Thomas Sowell’s criticism of intellectuals who are competent in some area of scholarship but who espouse opinions on topics on which they are not competent, made me think of those so-called public personalities who are not competent in any intellectual area at all.
By “competent,” I do not mean having a certificate from some academic institution, or having a track record of publications, simply because a person may be self-educated, which probably is a necessary and sufficient condition for being educated at all.
As a paradigm of this incompetence, I will focus on the interview of Noam Chomsky by Patrick Bet-David, who is an example of the new sophists of the internet — “podheads.” [They are not to be confused with potheads who do not make public appearances as a practice.]
To make my point I would like to first contrast competent interviews with this incompetent interview.
Below are examples of competent interviews of Noam Chomsky:
Bryan Magee, who himself was a philosopher, interviewed other philosophers. A list of some of these available interviews are give here: The Great Philosophers.
And here is his interview of Noam Chomsky in 1977:
Bill Moyers interviewed Noam Chomsky in 1988:
Charlie Rose interviewed Noam Chomsky in 2003:
The Stony Brook Interviews in 2003
Part 1: Bill Zimmerman interviewed Noam Chomsky:
Part 2: Peter Ludlow interviewed Noam Chomsky:
Part 3: John Kuo Wei Tchen interviewed Noam Chomsky:
Chris Hedges, who himself is a journalist and political writer, interviewed Noam Chomsky in 2014:
Ralph Nader intervewed Noam Chomsky in 2016:
Ezra Klein interviewed Noam Chomsky in 2021:
Chris Hedges again interviewed Noam Chomsky in 2021:
Unlike the competent interviews, where the interviewer has taken the effort to read some of Chomsky’s writings, incompetent interviewers come off as naive students who have not bothered to do any relevant homework.
So, here is the interview by Patrick Bet-David in 2021:
What is a sincere bullshitter? It is someone who says things in an irresponsible manner. And what is it to say things in an irresponsible manner? Basically it is to repeat something that one has heard without any attempt at criticism. In this sense, we are all born into the “original sin” of assimilating and constructing a world-view, and repeating things without criticism. What do I mean by this? I have in mind the idea that the mind hates a vacuum of beliefs, and fills it with whatever information is at hand. The result is that in many cases when people are asked to express an opinion, they will pull out of their mental repository anything which is remotely relevant. A good example of this is the result of asking for directions when trying to get to some destination. There were times when I was sent in opposite directions by two helpful direction givers. What does this indicate? For one, it indicates the reluctance of people to say that they don’t know, or that they are not certain; instead they are ready to blurt out whatever comes to their head, which may or may not be bullshit. In any case, the tendency to bullshit is there.
Mind you, I am not saying that most of a person’s world-view is mistaken; not at all. If that were the case, the person would not survive. If you consider the world-view of a primitive “savage,” it is composed of a functioning realism and superstition. Superstition is the result of filling the mental vacuum with beliefs which transcends experience.
Now, combine the idea that everyone has a world-view and the fact that a particular person, such as Jordan Peterson, is in fact very knowledgeable in some field of knowledge, and with the fact that this person has achieved some kind of fame. The result will be what Ortega-y-Gasset calls the “mass man.” He is a scientist who knows his field, and because of this, claims (without warrant) to be knowledgeable in other fields as well.
As Richard Wolff has pointed out, Jordan Peterson is a psychologist, but he is neither an economist nor someone who knows Marxism. Yet, because he has achieved a great amount of internet recognition, has a sense of privilege to express irresponsible bullshit.
His argument against Marxism — and I am not exaggerating — is this:
Stalin was evil.
Stalin was a Marxist.
Therfore, Marxism is evil.
This is an invalid — even a silly argument. It has the same form as:
Stalin was evil.
Stalin was a man.
Therefore, men are evil.
Stalin was evil.
Stalin was a vegetarian.
Therefore, vegetarians are evil.
Listening to Peterson, it is clear to me that he is blurting out stuff about Marxism from the windmills of his mind.
Below are three videos. The first two compare what Peterson says about Marxism with what Noam Chomsky says. [Incidentally, it is always wise to check what Chomsky has to say.] The third is a response by Richard Wolff to Peterson. [Richard Wolff is a self-proclaimed Marxist economist.]
I have mixed attitudes towards the videos by Stefan Molyneux. On the one hand I think he is an intelligent, articulate person with an interesting stage presence, and what he says, for the most part, seems reasonable and acceptable. But, on the other hand, he comes off as being arrogantly cock-sure of himself and full of himself, and in this regard, he is not at all appealing. But enough of praise — all this is ad hominem, and, therefore, irrelevant.
What is relevant is the examination of what he claims. He claims to be an anarchist and a capitalist, which makes him an anarcho-capitalist. By this he means that he wishes that society be run on the basis of free exchange without government interference. Now the model of such a society would be any primitve tribe. But a primitive tribe is not a capitalist society, even though it has free trade. Free trade is not a sufficient condition for capitalism. The necessary condition for the existence of a capitalist society is the existence of a proletariat.
Max Weber, in the 22nd chapter: “The Meaning and Presuppositions of Modern Capitalism” of General Economic History (Wirtschaftsgeschichte, 1923), translated by Frank H. Knight, 1927, lists six necessary conditions for modern or “rational” capitalism. What interests me, and on which I want to focus attention, is the 5th necessary condition, which is:
“The fifth feature is free labor. Persons must be present who are not only legally in the position, but are also economically compelled, to sell their labor on the market without restriction. It is in contradiction to the essence of capitalism, and the development of capitalism is impossible, if such a propertyless stratum is absent, a class compelled to sell its labor services to live; and it is likewise impossible if only unfree labor is at hand. Rational capitalistic calculation is possible only on the basis of free labor; only where in consequence of the existence of workers who in the formal sense voluntarily, but actually under the compulsion of the whip of hunger, offer themselves, the costs of products may be unambiguously determined by agreement in advance.”
Proletarians are people who do not possess land nor have free access to land for subsistence, and they are neither slaves nor serfs. The question arise: How is it that portions of the earth became the property of some individuals? And the answer to this is given, among others, by Karl Marx in his various writings, particularly in Das Kapital.
I thought I could get an insight into Marxism from a video by Stefan Molyneux. But, no. Instead of examining the reasoning of Karl Marx about this topic in Das Kapital or in any other of his writings, Molyneux attacks the character of the author — the person Karl Marx. He launches a full-scale ad hominem attack.
My reaction. What he says about the life and character of Karl Marx may all be true, but irrelevant.
To make his ad hominem seem plausible, he argues by the following analogy. Suppose you were in a bookstore and picked-up a copy of a diet book. On the cover is a picture of the overly obese author. Immediately you wonder.
“If the diet works, why didn’t the author use it on himself? Ah, maybe he did use it, but it doesn’t work. Well, I am not going to waste my time on this diet, which obviously does not work. Or, wait, maybe the author thinks obesity is OK; so he doesn’t apply it to himself. Hmmm, he either sees no value in dieting, or the diet does not work. Obviously, this book is worthless.”
The reasoning is an example of the genetic fallacy, specifically an ad hominem fallacy. The above reasoning for the dismissal of the book is ultimately unreasonable. Suppose the author has a congenital condition that leads to obesity which no diet can cure. So, the fact that the author is obese does not imply either that the author sees no value in dieting, nor that the diet which he recommends does not work.
Using this fallacious reasoning for the dismissal of a book on dieting by an obese author, he tries to apply a similar line of reasoning about Karl Marx’s writings on the basis of Marx’s life and character. Thus, by a moral condemnation of Marx, he refuses to read or discuss what Marx wrote. Incredible!
Most articles and books which I read, I have no idea about the identity of the author. And it doesn’t matter. I am able to judge the merit of their writing independently of any knowledge of the traits of the author.
On Sep. 23, 2013, there took place a “debate” between Peter Joseph, of Zeitgeist fame, and Stefan Molyneux, the self-proclaimed anarcho-capitalist “philosopher” of the internet. On reflection, Peter Joseph asked rhetorically: Is Stefan Molyneux a pathological bullshitter or a conscious con artist? Judge for yourself.
Peter Joseph and Stefan Molyneux “Debate” Sept. 23rd 2013
Stefan Molyneux’s commentary on their debate Oct. 5, 2013
Peter Joseph on Stefan Molyneux’s commentary on their debate
Oct. 6, 2013