Taleb is an anomaly that a system creates, an asset that has gone rogue. He is a perfect intellectual who has risen to say that the modern intellectual is vastly inferior to your grandmother. “…people are perfectly entitled to rely on their own ancestral instincts and to listen to their grandmothers who have a better track record than these policymaking goons.” He holds that the transformation of local cultures in the name of modernity, democracy, environment and other virtues is a crime that the “intellectual-yet-idiot” is perpetrating. These are the undercurrents in his latest book, Skin In The Game, which is a brief history of risk, and argues, among other things, that problems occur in a society when influential people do not have to face the consequences of their bad ideas.
This article is good reminder to scholars who fancy they are wiser than ordinary people on the streets, just because they have published a few books. Scholars may take pride in the fruits of our theorizing. However, life is larger than their intellectual constructs. Indeed, there are some theories that are so glaringly and profoundly mistaken at the same time that only a clever person can make them. Perhaps, this phenomenon is well captured by Richard Feynman, one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century, when he said that outside his own field the scientist is as dumb as the next guy. Outside the laboratory, scientists are no wiser than anyone else. I would venture the same judgment on many so-called public intellectuals and talking heads in the media.
To be sure, credit must be given when it is due. The Western academia should be lauded for its vigor, creativity and robust scholarship. We will continue listen respectfully to the opinions emanating from the Western academia, but are mindful that knowledge does not necessarily commensurate with wisdom and virtue. There is no reason to feel ecstatic when the high priests of the Western academia occasionally tip their hats in recognition of some of our indigenous thinkers. Local intellectuals should be less concerned about getting recognition from the West as only an independent spirit can initiate and sustain creativity and boldness in the quest for knowledge and virtue that is integrated with local realities and challenges.