Heterodoxy and Apostasy
Why I don't believe in giving special credit for courageous writing
Is the proposed scoring system for public intellectuals fair to those who are particularly courageous in challenging beliefs that are generally popular or popular in their tribe?
I will argue in the affirmative.
Some intellectuals are known for articulating beliefs that are well outside the mainstream. On the left, I could cite Freddy DeBoer or Peter Singer. On the right, I could cite Curtis Yarvin or Steve Sailer. They exemplify what I call heterodoxy.
Some pundits have become known for articulating beliefs that are critical of a tribe with which they have been associated. For example, Glenn Greenwald identifies with the left, but lately he has been very critical of the left, particularly on free speech issues. Max Boot and Jennifer Rubin were known as pundits on the right, but in recent years they have been very critical of conservatives and Republicans. They exemplify what I call apostasy.
So far, the most common complaint that I have received about the scoring system for Fantasy Intellectual Teams (or see Who is in my Tribe?) is that it does not reward the courage of heterodox thinkers and apostates. But I think that this is fair.
I say this as a heterodox thinker and apostate myself. In my book Specialization and Trade, I present extreme heterodox views on monetary theory, as well as heterodox views on market-failure theory. I also articulate a methodological position that is contrary to that of my professors in graduate school, which means that I am an apostate.
I believe that it is wise to be wary of heterodoxy. In economics, the field I know best, the mainstream can be misguided, but most heterodoxies are worse.
I also believe that it is wise to be wary of apostasy. Often, the apostate is suffering from personal resentment at his lack of status within his original tribe, and he deals with this resentment by echoing the talking points of an opposing tribe.
I think that the right way to address heterodoxy and apostasy in rating intellectuals is to apply the same standards to those thinkers as to any other thinker. There should be no special bonus for the courage involved in positioning oneself as heterodox or as an apostate. To the extent that such thinkers provide valuable contributions, they can advance their status by scoring well in the primary categories.
For example, Robin Hanson years ago took a heterodox position concerning health care. He later extended his thinking to other fields when he co-authored The Elephant in the Brain. I believe that there is plenty of room within the scoring system, notably the categories of kicking off discussion, steelmanning opposing view points, and evaluate research, to reward the sorts of contributions Hanson makes.
When we admire heterodoxy and apostasy, it is often because we dislike the mainstream elite or the erstwhile tribe of the apostate. Such sentiments are not reliable criteria for evaluating punditry.