How public intellectuals can extend their shelf lives

Scholar’s Stage has a long post on why public intellectuals often have such short careers in terms of quality output.  Here are my tips for extending your shelf life, noting that I am not myself suggesting I have managed all of these, do as I say not necessarily as I do:

1. Take a cue from Kobe Bryant.  As you get older, you have to practice critical thinking more, and harder, compared to when you were young.  Most people let up on their practice habits over time.

2. Avoid criticizing other public intellectuals.  In fact, avoid the negative as much as possible.  However pressing a social or economic issue may be, there is almost always a positive and constructive way to reframe your potential contribution.  This also will force you to keep on thinking harder, because it is easier to take apparently justified negative slaps at the wrongdoers.

3. You probably don’t have as much actual influence as you like to think, and besides fame is a mix of benefits and costs.  So write to meet your own standards of quality, and no I don’t mean your standards for how much influence you think you ought to have.

4. In your copious spare time, keep on picking up and learning new areas of study.

5. Go to some travel locations you never would have gone to before, and without too many firm plans, so for instance avoid having a full schedule of public lectures.

6. Interact with students, and not just in a “famous person interacting with students” kind of way.  The value of having to motivate and explain things to people who don’t necessarily care who you are is high.

7. Shy away from discussion of political candidates as much as possible.  “Run away” is better yet.

8. Try not to write things, including tweets, a less analytical and intelligent person also could have written.

9. Do not press the button.

10. Hang around happy, cheery people.  That said, also have some ornery friends determined to make (intellectual) life difficult for you.  You need both.

11. Continue to read some serious fiction, always.  Genre fiction has other uses, but most of it doesn’t satisfy this stricture.

12. Be very reluctant to purge your friends and acquaintances for perceived intellectual or political wrongdoings.

What else?


Agree with almost everything on your list. Here's a few more:

1. Branch out into other areas outside your specialty. If you're a law professor, you shouldn't be content mastering only criminal procedure and Evidence. Be an expert on a few more topics, like intellectual property, tax, and estate law.

2. Partner with people smarter than you. You don't want to work with less intelligent colleagues, nobody does. Better not to hire them in the first place, but that's a different topic.

3. Write books, not just papers.

p.s. regarding your advice to avoid political's okay to tell people you voted for McCain in 2008.


You have a problem here with #2. If it is not smart to partner with people dumber than you are, then how smart are these supposedly smarter people you think people should partner with?

Why would people who are smarter than you want to work with you? Don't they make the same calculation?

You work with "dumber" people who you oversee people, like grad students, post-docs, and assistant professors, who might be co-authors on publications. These people should work with smarter or more experienced colleagues. When you reach Tyler's levels - when you're not helping out bright, young talent, you consult with the very best, including in private industry, and you attend workshops outside your area and learn from those speakers.

The point is you want someone as good if not better than you. When you play doubles tennis, do you pick a weak tennis partner or a strong one?

What a garbled mess, Alvin. Sometimes these people "you oversee" are actually smarter than you are, not "dumber." Indeed, relying on smart young students is how many senior academics keep their game going, relying on their superior position to get these smart young people to help them out.

Well, Anon, Tyler himself cared enough to respond below to something I said, although he was not entirely happy with it, arguably with good reason. You are just kidding yourself.

I'm just a regular person who likes to follow you. I learn a lot (nearly) every day. :) I think many things on your list apply to everyone.

God Almighty only needed Ten Commandments.

What about the whole Leviticus?!

Politics is really just garbage. Getting involved in politics will undermine any critical thinking. In politics the more “informed” one is in actuality the less informed one becomes...nobody is seeking out objective analysis in America today. My new position is to pick a team and vote and think about politics as little as possible.

You've said this like 5 times or something

Gene, you seem to think about politics all the time. It really shows.

That is because something pretty big is going on in the news. It’s fascinating to a train wreck or dumpster fire.

Are you fascinated by politics or planning to "think about politics as little as possible"?

I have forgotten more about politics than most political science professors know about politics. I can consume a lot of information in a short time so I probably won’t give up politics as a hobby entirely...but I am just not going to get too invested in politics when the most informed Republican voters are the least informed voters overall. So I will simply vote Democrat and not think too much about it going forward.

It's the anonymous internet so I'm sure this is true.

Benjamin Harrison was the 23rd president. How ‘bout them apples!

I can list all the presidents in order from memory, and the years they got elected...not kidding, I'm a bit compulsive that way. Can do the World Series winners too.

You also play a mean cowbell.

14). Don't surround yourself with people who think like you. Surround yourself with people who are brave enough to tell you that you are wrong.

Yes, and even more important is being willing to admit you are wrong when they successfully show you that you are. That is the hardest part.

Oh dear, Tyler, here we go again with what you link to with your #9, misleading claims about what Paul Samuelson said and meant about Soviet growth. Yes indeed, he did have as late as the 11th edition of his Principles book in 1980 these repeated and ridiculous figures showing USSR catching up with US, the last edition he managed before Bill Nordhaus took over running it. But he also was clear in the text about the problems of command central planning, including poor product quality, slow technological change, and the presence of shortages and lines. The 1989 quote you cite does not repeat this nonsense about Soviets catching up with US, which by then it was pretty clear was not going to happen. What it says in effect is that life was not all that bad in the USSR, which it was not economically compared to much earlier decades, although one can certainly quibble with the use of the word "thrive."

I have gone through posts by people like Bryan Caplan and others who way overstate this stuff and also make completely incorrect statements about Samuelson somehow not accepting Hayek's critique of socialist command central planning. These people are dead wrong. Samuelson fully accepted it, as one can find in his final paper on Hayek that I published in JEBO the year after I published the Levy and Peart paper there on Samuelson's errors in his textbook. What Samuelson got on Hayek's case about was his "slippery slope" argument, which angered Hayek because he claimed that Samuelson exaggerated it. That point is a matter of unresolved debate between them, and Samuelson may have overstated Hayek's position, although there are many who think that Samuelson was right on that one.

In any case, Samuelson dumping on Hayek for the "slippery slope" argument is completely separate from the discussion of the problems with socialist command central planning, where Samuelson agreed with Hayek, including on the information part. Anybody who wants to comment on these matters further really needs to go back and read both Levy and Peart (carefully) as well as Samuelson's final paper on Hayek.

I fear on this matter, Tyler, you are the one who "pushed the button."

The same comment I did about Tyler.

Barkley, in 1989 my understanding of the Soviet economy was *much* better than Samuelson's. Your own words provide much of the case. The entire Left was out to lunch on that issue during the 1980s (and other times), and I don't just mean Bernie Sanders.

Assuming this really is you, Tyler, I am sure your understanding then was. Bernie Sanders seems to have been somewhat delusional about it based on things he is reported to have said during his honeymoon there in 1988, but many on the Left were well aware that it had gone into serious economic stagnation and largely why it had, although back then many were unwilling to give much credit to Hayek on the matter, in contrast to Samuelson, who praised Hayeks' receipt of the Nobel Prize when he got it noting precisely the importance of his arguments regarding information.

Note that there were quite a lot of groups on the Left who were highly critical of the USSR, including Maoists, Titoists, and Trotskyists. Regarding the latter it is a bit odd that Bernie was so favorable to the USSR in 1988, although he noted its political repressiveness, given his own support for SWP presidential candidates in 1980 and 1984, as well as his appearance in 1982 at a Boston rally as a speaker favoring their candidates for statewide office in Massachusetts, although 82 was the year the SWP began moving away from Trotsky, and Bernie was never a card carrying member of the party.

On Samuelson, regarding those embarrassing figures he kept just changing the dates on, I frankly think he was just lazy. The other matter is that he was very much in contact with CIA sources, and they were making inaccurate, overly favorable, estimates of Soviet GDP output, and so on. Much of this involved measurement problems driven by the difficulty of measuring product quality in a non-market economy. Some of those like Nutter who were more accurate frankly did it by handwaving and guessing.

A serious bottom line is that the Soviet system built enough tanks to defeat Germany at the Battle of Kursk, the largest tank battle in history. But when the USSR came to an end in 1990, the steel from the Magnitogorsk Lenin mill that was used previously to make those tanks could only be sold on the market as scrap metal once the economy opened up, and it had been the world's largest steel mill.

A. Mentioning Bernie? See your #7
B. How about not wasting your and our time by rehashing issues no one but dweebs care about? Is there really any take-away from Soviet central planning that *needs* discussion today?
C. How about trying harder to NOT make gross generalizations? Sentences that start "The entire Left was ..." is pretty much guaranteed to be i) pushing the button ii) wrong and iii) uninformative - except in painting a portrait of your own shortcomings.
D. I wonder if one reason their public lifetime is so short is that they can't move on from issues that no one f*cking cares about anymore? Isn't that one problem with aging in general, the inability to let it go and move on? Maybe you need one that suggests that if you're writing about something which you could easily add "In my day...." or "Forty (thirty, twenty, ten, even five) years ago, I ..." then you should seriously rethink the perspective you are attempting to express.

This is a minor point, but this matter has been less about Soviet central planning about which pretty much everybody largely agrees, but rather about what Paul Samuelson said about it (aside from people who suggest that somehow people were starving to death in the USSR in the 1980s, which sorts of comments we have occasionally seen here). You may be right that this is a dweebish and out-of-date issue, but in fact quite a few libertarians, including several associated with Mason, have been posting about this recently, and frankly spouting something like the garbled version of the matter that Tyler did in the bit one finds here by pushing that button.

I think what is going on with this has been a kind of effort to claim that the late Paul Samuelson really was some sort of closet socialist or even "commie," and that this misleading and erroneous thing he did in several editions of his famous textbook is the evidence of that. As it is, while Samuelson deserved criticism for what he did, and he has received plenty including before he died in the paper I published in JEBO by Levy and Peart (Levy i as GMU), this really is overdoing it.

Tyler may have known more about the Soviet economy and system in 1989 than Samuelson did, but I am pretty sure I knew Samuelson better than he did as well as Samuelson's views on many things, some of which I had debates with him personally about. In any case, a serious bottom line is that the claim that he was a socialist or a commie is basically false and ridiculous, and it has been this thrust of these now numerous discussions that I find becoming obnoxious for its inaccuracy. Again, his figures were wrong, but those pointing out those and making a big whoop about them are simply ignoring most of what Samuelson said about the Soviet economy in the related texts in those books.

The Soviet Union was an oil exporting economy so in 1980 things would have looked pretty good for them. A key event that undermined the Soviet economy was the Saudis opening up the spigots in 1986 which also tanked the Texas economy and led to the S&L Crisis...although because of consolidation Houston ended up coming out ahead with New Orleans, Mobile, and Midland getting the short end of the stick with respect to white collar energy jobs.


There is much to this. Soviet growth looked better than it really was in the 1970s because oil prices rose a lot through the decade, providing stats that sort of continued to support Samuelson's view, last put out in full form in his 1980 edition. 1986 was the last year USSR officially recorded positive GDP growth. Yegor Gaidar, among others, pins nearly all of the economic fluctuations in the later decades of USSR on oil price fluctuations, and the Russian economy today continues to be unpleasantly tied to this also, the infamous resource curse.

Very informative comment. I will only add that piped natural gas to Europe is now Russia’s most important export.

In the early 1980s the 25 year horizon planners in the USSR were pushing establishing these natural gas pipelines to Western Europe precisely to make those nations dependent on and subservient to the USSR.

Prof. Cowen left out 13 - make sure that you have people who support your endeavors over decades as they pursue their own objectives through the creation of their own public intellectuals.

Public intellectuals are useless and there's no good reason to be one. Spend your time riding a motorcycle, learn a new language, or do some woodworking. It's time better spent than being yet another Twitter social media blowhard out of millions.

Don't be a social media blowhard, but it's ok to be a comment blowhard. That's a way better use of one's time.

Depends on how one views a comment section. Posting at any major media outlet with thousands of comments per article is simply adding a tiny bit of data to the coffers of surveillance capitalism.

A former (one assumes paid, and thus possibly with access to traffic data) self proclaimed far right white troll suggested this comment section only had a few hundred viewers. Recognizing the assumptions are tenuous, that suggests that those who consider such a comment section akin to conversation may actually have a fairly realistic view.

My wife would strenuously object to a motorcycle, but I agree with your suggestions. I got myself a nice DeWalt table saw and a few other tools and have built a few shelves to increase storage space in our kitchen, on my desk and in our RV. Our old dog is having trouble getting in and out of our car. We bought some nice steps from Amazon, but she was afraid of them, so we sent them back. I built a simple platform 12” high, and put some stick on tread and she took right to them.

I got a ham radio license, put up some antennas, learned Morse code and I’m contacting people around the world. Been thinking about learning Spanish to help with it.

Learned to fish for trout with my friend’s guidance. Shot a muzzle loader but unlikely to become a deer hunter.

Do things that use the hands, eyes and brain and you’ll have a great time.

"Be very reluctant to purge your rabbis and popes for perceived intellectual or political wrongdoings. Never crucify."

A Pilate of my own thinking

"Shy away from discussion of political candidates as much as possible."

Unless, of course, you intend to spend a disproportionate time bitching about Elizabeth Warren.

Man, don't mention that name, otherwise some commenter will start plugging unimaginative (and quite tastelessly titled) cookbooks.

Nah, she’s down to 7.8% on prediction markets.

But in case J.C. has not had the pleasure: Lizzie Warren's famous cookbook is titled Pow Wow Chow, no doubt a reference to her 1/1024th or less Native American heritage.

In Pow Wow Chow, the first ever minority woman professor at Harvard Law (Lizzie Warren) outlines her family's ancient Cherokee recipe: canned crab and mayonnaise. That she copied word for word (and formatting!) from the New York Times.

The real lesson here is that the quality of the Nytimes Cooking section has increased quite dramatically over the last 30 years.

But also that Lizzie Warren wrote a cookbook titled Pow Wow Chow and copied recipes word for word from the famous Indian cookbook, the New York Times cooking section.

Who are the top ten most over-rated public intellectuals, and the top ten most under-rated public intellectuals?
Should public intellectuals stick to their area of education/accomplishment, or should they branch out and "tweet" opinions about basketball and Trump, and "call out" people who are out of step with the times?
Historically Americans dislike and fear intellectuals, unless they are rich, in which case they also envy them and want to be led by them. Is it better for public intellectual to show off their ivy League degrees, or should they pose as "Joe the plumber", a man (or woman, or binary of any color or religious persuasion) who earns an honest living (if he or she can find one) with the sweat of his or her brow and is no better than anyone else, and doesn't judge anyone else?

So, I have just read the underlying link. Offhand I think the emphasis on "public intellectuals" is misplaced, although they are well known. But the patterns and mechanisms discussed fit pretty much all intellectuals, including non-famous academics. It describes a life cycle of getting certain knowledge and skills when young and also being more daring, reaching some sort of peak in middle age, and then gradually going downhill later. It is noted that people peak at different ages in some fields than others. To the extent there is a special problem for the people who become public intellectuals is that they get involved in high level distractions, Thomas Friedman running from one glitzy place to another rather than reporting on wartorn Beirut. But for non-famous academics, they do not even have the chance to go to those glitzy places after they stop doing the equivalent of reporting on wartorn Beirut. The real issue is not about public intellectuals at all, but all intellectuals, how d they keep doing original things?

13. shill for the rich (not tc)

Perish the very thought! TC would never shill, and his services are only available to the deserving rich, an exalted category.

How public intellectuals can extend their shelf lives.....beyond death or during this life? Number 1 to 12 seem to be to extend the shelf life during the individual life.

Public intellectuals do not care about the long term. Which already points out just how likely Keynes would have failed as a public intellectual in our current age, regardless of his witticisms and ability to turn a phrase.

13. Attach yourself to a name brand institution, or get a golden ticket credential. Krugman's analysis and style is terrible these days, but as long as he's got a Nobel and a New York Times column, people will pay attention.

Why not just do general celebrity brand building? Kim Kardashian is the "no talent" person, but she parlayed that into being a criminal justice spokesperson.

If you want a real answer, look at Bernie Sanders. You don't have to agree with his politics at all but by being an authentic voice and being your genuine self no matter if it was the Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama years brings huge credibility. He never chased any fads. He's not a fake like Hillary or a fraud like Trump. Friedman's career effectively petered off in his 50s as T. Greer notes but Bernie is well into his 70s and still remains a voice that people want to hear. Tyler has a fine list but Bernie has broken a few points and like it or not still remains a convincing voice in the public eye.

Sanders is poor model: foolishly naive may be excusable at 20, but at 75, after a lifetime in public policy, it bespeaks intellectual failure, “always wrong but never in doubt”.

wait - you guys are talking as if you believe Sanders is not a comedian.

All this time I thought he was some Pat Paulson sort of joker.

He can't really be serious about the silly things he says.

Yeah, I think Peter Thiel and Jordan Peterson are past their public half-lives. Can anybody explain David Brooks?

Peterson lasted until people figured out it was just his way to deal with middle-life crisis.

13. Be like Tyler Cowen. Has there ever been a polymath quite like Cowen. Just the breadth of the knowledge and expertise of the people Cowen interviews (or is interviewed by) is extraordinary; that he can engage them in serious discussions in their fields of study is amazing. Either Cowen spends an enormous amount of time preparing for interviews, or Cowen carries in his head vast knowledge. It's probably a little of both. Those who read Cowen know that he ventures beyond economics in his public commentary, his commentary at Bloomberg rarely posted under the category Economics. But a close reading of most of what Cowen writes has an underlying economics message, one based on his views about markets and freedom. It's not always easy to see, but it's there. I would compare Cowen to another famous economist whose public commentary extends well beyond economics. While my political vies may more align with that other famous economist, I find his commentary uninteresting. With Cowen, it's always interesting, and challenging. Not self-deprecating, but not boastful either. [An aside, the public debate generated by Cowen's commentary on state capacity libertarianism shows the scope of his influence among public intellectuals.]

You mean be talent spotted by someone whose academic and corporate career will provide the sort of behind the scenes boost that most actual libertarians can only dream of?

Root around the Rockwell side of the libertarian aisle, it is not hard to find a lot of background information. Dr Cowen may be a made man, but self is not appropriate to use in connection with that fact.

And the recent foray into state capacity statism shows that Rothbard was basically right in terms of his opposition to the well funded 'llibertarians' represented by someone like Dr Cowen.

"Root around the Rockwell side of the libertarian aisle"
Do I have to bring my own Confederate Flag?

Dude we get it. You were fired from GMU.

30 years ago.

Sam Harris has remained a public intellectual for a long time now and shows no sign of fading. I think doing a podcast like Tyler does is what keeps you fresh. Talk to interesting people and put it out for the public. That's the elixir of relevancy for scholars.

Rush Limbaugh is the foremost purveyor of political ideas in America.

That's a good zinger. Our new medal winner is by definition the public intellectual of our age.

(Never mind numerous comments here at MR to ignore him because he doesn't represent conservatism or the Republican Party. Well now he certainly does.)

Let's hope the age doesn't last long.

Rus is foremost an entertainer, an over the top because of this, much like Shiff and Peloli. I've very infrequently listened to him though and the average message is more moderate and higher quality than the quotes that get the press. Certainly better quality than the average CNN announcer.

Odd that no one has mentioned the importance of being surrounded by people whose job is to support the public intellectual.

For example, a staff that handles all the details of travel, speaking, arranging interviews, convention attendance, etc.

This particularly applies to anyone in academia, where the institution takes on much of the burden of ensuring that a public intellectual actually does have spare time.

Any tweet can be written by a less analytical and intelligent person. They surely look like they've been.

Instead of being a "public intellectual", be someone who does or studies something useful, and then talk publicly only about subjects on which you have insight, and do so only when asked.

Leo Strauss was productive til the end of his life because he continued to research what he regarded as important scholarly matters - even though few were interested at the time.

Wittgenstein temporarily retired from philosophy because he thought he had solved all of its problems and worked as a gardener and elementary school teacher.

13. Exercise. Preferably in nature.

For normal Americans, he is just the best President since God knows when.

Barkley above: Politics are coercion and deceit (Orwell).

This should be Tyler Rule #1: "Don't trade in lies."

Trump 2020!

# 9 . paul Samuelson is right about Libertarians. It was Tyler who pressed the button.

1. Follow the crowd, nibble at the edges.

2. Stand for the working class. Communists have been able to get away with murder or justifying murder for decades using this shtick. If you need instructions, watch the speech from tuesday.

3. Bill Gates figured it out; it isn't about having the best product, it is about having the best cash flow. You won't be around next week if you run out of money.

4. Someone who knows something very well knows little of anything else. It is simply a matter of time and brain power. The 'Public' in public intellectual wants to know what you think about everything so best not to know any one thing really well.

5. Choose your critics well. Preferably someone who speaks english as a second language, has obvious quirks or personal characteristics. They might be right, but it won't matter.

6. Develop the uncanny ability of knowing what to avoid. Some issues of the day are batshit crazy but will destroy you if you touch them. The best response is to flip #4. This comes from the wisdom of realizing that bad ideas who are popular will fizzle out in time, destroying a good number of people in the process. You don't survive by standing in front of tanks. You survive by cheering on those who stand in front of tanks.

7. Move, don't confront. Institutions can come apart really badly; the structures that make institutions valuable and permanent can be twisted to do unspeakable things. Similar to 6, simply move somewhere else. The institution will flail and damage people and society, but you are elsewhere with an object lesson right at hand. The most famous and treasured reformers died young.

Derek, this is brilliant.

#3 So that is what all is about. The callous cash payment.

It is more about making a living. You can't travel and speak and all that stuff without some cash.

It is not clear Bill Gates, your example, would have starved if his products were a bit better.

"the worst economic and political policies of any candidate in my adult lifetime."

They must really bad to violate rule #7.

Try to sincerely make the arguments of your opponents. Highlight and acknowledge their strengths and the context that they arise from. Only then say, “But here’s where I disagree and why.”

An entirely reasonable essay and list. It certainly dovetails with my idea that most public intellectuals have a sell-by date.

What else? Maybe do things with your hands to let the abstract brain rest. Francis Fukuyama is a very fine cabinetmaker.

Old guys who get themselves in trouble trying for life's third or fourth act, probably should have just puttered in the workshop, or taken the grandkids fishing.

I pressed the button ...

Speaking of public intellectuals, does Mitt Romney count? Do you know what I'd like to read? A really honest essay from Tyler about why he (and others) can't *be* Mitt in this moment.

(And perhaps in this moment telling painful truths is "pressing the button" even more than saying something silly and emotional.)

Romney said he takes oaths to God very seriously, while Tyler is not sure about the existence of God in the first place.

And some wonder why Tyler admires Mormons so much - they have the strength of their convictions, and do not merely bow to expediency in pursuit of personal gain.

Not to mention a way of making 'impartial' hypocrites in the Senate look like moral failures.

This entire comment is silly and emotional.

But props for attempting to shove your obsession into a post about public intellectuals.

Also below: prior your autism is showing.

Read more Scott Alexander of SlateStarCodex fame. For the more scientific fans, also read Scott Aaronson.

I used to think that out of the two of them, Scott Al. was the pretender and Scott Aa. was the smart one.

I was wrong.

I think everything in this list reduces to point #8. #8 is really, really good advice and should serve anyone quite well.

Tyler's post is about how a public intellectual sustains attention decade after decade, even if the discourse that that public attends is emphemera.

Another "shelf life" issue is that of the discourse. Here we think 50 or 100 years out. We drop "public intellectual" and instead say "thinker" or "scholar." The expression "shelf life" fits here better than it does for the question of how a public intellectual sustains attention.

Oops, ephemera, not "emphemera."

#13 For a change in perspective (if you aren't recognizable), when out in public, introduce yourself as a manager of a grocery store, or a bus driver, or something similar and observe how people interact with you when they think they have the higher status.

All things considered, libertarians are creeps and emotionally crippled.

May I recommend our excellent Thousand Talents Program? We are highly successful in advancing thousands and thousands of USA academics’ careers and provide the financial support you need to succeed. At this time, please also allow me to extend my warmest appreciation to the GMU economics department their tireless efforts to support the great cause of Chinese Mercantilism! You do stellar work.

I would challenge #2 on the following grounds: aspiring rappers will often try to gain attention by starting a beef with another more famous and high profile rapper than themselves. They will insult the other rapper in interviews and on social media and perhaps write a 'diss track' mocking them, in order to provoke a response. The resulting attention they receive from the media can help both rappers' careers. This same phenomenon can work for public intellectuals, as well. After all, already much of what our pundit class does represents a kind of linguistic performance art. "Hot takes," for example, and the "I have to write a biweekly column whether I actually have something to say or not" trap. Take a page from a far more successful and influential group of artists and pick strategic public spats to engage in with fellow pundits. The odd drive-by shooting or stabbing outside of a radio or television studio is not to be ruled out.

Regarding Alvin's silly argument that people should strive to work with people smarter than them, this can be amended to striving to be around people who are smart and interesting, however they personally compare with one.

Tyler has provided a good model of this with his program in recent years of interviewing a wide variety of public, and sometimes less public, intellectuals and making those interviews public. Let me note that many academics can do a lower level version of this allowing them to have close intellectual interactions with various smart and interesting people.

The way to do this is to become in charge of a seminar series in your department or college, with many departments having more than one of these. You can invite people you find interesting in, probably with some constraints on who they are, and take them out to eat for more detailed discussions, assuming there is some funding. Lots of you can do this, and it is worthwhile, if not as spectacular as what Tyler does.

I have been running my department seminar for over 30 years and have a speaker arriving momentarily who I bet Tyler will be interviewing in the near future (I got him first, :-)). As it is, it was through doing this that I first met a very smart and interesting polymath back before he became a public intellectual, something I have not regretted since, :-).

I notice neither the list composed by Mr Cowen nor any of the commenters mention anything about “public” intellectuals actually interacting with the public.

Shouldn’t this just be titled “How can bubbled intellectuals maintain their status in their bubble”?

Well, one commenter pointed out that public intellectuals use staffs to handle most of the public aspects.

Not a contradiction of the idea of such people living in a bubble, but that describes just about everyone in the public eye (corporate, entertainment, political), virtually none of whom do things like arrange their own schedules or travel or appearances.

The fantasy is believing that anyone in the public eye is actually interacting with the public in any meaningful sense.

Can you name a public intellectual who would be recognized outside of their normal haunts? If Tyler was sitting next to you in a dive bar watching Milwaukee Brewers baseball would you even know it? Even if you did notice, would anyone else in the bar care?

Would you recognize the average four-star general, high-ranking religious leader (other than for your own denomination), state governor, or Fortune 500 CEO if you ran into them at a bar? Probably not, unless you really nerd out in one of these areas.

The culture is more fragmented and people don't learn who is who from reading Time magazine and watching interviews on TV anymore. But still, if someone earns millions of dollars from book sales and speaking fees and finds their ideas influence legislation or popular culture, "public intellectual" is a fair enough description of that person.

Depends on what is meant by public eye or public intellectual. I am fairly certain I have no particular idea what a Kardashian looks like, and thus unlikely to recognize them anywhere, though they are most certainly in the public eye.

Would Jordan Peterson count as a public intellectual in the public eye? Much of this discussion hinges on perspectives and definitions, and the fact that few public intellectuals have reached Paris Hilton celebrity status - and would anyone recognize her these days? Unless they enjoy cooking shows on YouTube (which apparently cannot be linked to). Still not sure I would recognize her anywhere, even after watching a couple of minutes.

>Shy away from discussion of political candidates as much as possible. “Run away” is better yet.

If I were a Dem, after the last week, I would pretend to suddenly lose all interest in political discussions too.

#7. Tyler Cowen seems to do the opposite of this. Cowen is quite vocal and opinionated on political candidates.

Public intellectuals are like any other celebrity -- they catch a certain cultural wave at just the right moment and ride it as long as they can but the ride always ends eventually.

Piketty and Taleb, for instance, came out with books at just the right moment when current events or the cultural factors made people unusually interested in the topics they were writing about. Another class of public intellectual comes to fame by being entertaining public speakers and creating viral moments from their TV appearances or debates.

Why can't public intellectuals sustain their success? Why hasn't Eddie Murphy done a comedy special in 30 years? Writing books is hard work (as is producing an hour of stand-up comedy) and maybe the people who have gotten rich off of it would rather relax a bit and spend more time with their families.

Nothing about taking risks? Don't most acknowledged intellectuals believe that the quality of their thinking is only fractionally dependent on their deep subject knowledge and so they think they have something useful to say on subjects where their knowledge is of a flawed and insufficient nature. Also you think there's any benefit in looking at what you're writing with the eyes of your 25-30 year old self?

I'd think the first thing that one would need to point out about the 'public intellectual' business is how a great intellectual gets to be a great intellectual. A great intellectual is a popular intellectual and in order to get popular one must understand one’s audience.

A guy who plays 200 rounds of golf a year certainly has a passion for golf, but if his handicap is 29, no one would say he’s got much going for him in the talent department, so passion and talent aren’t the same thing. Per ideas, especially if we define talent is using one’s mind to come up with ideas about ’stuff’ that isn’t certainly wrong, is it any different? No, it isn’t. I’d say they aren’t even correlated, as in if we to isolate the top 5% at the right of the curve for ‘intellectual passion’ what percentage would also be in the top 5% at the right of the curve for ‘intellectual talent’. Right answer, 5%. The opposite is true too, as in most smart people aren’t all that passionate about ‘ideas’.

So in order to be a great intellectual, who does one have to appeal to? Mystery of Thomas Friedman solved.

Also, among actual smart people, the word ‘intellectual’ has at least the connotation of a thinker who is a foppish dilletante at ideas too, and they will almost always feel a bit uncomfortable being labeled one since ‘intellectual’ is a sub category of ‘not very good at being right’ as a general thing. The US and before the UK were and are somewhat noteworthy as being ‘anti intellectual’ societies, and that’s a secret to their successes, if thought about correctly.

So though it seems that all those points Prof Cowen makes about being a long standing public intellectual, which seem like rules many of which that an archetype public intellectual like Bertrand Russell broke with enthusiastic gusto so maybe they’re not all necessarily right, might be quite sound, but I think one must realize, that being a public intellectual that appeals to smart people is a specialty niche and one will never be ‘great’ if that’s the niche one is trying to fill.

Follow Epicurus: Live unknown.
Follow Nietzsche: write with the knowledge you will not be understood by anyone until you have been dead for a century at least.
Follow Socrates: "public intellectual" is someone who speaks fearlessly and magnificently as befits one who knows, ie a sophist.

Kobe Bryant admitted that he had sex with a teenager who gave every sign that she did not want to have sex with him.

To quote a man like that shows something about the character of the person who quotes that man.

I refuse to quote Chesterton on any subject because he said hateful things about Jews and Bankers, and I am not going to quote Kobe Bryant either.

If you do not know a lot about the words that Chesterton and Bryant used to describe their own misdeeds, consider yourself lucky.

I have a lot of respect for Tyler, so my best guess it that the comment about Kobe the admitted rapist (albeit he did not have the balls to read his admission in court, he let the well-paid lawyer do it for him) and about Chesterton the man who wished ill on Jews and bankers is gonna last about 20 minutes before being deleted.

Amusing if I am right, amusing if I am wrong.

if I did not respect Professor Cowen, my guess would be 10 minutes.

AI is helpful in this respect.

Trust me, or not.

Please write a post or direct us to a previous post listing some of the sort of serious, non-genre fiction that you recommend.

13. Obliterate your value system. Repeatedly ask "why" of your positions until you come to the indefensible axioms of your thought. Acknowledge that nobody knows what are the best axioms, including you. Acknowledge that this means that your entire system of thought is unjustified. Allow this realization to slowly, inexorably dismantle your belief system. Dwell in nihilism for a period of time. After some time, witness some shoots of new values emerging. Realize these, too, are unjustified, but allow them to grow, so that you may once again know the world. Re-enter the world, chastened by your journey, with the new understanding that any belief system is a form of vanity. You will learn to live in the substratum of human values, which will give you a unique perspective, and a cognitive flexibility that others will lack. More importantly, you will be closer to the truth.

How can we get democrats to use critical thinking?

99. For mental exercise, write a piece that takes the opposite point of view to your, I grant, carefully thought-out positions. For example, Cowen and Tabarrok might try being slightly less contemptuous of those who do not follow the Climate Doomsday religion.


Tyler occasionally posts the views of his alter ego, Tyrone, who disagrees with him, although I have not seen him do it for awhile.

"Continue to read some serious fiction, always." Your comments on literary fiction are often among my favorite posts. I would certainly welcome more of this content on MR.

The problem with online learning is that since students have different learning styles, you need to try different things to reach them, said Cheney. “Oral is one element. Since I’m not a big books-on-tape guy because I am get tired of listening after 25 minutes, I suspected that students might be the same,” he said.

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