The more I reflect on the denouement of the Neil deGrasse Tyson phony-quotes saga, the more I’m convinced he would be the perfect First Citizen of the Ineptocracy. In this sad-trombone age of massive faceplants – more money and power centralized than ever before, in the hands of an alleged “elite” that can’t do anything right – the value placed on credentials over performance has never been greater.
Tyson and his followers provide a perfect example of fallacious appeals to authority. I’m not referring to his fields of scientific expertise, but rather the way his authority in those fields was stretched into a cult of personality that held him up as a Really Smart Guy Who Must Be Right About Everything. The astonishing arrogance Tyson displayed throughout this kerfuffle – even after he had been proven wrong – suggests he bought into that incorrectly extended authority himself.
But I suppose we already knew that, because the very subjects Tyson addressed with his dubious quotes lay outside the boundaries of his credentials. He got into trouble for either doctoring, or outright fabricating, quotes from other people designed to make them look stupid and unenlightened, while he (and his audience of admirers) were supposed to feel correspondingly more superior. None of the subjects in question had much to do with the diplomas hanging on his wall.
That’s also the sort of over-reach that got him in trouble in his “Cosmos” TV series, where one of the early, and most controversial, segments involved deliberately misrepresenting the history of Giordano Bruno. It’s a long story you can read in detail here, but in short, the segment in question does exactly the same thing Tyson’s phony quotes did: manipulate an event into a blunt instrument that could be used to hammer a point about how Other People are stupid, close-minded, and intolerant. Tyson and his collaborators aren’t experts on history or religious philosophy, but he felt empowered to throw wide his cloak of authority and posture as such.
Many areas of science have lately been distorted by unwarranted assumptions of authority, most obviously “climate change” – which also happens to be the field of science that most perfectly harmonizes itself with political opportunism at the moment, producing billions of dollars in damage. Politicians are big on declaring authority based on their credentials – the offices they hold, the schools they went to. You’re not supposed to ask about their actual performance when they’re beating you about the head and shoulders with their resumes.
In the course of critiquing Tyson’s heavily qualified admission of error, the victorious Sean Davis of The Federalist noted that his seminar anecdotes “always start with a moral, and then work backwards to find ‘facts’ that fit.” That’s the Big Government method in a nutshell, isn’t it? Intentions matter far more than results. Consider only the putative good some program has done, never its harmful effects or unintended consequences. Ask not about the cost, or how the final price tag and performance compare to the original promises. The Ineptocracy knows where it wants to go; it will invent as many signposts as it needs to point the public in the desired direction.
Time and again, we witness a kind of arrogant psychosis from the Ruling Class that goes something like this: We gave a huge amount of power and money to the best and brightest, under compassionate leadership with good intentions. It can’t have been an abject failure. The moral of the story is pre-determined: Big Government makes things better. Current events and past history will be spun until they cough up the “facts” necessary to illustrate that moral. Phantom terrors will be invoked to convince the people that even if our rulers appear to have failed, things would have been so much worse despite their efforts. Chimerical consequences lurk in the shadows, hypothetical dragons so terrible that they make the failures of the State seem palatable by comparison. Don’t call Obama’s trillion-dollar “stimulus” a failure because it didn’t stimulate anything – you don’t understand how bad things would have been, if he didn’t give all that money to his cronies! Do you have a job right now? Then Obama’s policies worked, because the alternative was total annihilation. You’re welcome.
In order to accept the comparison between real-world results and phantom consequences, you must accept the authority of the Ruling Class implicitly. As their demands become more grandiose, and their failures correspondingly larger, the amount of faith they require becomes cult-like, as does the expected revulsion of their political enemies. They need you to see the night as dark and full of terrors. They need you to stop thinking you can survive without them. Above all, they need you to stop noticing that everything they do is a gigantic failure, accomplished with the most fumbling ineptitude. You are required to applaud when someone like former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius takes a bow, even though her management was a case study in disconnected incompetence, and she left behind one of the biggest catastrophes in the history of both government programs and Web design. Just look at her credentials, and listen to how warmly the even more credentialed Barack Obama spoke of her! That’s all you cretins lurking beyond the Beltway should need to hear.
Likewise, you weren’t supposed to ask whether the anecdotes related by the great scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson were true, because he’s a great scientist. You’re not qualified to challenge him on either astrophysics or George Bush speeches. And for a very long time, in a society where everyone has unimaginable troves of information at their instant command, no one did. First Citizen of the Ineptocracy is a well-deserved honor.