T. Greer linked to this (long) article by Adam Elkus about the relation between academia and politics. Academia and politics are quite different institutions, made up by very different people with often antagonistic tempers. But they also have a lot in common, both claiming to have authority, and in most states they have tend to be integrated into the power structure. They make two of the three big pillars of the Cathedral.
Or so we tend to think of them, as a common tenet of neoreaction takes elite academics as perhaps the shadow power behind the Cathedral. Academics control the education system, and thus the brainwashing of common people. And they are also the “experts” that every media organ or politician cites when he wants to make a point. It would seem that academics are the ones setting the (evil) agenda of the Cathedral. Somebody on twitter recently asked if journal editors aren’t the most powerful people in the world, given that they decide what gets published in science journals, i.e. they get to decide what is officially true.
Yet when you think about it, it doesn’t make much sense. For one there are way too many academics, and being numerous is not a characteristic of a powerful class. Also modern academics are often compared with medieval priests, which also were in charge of setting official truth and brainwashing the masses. But hardly no one considers them the actual ruling class of the Middle Ages.
At least since the breakdown of the bicameral mind, the priestly class is not the ruling class in any society, even though it may have a fair degree of influence. This influence comes from their status as advisors to the actual rulers. And that’s what the article is about, academics resenting their lack of influence in the policy making process.
Academics, as I guess the medieval priests also did, regard themselves as having superior knowledge and expertise on things that matter. It’s only natural to conclude that they deserve to be put in charge of those things they have expertise on. Why should some snake oil salesman who happens to be friends with some rich guys have more power than someone who actually knows something about the matter at stake. A very logical conclusion to make, but of course it doesn’t work like that. Power is power and you don’t get power just by knowing about stuff. You get power by getting power.
Elkus writing is very disordered but he makes a very good point. Policy making is a saturated market, everybody wants to decide things, everybody wants to decide power. Academics though have no real leverage to make their voice heard. What they do have is technical knowledge to help the policy makers implement what they have already decided.
Policy is a condition or stipulation (e.g. Carthage must be destroyed, South Korea must remain independent) that must be satisfied by strategy. Strategy is a bridge between action and political payoff. Strategy, in turn, is implemented as tactical actions. (…)
Because policy is “what must be” and strategy is “how we can make it so,” the dynamics that craft policy and strategy are different. While both creatures of politics, policy is at least in theory more related to the outcome of a messy political process. Why is it messy? A political process is essentially a struggle to decide what should be that plays out as a struggle between policy elites.(…)
[Strategy] questions are areas where social scientists and academics in general have historically provided great value. And in providing that value, academics have also stimulated advances in their own fields. We owe a substantial amount of economic theory to the game theory and decision theory problems of World War II and the Cold War. Trying to find out how to best understand Japanese culture in WWII produced a landmark work of anthropology. Thinking about specific communication, command, and control problems spurred landmark theoretical innovations in computer science. And we also owe Clausewitz’s On War to the “cognitive challenge of war” faced by the Scharnhorst school as it attempted to grapple with how to comprehend the shifts in warfare signaled by the “God of War” Napoleon Bonaparate.
This “what must be” and “how we can make it so” is a very useful framework, and it reminds me of the is/ought dichotomy by David Hume. Oughts are “what must be”, which Hume warns can’t be derived from an “is”, i.e. from actual facts. Which is a pretty shocking thing to say. If I can’t derive an “ought” from an “is”, it follows that I have to derive an “ought” from an “isn’t”. Which sounds very wrong.
The very reason that the is/ought dichotomy is so famous is just how wrong it sounds to normal ears. The more facts one knows i.e the more expertise one has, the more it wants to use them to make decisions with them, to set “oughts”. But unfortunately it just doesn’t work like that. David Hume was making a deep philosophical point, but perhaps he actually was talking about actual politics. The “oughts” are most often decided not by a careful appraisal of the facts, but through a “messy political process”. For all it matters, as a scientist you might as well assume that oughts fall down from the sky engraved in stone tablets, and all you can do is focuses on your “is”es, and try to find some which are of some practical use to implement the ought of the moment.
Another piece of evidence for Hume’s point is that cognitive science has proved that most logical activity in the brain is not carefully making rational conclusions from actual facts, i.e. deriving ought from is, but rather strenuously rationalizing whatever preadopted conclusion your brain already had. Which is often the case in most academics, which chose their field of study and approach before having much expertise on it, and seldom change positions after years of ostensibly advancing their knowledge.
The article concludes that politicians set the ought, and they are quite happy ignoring the is unless the German Army can be seen through the window. But when that happens, the politicians will be quite happy to use the academics’s facts, if he knows about them, which he often doesn’t. To solve that he proposes a matchmaking service, a policy-making dating site.
Not a bad idea, but that’s like saying to a incel beta that all he has to do to get a woman is go register a profile at a dating site. It works for some, but the true solution to his problem is to learn Game. Elkus actually understands the problem when he says that academics who want policy influence must become Kissinger.
For sociobiology applies to all aspects of human society. The same way Game explains the actual dynamics of sex, Neoreaction explains the actual dynamics of power. Of course there are more women than there are powerful, so a consistent theory takes more time. But we’re getting there.