory and cosmetic use of first-order models.) They are prone to mistake the ensemble for the linear aggregation of its components as we saw in the chapter extending the minority rule.

The Intellectual Yet Idiot is a production of modernity hence has been accelerating since the mid twentieth century, to reach its local supremum today, along with the broad category of people without skin-in-the-game who have been invading many walks of life. Why? Simply, in many countries, the government’s role is ten times what it was a century ago (expressed in percentage of GDP). The IYI seems ubiquitous in our lives but is still a small minority and rarely seen outside specialized outlets, social media, and universities?—?most people have proper jobs and there are not many opening for the IYI.

Beware the semi-erudite who thinks he is an erudite.

The IYI pathologizes others for doing things he doesn’t understand without ever realizing it is his understanding that may be limited. He thinks people should act according to their best interests and he knows their interests, particularly if they are “red necks” or English non-crisp-vowel class who voted for Brexit. When Plebeians do something that makes sense to them, but not to him, the IYI uses the term “uneducated”. What we generally call participation in the political process, he calls by two distinct designations: “democracy” when it fits the IYI, and “populism” when the plebeians dare voting in a way that contradicts his preferences. While rich people believe in one tax dollar one vote, more humanistic ones in one man one vote, Monsanto in one lobbyist one vote, the IYI believes in one Ivy League degree one-vote, with some equivalence for foreign elite schools, and PhDs as these are needed in the club.


More socially, the IYI subscribes to The New Yorker. He never curses on twitter. He speaks of “equality of races” and “economic equality” but never went out drinking with a minority cab driver. Those in the U.K. have been taken for a ride by Tony Blair. The modern IYI has attended more than one TEDx talks in person or watched more than two TED talks on Youtube. Not only will he vote for Hillary Monsanto-Malmaison because she seems electable and some other such circular reasoning, but holds that anyone who doesn’t do so is mentally ill.

The IYI has a copy of the first hardback edition of The Black Swan on his shelves, but mistakes absence of evidence for evidence of absence. He believes that GMOs are “science”, that the “technology” is not different from conventional breeding as a result of his readiness to confuse science with scientism.

Typically, the IYI get the first order logic right, but not second-order (or higher) effects making him totally incompetent in complex domains. In the comfort of his suburban home with 2-car garage, he advocated the “removal” of Gadhafi because he was “a dictator”, not realizing that removals have consequences (recall that he has no skin in the game and doesn’t pay for results).

The IYI is member of a club to get traveling privileges; if social scientist he uses statistics without knowing how they are derived (like Steven Pinker and psycholophasters in general); when in the UK, he goes to literary festivals; he drinks red wine with steak (never white); he used to believe that fat was harmful and has now completely reversed; he takes statins because his doctor told him so; he fails to understand ergodicity and when explained to him, he forgets about it soon later; he doesn’t use Yiddish words even when talking business; he studies grammar before speaking a language; he has a cousin who worked with someone who knows the Queen; he has never read Frederic Dard, Libanius Antiochus, Michael Oakeshot, John Gray, Amianus Marcellinus, Ibn Battuta, Saadiah Gaon, or Joseph De Maistre; he has never gotten drunk with Russians; he never drank to the point when one starts breaking glasses (or, preferably, chairs); he doesn’t know the difference between Hecate and Hecuba; he doesn’t know that there is no difference between “pseudointellectual” and “intellectual” in the absence of skin in the game; has mentioned quantum mechanics at least twice in the past 5 years in conversations that had nothing to do with physics; he knows at any point in time what his words or actions are doing to his reputation.

But a much easier marker: he doesn’t deadlift.

Not a IYI

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Wrascaly Wabbit's picture

Welcome to a brave new world!

VWAndy's picture

 They are not idiots they are lying.

hedgeless_horseman's picture


I like Nassim's books, and have read each one of them.  He does a very good job of writing about philosophy in a way that is appealing to me as a 21st century reader. 

The two problems I see with many highly educated people are that they believe their intellect transfers to any area of expertise, and they would rather drink bleach than say, "I don't know."

The intellectual problem I see with most people, in general, is the prevalence of fallacious arguments.

To that end...

9.  Make your very own set of Fallacy Flash Cards from the list at
10.  Hold three fallacious posters accountable on by citing their fallacy.

VWAndy's picture

 Thats why we need to stomp them hard in public. At every opertunity.

hedgeless_horseman's picture


I am proud to say that I am well known to do exactly that, to a fault, in my professional associations.

Oh well.

As faults go, it isn't so bad.

VWAndy's picture

 I think thats why we love ya.

J S Bach's picture

Intellectual-Yet-Idiot is an oxymoron.

Most people who consider themselves "intellectuals" are in fact, just walking data banks capable of storing lots and lots of "information".  What they sorely lack is the ability to process and analyze that information to formulate any kind of common-sense opinion on their own.   They can attend universities for decades - sucking up all of the claptrap that their enlightened communist professors fill their skulls with - and never really broaden their understanding of our world because they've never been taught how to "think".  Those who CAN think and still spew lies are usually either innately evil or of the kosher persuasion.

bamawatson's picture

not sure one can be "taught" to think

possibly 'allowed' to evolve

jefferson32's picture

Taleb is talking about people educated beyond their intelligence. The world is full of them. And they're the most conformist, as they're the most dependent upon the (usurped) image they (try to) project, thus their need to repeat what (they believe) other intelligent people have said.

NotApplicable's picture

I've spent the last 25 years working in State U. town and I've never encountered so many snobbish idiots in my life, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that formal education is far more indoctrinating than it is educating.

The main problem appears to be the fallacy of believing in all of the other "experts" at their level without having any clue as to whether or not they are genuinely enlightened vs. those who merely repeat the mantra of whatever movement's PC rhetoric that's behind them.

9/11 stands as a stark example of how supposedly intelligent people can become clueless about basic principles of physics, like how buildings cannot collapse on their own at free-fall speeds, pulverize into dust, or fall into their own footprint like Bldg 7 which wasn't even symmetrically built, but instead was constructed around the existing Con-Ed power plant.

When people can become that detached from their own sensibilities, instead placing their faith in fedgov shills, there is absolutely no hope that this will correct itself any time soon.

Manthong's picture

Great interview…

jeff montanye's picture

indeed terror is highly overrated as a danger, unless of course you live in a muslim (or, at times, other) country and the u.s. is going to do you the favor of changing your regime to a better one for you.  secretary clinton was fond of doing this and, if she is still conscious, wants to do more.

however she may not be dependably conscious because that greensboro rally she supposedly attended looked hinky as shit.  take a look, especially at the end where she points to an audience member where there is only a giant american flag.

seriously, that greensboro appearance is highly fictional.  check this out you will not believe they released the video it is so clearly fake.  larry silverstein's explanation of "pull it" was more convincing.

oops's picture

All these talks of Intellectual-Yet-Idiot stupidity are only meant to protect the real elite.

beemasters's picture

Gosh, I must start dead lifting lest I get labelled an IYI. :)

I see Taleb's frustration, but what's really the point in feeling you are an Idiot-Yet-Informed, but feel helpless to change the world just the same??? We are living in a parallel universe where wrong things are perceived right.

Holden Caulfield's picture

I would kove to see a debate between Taleb and Jacque Fresco.

Jacque fresco, in my mind, is truly a modern day renaissance man. He offers viable solutions to the worlds problems but sadly he isn't a Intellectual-Yet-Idiot.


jeff montanye's picture

apparently the clinton campaign has sent that facebook link into the memory hole.  here's another:

Mr.BlingBling's picture

FB pulled that page. Surprise, surprise.

J S Bach's picture

Excellent comment, NA!  Your 9/11 analogy is PERFECT.  I wish I had thought of it.  ;)

Indeed, most "highly educated" people merely parrot what their superiors have inputted into their data-bases - RATHER than take that information, consume it, analyze it, and spit out a (hopefully) logical conclusion of their own.  THIS is where they fail.  They have not been taught how to think.

crazzziecanuck's picture

... and others refuse actual data because it doesn't fit into their preconceived notions of how they believe the world works.

Lost My Shorts's picture

Taleb's mistake is perhaps ascribing to ego what is more due to careerism.  The educated classes are just a modern priesthood, and their goal is to get paid.  Being a priest has always been more pleasant work than working in the fields.  As in any priesthood, you get paid for reciting scripture, and burned at the stake for heresy.  Truth, logic, and mathematics have nothing to do with it.

crazzziecanuck's picture

Egos such as those are what's needed to ensure a modern career, though.  I agree that most people parrot whatever they need to simply to get paid.  They've become trapped with debts, mortgages and so on.  Any threat to the system then becomes a personal threat and so they do whatever they can in order to give them the illusion that they are protecting themselves.

GRDguy's picture

Loading up a mule with books doesn't make the mule any smarter.  In fact, it's a burden.

risk.averse's picture

You said: "When people can become that detached from their own sensibilities, instead placing their faith in fedgov shills,"

and so to the IYI's armoury of putdowns for those who disagree do we now add "you're nothing but a fedgov shill"?? How is that putdown supposed to be a intelligent response to someone who disagrees with you?

Here we go again with best, logical explanstion: building 7 collapsed, almost certainly, because of the unfortunate fact that its lower floors, its "legs" if you will, were chopped out by the force of the collapsing WT towers sending massive amounts of debris funnelling outwards through the underground/subway levels that lay under both the WT towers and the neighbouring Bldg 7. For goodness sake, why put hard-to-hide demolition charges on Bldg7?? Wasn't it enough --and dramatic enough --for TPTB (to use the villain de jour of some of you) to fly planes into the WT towers?? After all, a conspiracy that over-reaches itself is more likely to fail or be revealed. Fewer "balls in the air" then more chance of success, etc etc

TPTB are riding roughshod elsewhere in our lives but arranging bldg 7's demise wasnt one of their crimes. Bad enough they gave Bin Laden succour for so long

michelp's picture

"Here we go again with best, logical explanstion: building 7 collapsed, almost certainly, because of the unfortunate fact that its lower floors, its "legs" if you will, were chopped out by the force of the collapsing WT towers sending massive amounts of debris funnelling outwards through the underground/subway levels that lay under both the WT towers and the neighbouring Bldg 7"


Building 7 was to be hit by the plane that never made it.


Akzed's picture

mmmmmno. What about bldgs 3,4,5 & 6?

RaceToTheBottom's picture

I cannot stop laughing, most people he is writing about would agree with him not realizing that he is writing about them.

Especially here.....

Is-Be's picture

I identified myself. Does that disqualify me?

RaceToTheBottom's picture

Yes, sir.

"A man has got to know his limitations."

Sigh.'s picture

Sigh. Building 7 Conspiracy Theorist, perhaps you should review this.

"Building 7 Explained"

safe as milk's picture

i am a first hand witness to the bldg 7 fire. at lunchtime on 9/11 i wason the 8th floor of 375 greenwich street looking south at bldg 7. on approx floor 10 of bldg 7, i saw blue flames completely across the entire floor. not red or yellow but almost entirely blue. i don't know what was feeding that fire but blue flames indicate a higher temperature than red or yellow flames. i find the explanation in the youtube video to be completely credible.

freedogger's picture

That's a good video on building seven. Actually puts me in doubt after all these years of thinking it was a controlled demolition. Seeing the penthouse collapse into the middle several seconds before the rest of the building falls is hard to reconcile with a controlled demo.

qwertyFUBAR's picture

Or how the cores and perimeter of the building caps failed so suddenly and completely. Yet I found myself facing IYIs on both sides of the fence... such as those who insist to this day that columns were 'blown' straight outward perpendicular to the core to lodge in adjacent buildings (supplying the necessary force calculations for moving such a mass horizontally, which are ludicrous) when it is visually obvious that perimeter sections remained attached on the bottom briefly and hinged outward, and THAT is how columns traveled that horizontal distance away from the footprint. Response: blank stare, repeat beloved calculations.

As to concrete pulverization and the "cloud"... each floor was ~8cm of fine grain concrete secured only by light mesh (no rebar) and the corrugated shape of the floor pans it was poured into caused impact shock to transfer at many angles (not just compression, as a flat pan bottom would) and so broke most of the concrete's bonds, rendering it to dust. Trusses under floor pans kept their shapes until the end, ensuring that there was a bubble of air between each pan, so when the final crush occurred that air (with the now-pulverized concrete) was expelled horizontally with great force. This produced a cloud that rose quickly some 10-20 floors in height constrained by neighboring buildings. Gravity fall of the cloud then proceeded along least resistance paths (the streets) and in countless videos we saw the cloud approaching like an avalance. It is IMPORTANT to note that this was a 'cold' cloud. Some IYI wrote a book called 'Modern Vesuvius' in which he misused the word pyroclastic.

Serious 9/11 research has often been hampered by the IYI phenomenon...

larz's picture

...and they all seem to work for the FED and or some DC cesspool

JRobby's picture

Thinking for yourself, thinking critically, has been out of fashion for close to 50 years in "academia".

This is by design. See Trilateral Commission Findings.

VWAndy's picture

 I was taught to think by life kicking my ass many times.

hedgeless_horseman's picture


I also find it to be true that we learn best from our mistakes.

This is why doing for others what they can do for themselves, and stealing their opportunity to develop self-esteem, is a heinous crime with such enormous and long-lasting-negative consequences.

VWAndy's picture

 Yes I found this to be true when mentoring young auto techs. Its not good to give them the answers its far better to show them how to find thier own answers. Then they will own it.

Nobody For President's picture

Copy that, HH, but it is also important to learn from the mistakes of others -

Because we can't make them all ourselves.

This is really true in fields like flying small aircraft, skydiving and paragliding, all of which I have perused or continue to peruse.


MachoMan's picture

I also find it to be true that we learn best from our mistakes.

This is true for some.  However, wise people learn best from others' mistakes.  There are more than a few mistakes from which one cannot recover and our society is increasingly geared toward permanent punishment for otherwise trivial matters.  Best for someone else to walk into the bear trap.

I also find that few people actually learn from their mistakes.  Rather, they tend to make the same mistakes over and over again.  This is the difference between intelligence and wisdom.

VWAndy's picture

That logic wont do you a lick of good if you want to go down a new path. Sure it will work fine if you are following in others footsteps.

Doom Porn Star's picture

" I was taught to think by life kicking my ass many times. "


It wasn't life.   It was other people.

Shit does NOT happen.  People ACT.  People DO.   People are what happens -and people are often SHIT.

People act and someone else pays the consequences.

It allegorous and related to such truisms as 'Socialism works until they run out of other people's money.'

Far too many people exist as parasites in the present socio-econic construct; and it is as the hubristic and paternalistic over-educated parasite class that Taleb is lamenting..

As with any creature or sytem that is suffering a horrid infestation of parasites there are antidotes and remedies.

It's time to identify the parasites, remove and destroy the parasites; and innoculate the cultere against them so that they cannot again infest, propigate within and damage the host...

ponyboy96's picture

I learned that way also and from watching it kick others in the ass more often. My primary learning was from the latter.

Darth Rayne's picture

I hope you are wrong. I am trying to teach people to think, to think critically, but people are kept far too busy to be able to give the concept the time it needs. In my opinion, our society does not encourage critical thought. Which is appalling considering how easy we produce food, shelter and clothing and how much time we spend grooming the young to believe the same distorted illusion of reality that we believe.

Anyway, yay gold and fuck Yellen.

Physical gold obviously.

I am not endorsing anyone except Mr Yellen becomes overly intimate with Yellen.

Your welcome. (I know, I know, you are not your. Embrace each other's flaws. Enjoy communicating on this unbelievably monetized forum.)


Four years and one week, yet the adult game we call the real world stumbles on, dead man walking. 

Mustafa Kemal's picture

"not sure one can be "taught" to think"


I'm sure you can. That is essentially what good Ph.D training is. 

It is also what good brainwashing is.

Akzed's picture

People can learn logic, and how to avoid/spot fallacies.

Ya just gotta want to.


pathosattrition's picture

That last line made me very happy. My go-to advice for all of life's problems has been: deadlift more.

Wakemaker's picture

Ayn Rand discribes these intellectual idiots well in Atlas Shrugged

horseguards's picture

As a leading intellectual thinker she would know, wouldn't she?