Does one learn by doing or by thinking?

Not exactly the right question since everyone supports government solutions to some things, but the question is still a genuine one: Why Do Intellectuals Support Government Solutions?. I found the link at Instapundit where, not for the first time, the wisdom came from the comments. Let me put up some of it:

” Why Do Intellectuals Support Government Solutions?”
A better question: If they support government solutions, are they really intellectuals? Thought intellectuals were more like people who think for themselves. Perhaps not though.


  • Thomas Sowell put it this way: Intellectuals are people whose work product is ideas.

    People in the trades make, install, maintain and repair stuff, and they cannot conceal failure with weasel-words and polysyllabic redefinitions of success and failure.

    People in the physical sciences study reality and in the end their research is either supported or refuted by reality.

    People in the various fields of the humanities produce ideas which whose value and validity are not tested against reality but rather against such criteria as novelty and cleverness and newness–and, of course, progressives. This is maximally true in the grievance studies fields which are designed to promulgate falsehood, a bit less true in literature and philosophy, somewhat less true in sociology and other soft subjects where a talent for blather can replace reasoning, and somewhat true in history where there is seemingly endless room for interpretation but falsehoods can nonetheless be refuted with facts and interpretations can be challenged similarly. So yes, these people who support maximal government power are intellectuals, but bad intellectuals and bad people.


    • Sowell also says ideas are not knowledge, but only potential knowledge.


    • Robert Nozick explained it this way (there is no summation paragraph, it’s a short essay so you might want to read the whole thing):

      The intellectual wants the whole society to be a school writ large, to be like the environment where he did so well and was so well appreciated. By incorporating standards of reward that are different from the wider society, the schools guarantee that some will experience downward mobility later. Those at the top of the school’s hierarchy will feel entitled to a top position, not only in that micro-society but in the wider one, a society whose system they will resent when it fails to treat them according to their self-prescribed wants and entitlements. The school system thereby produces anti-capitalist feeling among intellectuals. Rather, it produces anti-capitalist feeling among verbal intellectuals. Why do the numbersmiths not develop the same attitudes as these wordsmiths? I conjecture that these quantitatively bright children, although they get good grades on the relevant examinations, do not receive the same face-to-face attention and approval from the teachers as do the verbally bright children. It is the verbal skills that bring these personal rewards from the teacher, and apparently it is these rewards that especially shape the sense of entitlement.

      That is a classic essay that should be cited frequently. Another passage:


      “By intellectuals, I do not mean all people of intelligence or of a certain level of education, but those who, in their vocation, deal with ideas as expressed in words, shaping the word flow others receive. These wordsmiths include poets, novelists, literary critics, newspaper and magazine journalists, and many professors. It does not include those who primarily produce and transmit quantitatively or mathematically formulated information (the numbersmiths) or those working in visual media, painters, sculptors, cameramen. Unlike the wordsmiths, people in these occupations do not disproportionately oppose capitalism. The wordsmiths are concentrated in certain occupational sites: academia, the media, government bureaucracy.”

And I found this thread even more remarkable since its conclusion was so unexpected although perfectly sound when you thought about it.

Why Do Intellectuals Support Government Solutions?

Because in a meritocracy there are no excuses.

Update: Of course, there’s always the following view of intellectuals as pottery students, which kinda comes to the same conclusion through the back door, or in this case the “left side” of the studio:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the right side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the left solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot -albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

  • Interesting, if true.

    • I read that in a journal sometime in the last decade or so. As I recall, the kids who were graded on quantity ended up, by the end of the term, producing work of significantly higher quality than the group that was told they would be graded on quality. It’s not that the kids graded on quality produced nothing good, but the kids graded on quantity typically produced much better work and lots of it.

      Also: A Classics professor ascribed the stunningly high quality of Classical Greek art to (at least in part) Greece’s foreign trade with Egypt (and elsewhere): vast numbers of jars of olive oil and wine, each of which was decorated with painted designs and scenes.


        Totally get it. My degree’s in Applied Physics and Electronics, with the emphasis on “Applied.”

        Lots of marks for working experiments, not so much for purely thought experiments.

        That’s one reason why, whenever an opportunity comes up to do something new at work, I’m all over it. Even if I screw up the first couple of attempts, I eventually get it right, and then know the pitfalls and blind alleys.

        It’s also the reason I prefer Howard to Sheldon, though my wife says I’m a Sheldon, through and through.

        • You can’t be a total Sheldon if found a woman who wanted to marry you. Howard is also passionately interested in doing physics, he’s just more socially clued in and for that matter more kind and loving.

          I know lots of scientists and engineers, and they (we) tend to fall somewhere on the asperger’s spectrum, being more skilled with things than with people. But some of us are very skilled at both, and few of us are interested in comic books and cosplay and the other goofy things that are the basis for so many jokes in the Big Bang Theory.

          Engineers know that you become a good engineer by doing lots of engineering: Often this involves making mistakes and understanding why they were mistakes. It also involves, without necessarily making mistakes, applying the lessons you were taught until you have internalized those lessons into how you “instinctively” study a problem and formulate a solution. Classes and textbooks only teach you the basics: You don’t really become good at it by doing lots of it, and there are lots of lessons in how to do good engineering.

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