Justin Smith on Intelligence, Merit, and the Future of Work

Justin E. H. Smith in his Substack Newsletter:

A few weeks ago I served, as I sometimes do, on a dissertation-defense committee at a certain venerable Old World university. The event took place in a building whose foundations date to the thirteenth century, in a specialized “salle de soutenance” constructed in the nineteenth. The defendant was made to sit at a small desk beneath a looming podium, where we, the honorable members of the jury, were solemnly seated. The borrowed vocabulary from the world of the criminal trial is intentional and unmistakable. As usual I tried to play my part and look as grim and serious as possible. I confess I find it fairly easy, at least for a short time, to get swept up by the spirit of such rituals.

The dissertation itself was excellent. The student, a non-European, jumped right to the chase and gave a formidable account of the finer connotations of the Latin philosophical terms at the heart of his work. It was stunning no-bullshit scholarship — the raison d’être of universities for a millennium or so and right up until the most recent decade, and that still persists in certain protected pockets of Europe.

But neither can it be denied that even here, in this pocket, the vibe of the whole affair was rather like that of, say, a baroque chamber ensemble that insists on playing period instruments. We were, in effect, LARPing, pretending to be scholars from back in the ancien régime, when such endeavors were a secure and meaningful part of our shared social reality.

More here.