The Cult of Rationality

This post on the GOP’s shock at their failure to win leads to an interesting place:

Yes, but we should note the revolution in rationalist expertise and its rising popularity are a phenomenon in part of computers, but even more of the internet and blogosphere.

There are lots of experts – many with tenure – who think of expertise as an ineffable quality of understanding. Even now we might say that Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft get geopolitics. We can dimly glen their vision through reading there books, but at the end of the day, there is no substitute for going to see the old master.

Nate Silver is not clearly master of anything. His methodology is transparent. His predictions rely on taking data other people have collected, downloading it and cranking it through computer model. By conventional terms he is fairly young, but there is little about what he does that could not be replicated by an interested and bright seven year-old.

But, this is the rationalist view of the world. The most miraculous of phenomena are simply clockwork ducks. Magic does not exist. A mystery is when you don’t know the right question. The answer itself is always trivial, though it could involve an enormous amount of arithmetic to get to it.

This view fell from grace in the 1960s for lots of reasons. Yet, its staging a massive comeback on the internet.

If it fell from grace back in the 60s, why is it coming back now? Also, why did it fall from grace? For some reason this seems vaguely familiar, but I’m still missing something.


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