If you seek power over others, how much of an advantage does raw intelligence gain you?
If you look at the makeup of the U.S. Congress — which now has a 9% percent approval rating — or if you watch the Republican debates, you are not immediately inclined to label either the smart set. In fact, you have to be a dim bulb to repeatedly say many of the things that seem necessary for electability. On the other hand, a certain amount of cleverness is obviously necessary to outwit the media and your opponents.
Which is it? Two films that explore the relationship between power and brains are “Being There” (1979) and “Limitless” (2011). The films came out thirty years apart but deal with the same issues. “Being There” suggests that being dumb as a chicken is a huge advantage for those who seek political success. “Limitless” suggests that politics is the inevitable trajectory of a person who is far more intelligent than everyone else. Which is more realistic?
I’ll state my own view up front: politics is a gigantic waste of brains. If a person really has a gift for high-level thought, almost any profession would be a greater better to society and probably more self-fulfilling in the long run. Whereas it was probably once true that the political life attracted some of the best and brightest, it no longer seems true at all today.
“Being There” is both hilarious and serious, worth sitting down with at least once every few elections seasons. Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine star in this adaptation of a novel by Jerzy Kosinski about an illiterate and simple-minded man named Chance who happened to be in the right place at the right time. His utterances are few and most concern what he has done his entire life, which has been to tend one garden on one estate and otherwise watch television. [Keep reading…]
With the recent release of the first part of the film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged (see Matthew Alexander’s review on Prometheus Unbound), the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) — via LearnLiberty.org – brings us this interview with Professor Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, on how Ayn Rand fits into the classical liberal tradition.
In this video, Prof. Burns explains three classical liberal themes in Ayn Rand’s masterpiece Atlas Shrugged: individualism, suspicion of centralized power, and free markets. These themes come to life through the novel’s plot and characters and give the reader an opportunity to imagine a world where entrepreneurship has been stifled by regulations and where liberty has been traded for security. Burns ends by reviving Rand’s critical question: do you want to live in this kind of world?
If you enjoy dystopian fiction, and dystopias often provide great fodder for libertarians, be sure to keep an eye on Tor.com this week.
From the announcement:
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” —Nineteen Eighty-Four
Over sixty years later, 1984 has come and gone, but Orwell’s unsettling vision of the future continues to resonate throughout our culture, along with so many other great dystopian works of the last century, from Fahrenheit 451 toThe Hunger Games, Metropolis to Blade Runner, Harrison Bergeron to The Handmaid’s Tale…the list goes on and on and so, on this bright, not-so-cold day in April, we’re pleased to announce a weeklong celebration of a subgenre which has continually challenged the comfortable boundaries of our imaginations.
A few years ago in honor of Arthur C. Clarke’s then-recent birthday, I wrote on my own blog that he must never have read Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard,
because according to this quote cited by Gregory Benford in his happy-birthday letter in Locus Magazine (January 2008), he claims that “there are some general laws governing scientific extrapolation, as there are not (pace Marx) in the case of politics and economics.” Well, far be it from me to disagree that Marx was wrong about a lot of things, but Clarke is wrong here. Sir Clarke, you may be 90 years old now, and happy birthday by the way, but it’s never too late to acquire a firm grasp of sound economic theory.
As disappointing as it is, it’s not surprising that he had a natural-scientistic bias against economics. Sadly, he died only a few months after my post.
In a more recent article in the Sri Lanka Guardian, more of Clarke’s economic ignorance is on display:
While researching for this article I came across a searing indictment by Clarke on the American capitalist system. After observing that the structure of American society may be unfitted for the effort that the conquest of space demands he continued, “No nation can afford to divert its ablest men into essentially non-creative and occasionally parasitic occupations such as law, insurance and banking”. He also referred to a photograph in Life Magazine showing 7,000 engineers massed behind a new model car they had produced as ‘a horrifying social document’. He was appalled by the squandering of technical manpower it represented. All this indeed makes one wonder whether he really was a closet socialist.
Last week I launched a new website called Prometheus Unbound. I aim for it to be a sort of online “magazine,” a libertarian review of fiction and literature. The site will feature reviews, news commentary, articles and editorials, and eventually (I hope) interviews, from a libertarian perspective. I’m entertaining the possibility of publishing original fiction in the undetermined future, but won’t be doing so anytime soon.
I’ve already got a number of posts up, some old and republished from other sites, some new. I’m hoping this won’t be a one-man show, so I’m looking for some regular writers as well as submissions from irregular or part-time contributors. There are already a few others on board, so you should start to see posts from them before long. If you’re interested in contributing a review, news commentary, or the like, contact me.
You can learn more about Prometheus Unbound, my reasons for creating it, and what I’m looking for in submissions by starting with my introductory post. I’m particularly interested in science fiction and fantasy prose fiction, but Prometheus Unbound will be open to submissions dealing with just about any genre or medium, including film, tv, comics and graphic novels, and poetry.
Cross-posted at Is-Ought GAP.