4.21.2009

Naomi Klein on pest control

There's something about Larry

Sizing up the present moment along with one of its causes, Naomi Klein wants "…to banish Larry Summers…from public life." She would not go so far as to launch Summers into space or toss him into a nuclear reactor because doing either "…wouldn't be nice." Yet she does wish to deprive him of the power he often enjoys.

Her reasoning:

The criticisms of President Obama's chief economic adviser are well known. He's too close to Wall Street. And he's a frightful bully, of both people and countries. Still, we're told we shouldn't care about such minor infractions. Why? Because Summers is brilliant, and the world needs his big brain.

And this brings us to a central and often overlooked cause of the global financial crisis: Brain Bubbles. This is the process wherein the intelligence of an inarguably intelligent person is inflated and valued beyond all reason, creating a dangerous accumulation of unhedged risk. Larry Summers is the biggest Brain Bubble we've got.

Klein here identifies another instance of the misplaced adoration we moderns tend to have of mere technique and the powers contained therein. I say this because being smart like Larry Summers means having the capacities needed to ace tests and to make one's way up and through America's bureaucratized educational system; it surely does not mean the person identified as smart speaks the truth about anything at all. And it certainly does not indicate the smart person's willingness to speak truthfully when he or she does chat with the less able. More importantly, thoughts, no matter how well-formed, eloquently expressed and rationally grounded, are not identical to the matter they address. They are, even when they are at their best, representations of something they are not, something different, something non-identical. Consequently their truth content, assuming for the sake of the argument that they contain such content, may always be contested, and this possibility remains in effect even when they issue from qualified professionals with access to the best information and techniques.

Unfortunately post-war American history is dotted with the catastrophes generated by the "best and the brightest," "wise men," "masters of the universe," brilliant advisors of Presidents and others considered excellent and entitled to wield power. What this recent history, which has been decisively marked by a criminality born of America's messianic conceit, ought to teach us is this: Although a few among us are incredibly smart, their mere existence does not relieve us lesser souls of the responsibility to think and judge for ourselves, to make up our minds about what is the case and what ought to be the case. Giving these smart individuals power merely intensifies this burdensome responsibility on those who authorize this power. It does not unburden the comparatively powerless.

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