The Death of a Public Intellectual
Is it that time of the year again? A new intellectual minted. The loss of next few evenings watching YouTube, reading substacks? All for that sweet nectar of a novel “hot take”.
It seems every 6 months I find someone new to obsess over. This started a few years ago. First it was Jordan Peterson, then it i was Eric Weinstein, then Chamath, the list goes on. Most recently, it’s been Peter Zeihan.
The story goes something like this, I get recommended a clip on YouTube, there’s a man who is calm, articulate, and says something that completely violates the narrative. How fascinating. Is my understanding of the world completely wrong?! I need to read everything this man written.
The next few weeks are spent digging up every single video I can find, hearing the same points repeated, each video adding a little extra context which helps fill in the gaps. By the end of it I feel like I can articulate the points as well as him. I can’t, but it sure feels like I can.
And so the man gets a seat on the roster. From here on out, anytime a new piece of content comes out, i’ll be the first to listen.
Without fail, each one of comes to dissapoint. They’re either a one trick pony, and every development in the world is analyzed through the same tired lens whether its applicable or not. Or, they are so desparate for keeping momentum so they have a “hot take” everything. Problem is their first take is often born out of decades of experience in a field, whereas each subsequent is born out of decreasing rigor. And so, their credibility withers.
It’s a shame because they are clearly very smart men who have much to contribute to the public conversation, but they make the tactical error of getting out over their skis.
I don’t blame them either. Imagine toiling away in the obscurity of some dark university office building. Thrown into the limelight because you have the next interesting thing to say at the right moment when the world is paying attention. Milk it for all it’s worth. Get that bag.
But dear reader see this pattern for what it is.
You’re basis for truth often relies on authority of your source. Epistemologically speaking it’s a weak standard, but this is a busy world, and you need some heuristic to sift through it quickly. Know this pattern so you can cast off these men at their peak instead of riding it all the way down.
And take note when one doesn’t fall, study them the hardest.