The IQ guys swear that high IQ strongly correlates to success. That’s tempting to believe until you start thinking about the fabulously successful people who were also incredibly stupid. Caligula is the guy who comes to mind whenever someone mentions intelligence and our political leaders. Caligula was clever at times, but no one would call him intelligent. He managed to screw up so much he was murdered after just four years as emperor. Granted, he was probably mad, but that just underscores the fact you can get pretty far without being terribly bright.
One of the most oddly successful salesman I ever met was very dumb. He sold auto accessories to retail stores and job shops. He worked hard, had a great personality and was willing to spend all day selling gaudy crap to people who had customers looking for gaudy crap. He was also a white guy willing to go into the ghetto. He made a lot of money because he had the right products and the right attitude. He had a big house and a Cadillac, along with an 95 IQ.
When I was a teenager, I talked my way into a graduate seminar on proto-Marxism taught by a guy who was jarringly brilliant. He spoke five languages, could write in seven. He had a masters in math as well as a PhD in history. I don’t think he had two nickels to rub together and I doubt he cared. He drove a car that looked like it would collapse in a heap at any minute. I’m not sure if he was the smartest person I’ve met, but he is a good example of how a high IQ does not necessarily mean a high status, big money or even success in a narrow field.
There’s that and then there is the fact that serendipity plays a determinative role at the extremes. Germanicus, the father of Caligula, was a smart and accomplished guy, but he was unlucky and just a click less smart than Tiberius, who had him killed. Caligula was outlandishly lucky to find himself in the role of emperor. Of course, his successor was probably the luckiest man who ever lived. Claudius was an able emperor, but his rise to power still fascinates classicists because of its improbability. His relatively long reign is just as improbable.
In modern times, we have seen some people hit the lottery and become billionaires, despite not being terribly bright. Mark Cuban is a good example. He is a hustler and a risk taker. He does not mind making a spectacle of himself in public. He also got outlandishly lucky when fools totting dot-com money bought his worthless company for billions. The Facebook boys were similarly lucky. The proof of that is MySpace is the same product, but never caught on like Facebook. Mark Zuckerburglar is not stupid, but he is not a billion time smarter than you.
That’s what we’re seeing here with the death of the New Republic. The venerable progressive journal founded by the Mussolini loving Herbert Croly was recently purchased by Facebook lotto winner Chris Hughes. That was two years ago and now he has decided to turn it in Gawker, because he likes saying the phrase “digital media property.” The staff resigned en masse this week, making a big show of it for each other.
The Communications Revolution, like the Industrial Revolution, has created a lot of very rich people. Some of those rich people are super-rich, like Chris Hughes. The cultural elite of every society lives off the generosity of the financial elite. They don’t always live well, but the arts can only exist with the ascent and support of the monied elites. One of the fun parts about Nero’s biography is what we learn about the status of entertainers. In Rome, they were the bottom of the social order, even though they were supported by the ruling elite.
The current cultural elites have always lived in a world where the rich are willing to write checks for the privilege of mingling with the intellectuals. Journals like The New Republic never made money, but they got rich patrons to bankroll them so the writers could have nice middle-class lives. National Review, for example, purged all of their conservative writers because their patrons demanded it. Guys like John Derbyshire and Bob Weissberg refuse to go along with the official dogma so they were sent to the fringe.
The new money appears to be different from the old financial backers. The robber barons from Silicon Valley are not interested in hanging out with smug progressive writers. They want to hang out with ball players and starlets. That means the New Republic has to become a gossip site based in New York or Los Angeles, not a journal of dogmatic political thought serving the homely people of Washington. Never mind that there are plenty of gossip sites and the value of the New Republic lies in its ties to the Washington power elite.
It will be interesting to see this unfolds. The Cult is not going to take kindly to having their friends unemployed because some rich Nazi wants a different toy. Robber barons like Chris Hughes have the money to put up a good fight, but the Cult has the power of the state. They also know how things work, which apparently Chris Hughes does not. If he was half as smart as he thinks, he would have used TNR as a way into DC’s power elite. Then again, the Golden Rule says the man with the gold makes the rules.
From WW1 through the 1970’s we did not see the creation of great fortunes. Great fortunes are made at the start of great economic revolutions. That left a long time for the relationships between the cultural, political and financial elites to settle in place. The Communications Revolution has created a whole new batch of great fortunes. The first batch, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Jobs, etc were happy to ape the style and manner of the established great fortunes. That meant buying their way into the cultural and political elites, without making any demands. The second batch of great fortunes is not looking to follow that path.
We now have a lot of stupid people with money buying up elite real estate, physical and mental. That will not be without consequence.