The Age of Intellectual Cholera

Cholera is a bacterial disease that produces severe and persistent diarrhea, leading to potentially fatal dehydration. It is almost unknown in the United States, but we seem to have entered an age of “intellectual cholera,” in which illogical, irrational, and absurd arguments and assertions are draining our society of its vital cerebral fluids.

Perhaps the ultimate example of intellectual diarrhea has come from Joe Biden and Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm’s assertion that climate change may have been a meaningful factor in the horrific building collapse in Southern Florida. Of course, the statement neither can be proved nor disproved, so it substitutes narrative and promotion for reason and logic. It seems to assert that climate change is such a malign force that it could selectively impact a single building while sparing millions of others. Never mind such trivialities as construction, maintenance, soil composition, etc. The mind boggles at the astounding hubris of the assertion.

At least we can take some comfort that those politicians are non-scientists. Science is crucial, as during the pandemic when it largely guided policy, calling our attention to things like clinical trials that demonstrated the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and refuted the value of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 (and demonstrated that it could cause serious side effects). It also provided some essential baseline approaches to minimize damage from the virus, though politicians too often overreacted or blundered

But what about acknowledging the limits of altering biology? An individual’s desired lifestyle can only change biology so much, even with medical intervention. If we accept the need for separate women’s athletics, should not science proclaim that it is nonsensical to applaud biological males competing with biological women? Can science be valued or ignored on a whim or along with the political breeze? Just flush the intellectual commode and push on.

Other victims of intellectual diarrhea are scientific evidence and statistics. The pandemic offered many the chance to claim “expert” status in the absence of sufficient knowledge and evidence. For instance, those who advocate letting natural, post-infection immunity get us to herd immunity ignore hard data that found that a month (or more) following COVID-19 infection, 23 percent of infected people, including some who were asymptomatic, sought medical treatment for new medical conditions, including pain in nerves and muscles, breathing difficulties, elevated cholesterol, malaise, fatigue, and hypertension.

Statistics—factual measurements—too often are ignored, especially when it comes to climate change and race. On the climate, though change is clearly underway, hysteria dictates that we ignore that the late 20th century saw the coldest average global temperatures in 10,000 years. The most likely warming scenarios for this century fall short of the average highs for most of that period. Data frequently is being downplayed in favor of models, which is an egregious violation of true science. Or take the assertion that the United States can have a dramatic impact on climate despite its small share of emissions—15 percent and shrinking. Yet zealots seek to impose energy deprivation on our population, regardless of the far more consequential actions of China, India, and the rest of the world. Screams of “climate denier” are the typical rejoinder to those who would call this out.

Some of the worst intellectual dishonesty is found when it comes to racial and cultural statistical disparities, often ignored or shouted down in pursuit of a narrative. For example, it is a fact—and, yes, there is such a thing that is not relative—that Asian and Jewish cultures, among others, promote tight families and academic achievement with clear positive attainment results. By contrast, it is also statistically true that out-of-wedlock births and single-parent homes are far more common in the urban black culture, and this is a known factor in contributing to higher rates of criminality and academic failure. Those who dare to cite these facts among others and who try to get to the root of the problem are often deemed racist. How can a problem be solved when it is not acknowledged? Ask any recovering addict about that concept.

The integrity of language is another sad victim of intellectual looseness. Race. Culture. Ethnicity. Supremacy. Privilege. Prejudice. Bigotry. It seems that never have so many words been completely misused, abused, confused, and weaponized. Take the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) which defines racism as “belief in the superiority of a particular race”—substitute “ethnicity” for “race” if you like. Essentially this applies to almost anybody who has a differentiated view of races or ethnicities, however benign in effect. The more relevant concept is bigotry, which is focused on behavior towards an individual. Most racists, correctly defined, are not bigots because even if they harbor preconceptions, they tend to appraise individuals as encountered. Yet “racist” is an undeserved powerful epithet.

As if to emphasize the misuse of words, our progressive thought leaders would have us believe that it is malignly racist [sic] to be colorblind, i.e., not to be racist. Consider that an element of the Biden Administration’s massive stimulus relief package would pay billions of dollars largely to black farmers (now enjoined by a court) and that Gavin Newsom, the governor of California—a state that never sanctioned slavery—formed a “reparations commission” to make amends for unspecified past transgressions that seldom, if ever, involved the state. To oppose these race-based awards is frequently called racist. No good intentions can excuse such illogical thinking.

The intellectual dishonesty does not stop there. Consider the construct of “white supremacy.” How does one obtain the “power” of whiteness other than by birth? Is God therefore racist? The correct depiction is that, in America, most white people do not suffer from various forms of discrimination directed at minorities. Yet elsewhere, the dominant group is often not white at all—consider the oppression of Uighurs by the dominant Chinese. It is lazy and even bigoted to conflate the absence of a particular burden with the idea of supremacy, yet the bizarre trend has been to impose the burdens of discrimination more universally by denigrating many of the positive values of Judeo-Christian society—reward for hard work and achievement, a desire to feel safe, etc. Just look at any of the recent curricula for “sensitivity training” for whites if you question this. Merit is abandoned and the goal becomes equalizing oppression. This would give any rational person the mental runs.

This illogic could be extended indefinitely to compensate for any disadvantage. Do we now proceed to an American version of the Chinese Cultural Revolution? After all, while we may all be equal under the law—at least in theory and aspiration—we are not all equal in intellectual capacity. Perhaps it is time for reparations for the less intelligent. Why not bar the top 25 percent of high school graduates from Harvard and M.I.T? That will certainly take care of the problem of overrepresentation of Asians at those institutions. This sounds absurd, yet we see a movement to disband advanced classes and schools where merit is the selection basis, as this produces “undesirable” demographics.

There are many more examples of how the flow of incoherent, illogical, irrational, and ideological thinking—from politicians and ordinary citizens alike—is destroying our society through the de-intellectualization of thought. The dishonesty in our discourse has become horrifying, and our media, pandering to their “constituents,” are actively aiding and abetting this. Big Tech has assumed the power of Big Brother, deciding what information we can see with greater impact than our own government yet free from the Constitutional strictures designed to control government tyranny. Mass media must fall in line to even remain relevant in the digital world. It is a vicious cycle with, at best, murky exit routes.

Cholera, the disease, has killed countless humans over the course of history. Modern medicine, where it is available, has eliminated this scourge. But we are now confronting the intellectual version of this epidemic, and good citizens must respond by proclaiming that the Emperor of Woke has no clothes. We must not be cowed by the prospect of arbitrary, misapplied, and undeserved labels and must call out those who abuse us. Logic and evidence must reemerge as the driver of actions and policy. Fallacious pronouncements must be ridiculed and ignored. Now. The patient is in critical condition.


About Andrew I. Fillat

Andrew I. Fillat spent his career in technology venture capital and information technology companies. He is also the co-inventor of relational databases as a graduate student at M.I.T.

Photo: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images

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