Intellectual sabotage

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Intellectual sabotage, aka intellectual terrorism, is the act of undermining the intellectual infrastructure by which civil discourse takes place in order to promote a more chaotic society in which the powerful may seize yet more power.

"Intellectual infrastructure" generally refers to common understandings, such as:

  • agreement about what is possible and what is not possible
  • agreement about the proper functioning of key institutions
  • agreement about what is acceptable in various civil contexts

Intellectual sabotage goes beyond a simple breaking of the rules and causes lasting damage by undermining faith in the idea that civil discourse is worthwhile and productive and by eroding the common agreements on how such discourse should function.


Intellectual sabotage most commonly takes the form of misinformation presented as assumed background in a discussion about something else. An example of this might be a creationist saying something like: "It is well-known in scientific circles that radioactive dating is unreliable beyond about 1000 years ago, and yet Darwinists insist that many fossils are much older than this -- which is plainly ridiculous."

It can also take the form of making historical comparisons that are hideously inaccurate, while seemingly providing a helpful lesson -- such as comparing Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler on the grounds that they share high intelligence -- as if intelligence were the characteristic which defines the difference between Hitler and those who opposed him.

Weapons of Intellectual Destruction

The ability to cause any real damage with this sort of misrepresentation requires sufficient credibility to overcome the natural skepticism possessed by most people. For this reason, intellectual terrorists are most commonly found either in positions of power (where their statements carry the weight of authority) or in the mainstream media, where their words are aided both by the credibility of the media organization spreading them and also by the sheer repetition of millions of minds hearing those words.

Intellectual terrorists also tend to make free use of logical fallacies and rhetorical deception techniques wherever they think they can get away with it; this, to some extent, trains people to think in non-rational ways, damaging society's intellectual and skeptical capacity in general.

Saboteur Organizations and Movements

  • The Discovery Institute and many other creationist organizations seek to undermine the credibility of science by spreading erroneous facts about certain areas of scientific discovery as well as misinformation about how science works; the damage is long-lasting because it to some degree discredits all science in the eyes of many people – as well as invalidating to some extent, in the eyes of many other people (those who are firmly pro-science and not swayed by creationist arguments), the idea of questioning orthodoxy.
    • An example of the latter: 9/11 "Truthers" are often lumped together with creationists, moon-landing hoaxers, "anti-vaxers", and others not taken seriously in the scientific/rationalist community, thus discrediting them within the community where they would ordinarily be able to make the strongest case.
  • "Anti-vaxers", for their own part, successfully poison the well of questioning the validity of current vaccination practices by popularizing scientifically bogus and religion-based reasons for such questioning, leading most people in the scientific community to believe that all such questioning is similarly bogus.
  • The "teabaggers" undermine civil discourse in the most direct way possible without resorting to violence: by attending town hall meetings and shouting down any rational discussion, preventing it from taking place; this undermines the idea of the town hall meetings specifically as well as the more general idea that a large group of citizens can have a productive civil meeting with their government representatives.