Tyler Cowen posted his latest Conversations with Tyler. His guest was Malcolm Gladwell, the famous gadfly and popularizer of the blank slate. Of course, Cowen slobbers all over him, because that’s what good thinkers are supposed to do when they get to meet someone like Gladwell. It’s a way of letting the other good thinkers know you are not the sort that colors outside the lines. Gladwell is one of those guys who is more famous for what he represents than anything he has said or written.
Celebrity intellectuals are not famous because they have offered up a great insight or discovery. There’s no money in that. New ideas challenge the orthodoxy. The people with the money to help an aspiring celebrity intellectual live the sort of life they deserve tend not to like challenges to the orthodoxy. Instead they gravitate to people who confirm that the current arrangements are as the heavens ordained. That’s Gladwell. His celebrity is rooted in his ability to flatter the Cloud People.
The typical path to celebrity for these guys is not much different than the way mediocre comics get rich and famous. The game is to flatter the right audience. Making a bunch of bad whites in the hill country feel good about themselves is not a path to the easy life. You can make a nice living, but you’re not going to be doing Ted Talks or getting five figures to do the college circuit. Figure how to let the Cloud People on the Upper West Side feel like champions and you have the golden ticket.
People fond of biological realism and quantitative analysis tend to enjoy making sport of Gladwell, mostly because he makes some hilariously stupid claims. His 10,000 hour rule argument was so stupid it was not even wrong. Steve Sailer has made a hobby out of pulling apart Gladwell’s claims. Sailer is a smart guy, who understands that if he tossed Gladwell off a roof, Gladwell would eventually hit the pavement below, so I suspect he is offended by the idea of a bullshit artist like Gladwell getting rich by peddling nonsense.
The thing is, guys like Gladwell exist off a number of biases and one of them is that they are sincere in their intentions. They truly believe the things they are saying. The difference between a con-man and a moron is that the moron really believes what he is saying. The grifter not only knows he is spouting nonsense, but he crafted the nonsense to take advantage of people. A big part of the Gladwell act is that he presents himself as a sincere dork, who just happens to notice that his audience is on the right side of history.
Of course, what really helps Gladwell is the fact that he is mixed race and the best kind of mixed race. His mother is black and his father is a English honky. Unlike Barak Obama, Gladwell can pass for white so he gets to play both sides of race street, sort of like how white women like to say they are part Native American. It is the dream of every Progressive white women to get all the victim points of being black, without having to actually be black. As a result, Gladwell makes an excellent totem.
In fairness, Gladwell did catch lightning in a bottle with his first book. It came out just as the Great Progressive Awakening was getting started. Many Progressives saw the Bush election as a tipping point. Bush winning the White House was the nightmare made real and it became a rallying point around which their great cause would be based, at least until that incarnation of the 12th Invisible Hitler was vanquished. Gladwell’s book confirmed what many Progressives were feeling, particularity those in the chattering classes.
As the Great Progressive Awakening comes to an end, so does the rock star status of Malcolm Gladwell. His last two books sold well, mostly due to his name, but both were panned by critics. He was never really an idea man, more of a zeitgeist man. From his perch at the New Yorker, he could take the temperature of his fellow Cloud dwellers and come up with ways to titillate them. The mood has turned dark and angry in the Cloud, so Gladwell’s child-like sense of wonder does not titillate like it did at the beginning..
He will get the same treatment as Jon Stewart, who was replaced as the Official Cloud People Comic by a colorful array of bitter losers. Stewart’s exaggerated irony face routine was replaced by a turkey-necked old hen, who spends 30 minutes a night screeching into the camera. Stewart’s comedy was for people who believed they were riding the tides of history to the promised land. Samantha Bee is for losers, who are being carted off to Babylon and a life of servitude. Somewhere, a blue haired lesbian with a face full of fishing tackle and an apartment full of cats is writing the next Cloud People best seller.