The Anointed aren’t big fans of free speech. Sure, they pay lip-service to the idea now and then, but when you watch them in action, it’s clear they don’t much like wide-open discussions and free-wheeling debates. You may recall, for example, what happened when Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, was invited to be part of a nutrition panel at the National Food Policy Conference: members of the Center For Science in the Public Interest and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Committee threatened to boycott unless she was disinvited … which she was.
I wrote at the time that the CSPI weenies were afraid Teicholz would kick their asses in a public debate. I still believe that’s part of the explanation, but recent events (which I’ll cover in later posts) got me thinking there’s more to it.
To explain, let’s start by quickly summarizing the Wisdom of Crowds concept: when ordinary people share their experiences, ideas and insights with each other, the right answers tend to eventually bubble up to the top. Notice that the Wisdom of Crowds doesn’t mean the majority is always correct, and it certainly doesn’t mean everyone’s ideas are good ideas. It simply means that when ideas and information are freely exchanged within that big ol’ crowd, the good ideas tend to take hold.
Freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the U.S. are based on a similar concept. The Founders believed in what’s often called the Marketplace of Ideas. Thomas Jefferson, for example, wrote that it’s safe to tolerate error of opinion where reason is left free to combat it. Fredrick Siebert put it quite nicely in Four Theories of The Press:
Let all with something to say be free to express themselves. The true and sound will survive. The false and unsound will be vanquished. Government should keep out of the battle and not weigh the odds in favor of one side or the other.
Notice what both the Wisdom of Crowds and the Marketplace of Ideas have in common? That’s right … they’re based on faith in ordinary people. Given access to lots of information and competing ideas, most people will come to the correct conclusion most of the time. So people who believe in the Wisdom of Crowds view the prospect of debate and discussion with an attitude of Bring it on! I’ll make my case, you make yours, and we’ll see who wins.
The Anointed, by contrast, view wide-open debate and discussion as a threat. Why? I used to think it’s because they know their Grand Plans are based on flimsy or non-existent evidence. As Thomas Sowell points out in both The Vision of The Anointed and Intellectuals and Society, The Anointed tend to fall in love with bold, new, exciting ideas. They don’t like waiting for solid evidence to support their bold, new, exciting ideas, and are quite adept at ignoring or dismissing evidence that their bold, new, exciting ideas are wrong. So I figured they’re hostile to debate out of simple fear someone will prove them wrong.
But that doesn’t jibe with a fundamental trait of The Anointed: their extreme confidence in themselves and their ideas. So after noodling on it for awhile, I decided their hostility towards debate and discussion is rooted in two of their most dearly-held beliefs, which are:
1. They are very, very smart.
2. The rest of us aren’t very, very smart and are often quite stupid.
Therefore, The Anointed aren’t afraid they’ll be proven wrong – heck, they don’t believe it’s possible for them to be wrong. Rather, they’re afraid the rest of us are too stupid to discern how right they are. When we hear lots of contrary opinions, we (unlike The Anointed) don’t have the intelligence to weigh the evidence and come to the correct conclusions. So as far as The Anointed are concerned, an open debate is nothing more than an opportunity for the great unwashed masses with their inferior intellects to be led astray.
That’s why so many of them long for the good ol’ days when a relatively small number of information gatekeepers decided what most of us see and hear. That’s why so many of them are angry about the emergence of talk radio, social media, blogs, and other forms of what they derisively call the “pajamas media.” (I’m not wearing pajamas at the moment, in case you’re wondering.) The information gatekeepers have lost control of the gates, which means the Marketplace of Ideas is a vastly larger and more diverse marketplace than it once was.
That’s what allows the Wisdom of Crowds to flourish. But The Anointed don’t believe in the Wisdom of Crowds, so they consider all that debate and discussion a problem. We’ll look at how they (ahem) “solve” that problem in the next couple of posts.