The Loss of Technocratic Mystique

 

Much of the time, the United States Supreme Court deals with exotic and arcane constitutional issues beyond the ken of the average person on the street. The justices are versed in matters of constitutional jurisprudence and much of the writing and dialog surrounding judicial rulings carries a hint of impenetrability for the uninitiated. The complexity of the jargon, and the endless minutia of constitutional law, hovers over the court and serves the interests of the justices because such things cast a patina of otherworldly competence on the court’s utterances and rulings.

Many on the right have understandably been laughing this week at the ill-informed comments made by Justice Sotomayor regarding Covid, because they revealed just how little she knows. The whole episode has a similar feel to that moment in the Wizard of Oz when Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal that the wizard is really just a con man and huckster. I find myself wondering if this event isn’t a much bigger deal than it seemed at first blush. Institutions that want to maintain their credibility must, at all costs, retain the perception of superior competence. Besides hilarity, what Justice Sotomayor revealed, for all the world to see, was the essential uninformed incompetence of those who would deign to tell the rest of us what to do.

By opening her mouth, Sotomayor has thrust one more dagger into the heart of elite mystique. Who can blame the many thoughtful observers for concluding that the overwhelming stench of self-superiority emanating from the government class is actually an artifact of the Dunning-Kruger effect?  Maybe it really is stupid people who think so highly of themselves that they are eager to boss other people around.

In the early centuries A.D., more than a little conflict raged throughout the Roman world. A great deal of it was fomented by various emperors who, to greater or lesser degrees, mandated the persecution, first of Christians and later of pagans, as Christianity rose to prominence throughout the empire. In some ways, the upheaval was an artifact of the convulsive process of overthrowing centuries of pagan thought regarding the power and authority of idols in the lives of human beings.

Remains of the Serapeum, Alexandria.

A temple to the gods Isis and Serapis existed during this time. It was called the Serapeum and inside stood an idol so large that its arms extended on either side to touch the walls of the temple. People had been taught that should anyone harm the statue/god,  the result would be that the world would instantly disintegrate, returning to its original state of chaos.

At the height of the conflict leading up to the destruction of the temple, a particularly bold young man climbed up on a ladder and took a swipe at the idol’s face with an axe. Gibbon recounts this story in his massive Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

“It was believed that if any impious hand should dare to violate the majesty of the god, the heavens and the earth would instantly return to their original chaos.”

It was no small thing to strike such a blow since no one really quite knew what was going to happen afterward. Notwithstanding the concern of the crowd in the temple, the young man “aimed a vigorous stroke against the cheek of Serapis which fell to the ground; the thunder was still silent, and both the heavens and the earth continued to preserve the accustomed order and tranquility”.

And in an outcome that could NOT have been made any more appropriately symbolic had someone tried, no sooner was the idol destroyed than thousands of rats began pouring out from where they had gnawed away at the idol’s rotten interior. Tunnels and secret passageways were later discovered which the temple priests had used to maintain illusions regarding the power of the idol. And apparently, the rat infestation convinced even some of the most ardent pagans to officially change sides.

The loss of mystique has a rather transforming effect on one’s thinking. And in the case of all the people in the Serapeum that day, the loss of the idol’s mystique led them to bring down the status quo and to do so even in the absence of knowing what lay beyond.

That story has been lurking around the edges of my thoughts as I’ve read all the mockery of Sotomayor.

Right after Marco Rubio was elected to the U.S. Senate, he spoke of the awe he first felt as he experienced the grandeur and perks of being in that august body. But he also revealed that the people who look good as a scripted campaigner don’t necessarily impress when experienced in their natural state.  Rubio said that when he first got to Washington, he would go to the Senate dining room and the wonder of it all made him ask “How did I get here?” But after a few weeks on Capitol Hill and having had the opportunity to get to know some of the other Senators, he began asking himself “How did they get here?”

The drip, drip, drip of these revelations of incompetence are unlikely to end happily for the elite. I’m not complaining about that. Like many of those in the Serapeum that day, I harbor the suspicion that, though I’m not sure what will happen next, the core of our institutions is so rat infested that the unknown might be better than the way things presently are.

The vaccine mandate hearings turned out to be a significant blow to the mystique of the Supreme Court. Truth be told, most of us don’t hold up too well on close inspection. But that is not entirely unexpected. It also isn’t the end of our worlds, because we do not justify our existence on the basis of a cultivated myth suggesting our superior competence. Also importantly, we do not seek to tell our fellow citizens what to do. But scores of politicians, bureaucrats, and judges, many with underwhelming intellects (it turns out) and no real-life experience to speak of, have colluded with the media to sell the voters a fraudulent account of their own supposed exceptional abilities. They’re all hat and no cattle, as the Texas saying goes.

For a long time, the establishment was able to skate by in their mediocrity because the challenges faced by flyover country did not meet the level of alarm sufficient for those voters to pay very close attention to the establishment’s pose of superior competence.

There is a growing suspicion that the American scientific bureaucracy was up to its elbows funding and encouraging gain of function research in China. If so, the pandemic may have actually been unleashed on the world by the hubris and incompetence of the technocrats in government. If it becomes apparent that the American health bureaucracy was involved in causing the pandemic, even indirectly, the damage to the illusion of technocratic competence will be immense. It could easily amount to the final axe blow to the cheek of the American Serapis that brings the entire rotten, technocratic edifice crashing down.

And it will be interesting to see what comes after that.

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  1. Kevin Schulte Member
    Kevin Schulte
    @KevinSchulte

    There are too many uneducated uniformed inhabitants of this once great land for the American Serapis to crumble on their account. However, it will crumble . Of it’s own accord.

    • #1
  2. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Are you trying to imply that Justice Sotomayor is not a “Wise Latina”?

    Caramba!

     

    • #2
  3. Addiction Is A Choice Member
    Addiction Is A Choice
    @AddictionIsAChoice

    Vice-President Harris, Justice Sotomayor, Secretaries Buttigieg, Granholm, Austin …. Hiring decisions that aren’t based on merit benefit no one.

    Excellent post, Keith!

    • #3
  4. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    What a fantastic post! 

    • #4
  5. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    iWe (View Comment):

    What a fantastic post!

    Yes, it is.

    • #5
  6. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    Do not follow Supreme Court jurisprudence much as not that many cases involving my field of employment law. What few decisions there are generally favorable but most from the 90’s.  So do not follow Supreme Court arguments much. But the wacko comments by the wise Latina in the Covid case reminded me of idiot trial judges in California who got their jobs from politicians and had little idea about how to apply the law.  What a disgrace.  Looks like will need another Barrett or two to finally tilt the scales the right way as long as Roberts in charge. 

    • #6
  7. David B. Sable Coolidge
    David B. Sable
    @DavidSable

    On the the World and Everything In It news podcast (M-F), there is a Monday segment called Legal Docket.  If you listen each week, you will touch every case that comes before the Surpreme court.  Mary Reicher does a tremendous job.

    One thing that is often pointed out is you rarely hear Clarence Thomas as he believes that the purpose of the judges is to listen to the arguments presented.  The others utilize different levels of questioning and sometimes even arguing.  I’ve been taking a break so I wasn’t sure what Sotomayor but seeing the spay of Babylon Bee cartoons, I realized she must have misstepped somewhere.

    Anyway, to your point DC is made up of flawed people in nice uniforms and websites.  One time getting early to a Dodger game I watched the players and realized they were just kids and could have just as easily been wearing different uniforms.  Actors are just people too made to look good.  I guess in a culture where we stop respecting the office but worship the celebrity we might be shocked to find how we have been viewing it all wrong.

    • #7
  8. Keith Lowery Coolidge
    Keith Lowery
    @keithlowery

    The latest from Richard Fernandez turns out to be highly correlated with what I wrote here.

    • #8
  9. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    It’s very smart of you to bring a false god like Serapis into this. There have been other discussions recently on R> where people have alluded to the Left’s god being government and their religion being politics (it might even have come from me! Heh.).  Do you suppose the vast concentration of power in the federal government makes the revelation of the falseness of the idol inevitable? Just too many claims of omnipotence (“shut down the virus”) which go unrealized?

    The question is, is it enough to disenchant the true believers? I suspect not. I believe leftism is a mental disorder, if not a spiritual one. It requires the absolute conviction of one’s morally superior positions, and any threat to that certainty is a threat to one’s very identity. “You will be as gods.”

    • #9
  10. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    Keith Lowery (View Comment):

    The latest from Richard Fernandez turns out to be highly correlated with what I wrote here.

    Nice piece by Fernandez, as far as it goes. What, though, will be the anger in the Third World?  If I am an Indian, with China breathing down my neck, and suffering all the Third World woes that have come with lockdowns and outright suppression of treatment, I am furious with the West, but especially with the U.S. and its little collusion with my mortal enemy in a Wuhan lab. As an American I may be looking at bureaucrats and technocrats with disgust and taking it out in road rage but I haven’t even begun to come to terms with what my country did to the world. David Brooks is confused now but he ain’t seen nothing yet. 

    • #10
  11. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Keith Lowery: There is a growing suspicion that the American scientific bureaucracy was up to its elbows funding and encouraging gain of function research in China.

    More than suspicion. Proven fact. The sad part is that nothing will be done about this, and nothing will likely ever change. Wonder when the next novel coronavirus will be released?

    • #11
  12. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    David B. Sable (View Comment):
    I’ve been taking a break so I wasn’t sure what Sotomayor but seeing the spay of Babylon Bee cartoons, I realized she must have misstepped somewhere.

    Not just Sotomayor. Kagan and Breyer delivered their own lies. The question is whether they knew they were lies or whether they’re so woefully uninformed, they only know what they see on CNN.

    • #12
  13. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Keith Lowery: But scores of politicians, bureaucrats, and judges, many with underwhelming intellects (it turns out) and no real-life experience to speak of, have colluded with the media to sell the voters a fraudulent account of their own supposed exceptional abilities. They’re all hat and no cattle, as the Texas saying goes.

    One example is Richard Epstein.  When he talks about the law, he’s on pretty solid ground.  But when he ventures away and talks about firearms, he knows almost nothing.  Sometimes people don’t know what they are incompetent at.

    • #13
  14. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Skyler (View Comment):
    One example is Richard Epstein.  When he talks about the law, he’s on pretty solid ground.  But when he ventures away and talks about firearms, he knows almost nothing.  Sometimes people don’t know what they are incompetent at.

    This is quite a widespread problem, especially among smart people. Scientists never hesitate to opine on topics they themselves are not expert on.

    • #14
  15. Doug Kimball Thatcher
    Doug Kimball
    @DougKimball

    So many cheeks, so few willing to wield the ax, just saying.  We like our Olympic gods intact.

    • #15
  16. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Keith Lowery:

    There is a growing suspicion that the American scientific bureaucracy was up to its elbows funding and encouraging gain of function research in China. If so, the pandemic may have actually been unleashed on the world by the hubris and incompetence of the technocrats in government. If it becomes apparent that the American health bureaucracy was involved in causing the pandemic, even indirectly, the damage to the illusion of technocratic competence will be immense. It could easily amount to the final axe blow to the cheek of the American Serapis that brings the entire rotten, technocratic edifice crashing down.

     

    More than this. It is more likely than not, now, that the evil Dr. Fraudci and his cohorts have, in collusion with the Chinese Communists, unleashed a permanent new disease on the world. We may well be living with COVID-19 variants as we have always lived with influenza and the common cold. Will COVID-19 variants out-compete influenza for hosts, or will both prey on us with an additive death and illness toll?

    • #16
  17. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    Why can’t I do any “liking” here?

    • #17
  18. Keith Lowery Coolidge
    Keith Lowery
    @keithlowery

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Keith Lowery: But scores of politicians, bureaucrats, and judges, many with underwhelming intellects (it turns out) and no real-life experience to speak of, have colluded with the media to sell the voters a fraudulent account of their own supposed exceptional abilities. They’re all hat and no cattle, as the Texas saying goes.

    One example is Richard Epstein. When he talks about the law, he’s on pretty solid ground. But when he ventures away and talks about firearms, he knows almost nothing. Sometimes people don’t know what they are incompetent at.

    I’ve known numerous smart people who extrapolated from their being smart about one thing to believing they’re smart about everything. People are eager to forget that knowledge and skill in one area does not constitute wisdom in all areas. I frequently tell people that I’m really very good at one or two things and virtually incompetent at everything else. They usually find this comment surprising.

    • #18
  19. Keith Lowery Coolidge
    Keith Lowery
    @keithlowery

    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf (View Comment):

    Keith Lowery: There is a growing suspicion that the American scientific bureaucracy was up to its elbows funding and encouraging gain of function research in China.

    More than suspicion. Proven fact. The sad part is that nothing will be done about this, and nothing will likely ever change. Wonder when the next novel coronavirus will be released?

    I agree with you about this. My point was not about whether this is true but more about the fact that the realization of it is growing among voters. Our coddled political and bureaucratic classes expect there to be no consequences for failure, even of this magnitude. If they do not pay a price for their hubris, the current pandemic will seem like a walk in the park some day.

    • #19
  20. Keith Lowery Coolidge
    Keith Lowery
    @keithlowery

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    More than this. It is more likely than not, now, that the evil Dr. Fraudci and his cohorts have, in collusion with the Chinese Communists, unleashed a permanent new disease on the world. We may well be living with COVID-19 variants as we have always lived with influenza and the common cold. Will COVID-19 variants out-compete influenza for hosts, or will both prey on us with an additive death and illness toll?

    I suspect the effect of Covid is going to be a semi-permanent reduction in life expectancy worldwide.  I say “semi-permanent” advisedly since therapeutics may emerge that improve the current situation.  But there’s little doubt that the Chinese, likely in cahoots with the American health bureaucracy, poisoned the entire world. But because Americans were probably complicit, there is little institutional incentive to look under too many rocks. Unless something fundamental changes, Fauci, Collins and their collaborators seem quite likely to get away with what amounts to mass murder.

    • #20
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