Anti-Academia Academics

There’s a certain sort of person who sets their ideas up as explicitly “intellectual” yet explicitly opposed to academia.

A few examples of the sort of person I’m thinking of: Yudkowsky, Ayn Rand, Vladimir Nabokov.

The way these people talk has a number of appealing qualities, e.g.

  • an overarching hard-mindedness, a refusal to make facile compromises or pretend that the truth is always somewhere in between (enabled by outsider status, independence from a social community of thinkers)
  • A fondness for clear, precise, straightforward language that avoids cliches or jargon (except for jargon of their own invention!)
  • A refusal to bow down to revered figures of the past unless those figures live up to their own standards

These people also tend to fail in characteristic, related ways:

  • Overly strong focus on their own personal points of interest or anxiety
  • Refusal to acknowledge the psychological and historical origins of their own beliefs or tendencies
  • Attracting acolytes, when the last thing they want to do is start a “school of thought”
  • Mistaking simplicity or apparent vividness of expression for actual clarity, and producing statements that sound “clear” but are difficult to actually make sense of (I can’t find the exact quote, but someone one wrote something to the effect that that Nabokov’s style was “so crystal clear it is difficult to see anything,” which also describes a lot of Yudkowsky’s blog posts; compare to Rand’s 4-point summary of objectivism, which is seemingly straightforward yet nearly meaningless)

I feel more sympathetic to these people than I do to traditional academics, but I have never found one of them that I could agree with whole-heartedly.





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