Individual incentives matter. The great error of all social engineers is the belief systems can be designed to perform a certain way without consideration of the incentives individuals have. The Left envisions communities where people's lives are not disrupted by punishment (arrested by police or disciplined at school). But communities without discipline result in people choosing to be antisocial because they can benefit and get away with it. The community is spoiled due to the lack of punishment for bad behavior.

Similarly, the Right envisions financial agents will not exploit loopholes for personal gain. But of course people will exploit loopholes! Not everyone, but enough people will cut corners that without the threat of punishment the system of free and competitive commerce will falter.

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“In doing so, we hope to explain one “side” to the other in order to foster more fruitful conversations and solutions.” Casting pearls before the swine. No point talking to people who aren’t listening. Social Justice Warriors don’t do listening or dialogue. We are right - shut up Fascist! Their solution to inequality is to use inequality to level society and keep it level.

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One wonders whether “order” and “justice” should be considered as either processes or as outcomes. One wonders if a more fundamental divide is between those who choose to look at “solving social problems” as ex ante adopting a set of rules to govern behavior and those who choose to look at it as achieving some predetermined outcome. Too,one wonders how robust the descriptions provided of each side really are, as well.

For example, an important and major divide is the response to the society we are growing ever closer to described by Hannah Arendt’s famous quote from On Violence: “In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom one can argue, to whom one can present grievances, on whom the pressures of power can be exerted. Bureaucracy is the form of government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom, of the power to act; for the rule by nobody is not no-rule, and where all are equally powerless, we have a tyranny without a tyrant.” For many who live in fear of democracy and "populism" this is a highly desirable form of government, For others there may appear to be both suboptimal processes and outcomes.

Similarly with the important divide between supranationalists and nationalists. Neither order nor justice are adequate to understanding whether one ought submit to bureaucracies not accountable to any particular population. Cosmopolitans have their thoughts and localists have theirs but neither really fits into order or justice, but is instead more about how one values various trade-offs.

And perhaps the greatest social problem is whether to continue participating in our sinking ship of a society. There are those who continue to bail, those who are looking for lifeboats, and those who have busted open the wine cellar and are busy drinking and looting. Order and justice provide no guide to deciding on the appropriate decision. A line from Mommsen’s History of Rome comes to mind: “But the Roman senate had the wisdom not to overlook the fact, that the only means of giving permanence to despotism is moderation on the part of the despots.” Judging from the absence of moderation at any level of governance in much of the world today, one wonders about the permanence of any of it and what might follow.

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"A lot people see that as a goal of my book. And maybe it was when I first wrote it in 2013. Although I think the goal was more to point out that the simplistic framing along the three axes is intellectually barren and not conducive to constructive debate."

If it came from anyone but the author I could easily dismiss this opinion. Given the source I clearly don't understand something.

"In any case, by the time I wrote the third edition, I was more keenly aware that most people don’t really want constructive debate:"

I hope you are wrong about this. I prefer to assume they just don't know any better. That said, there was at least some negative reaction on the left to Haidt's book. That weakens my position.

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People on the "oppressor-oppressed" axis are not there as the result of any process of rational analysis of society. Seeing all of society as a structure of oppression is crudely simplistic and highly irrational. As Hamlet said, "There are more things in heaven and earth...than are dreamt of in your philosophy. That viewpoint serves rather as a vulgar display of piety.

Arnold's hopes that he might facilitate productive dialogue with such people seem unrealistic.

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Thou thinkest, tool much.....when you critic your criticism. How could we have gotten where we are if we didn't listen to one another's point of view. So just put it out there and it will resonant some where. The seed has been planted.


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A noble, but rare, goal to strive for constructive dialog. We homo sapiens have a great big cerebellum fully capable of rational assessment and thoughtful perspective but cognitive bias almost always seems to overrule that capability. We may, in fact, be “hard-wired” to such a degree that it’s very difficult to change our minds when facing evidence contradicting our priors. I’m not a neuroscientist but like to try and understand how humans behave (part of why I enjoy your series on human interdependence). Huberman refers to studies where dopamine is released in our brains when “our prior beliefs are confirmed.” (https://twitter.com/hubermanlab/status/1431599271770353664?lang=en) If this is so, then the cards are stacked against us for persuading our opponents to change their impervious minds. And, we should look in the mirror on this topic as well.

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May 21·edited May 21

I don't think it is right or productive to put the two viewpoints on an equal footing.

The social justice people make the assumptions that the identities of who is oppressor and who is oppressed are fixed by history at some past date they determine arbitrarily, and can never change; and that all discrimination or even criticism of an "oppressed" person by an "oppressor" is both undeserved and malicious. It is simply not possible to honestly believe either of those propositions.

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Why we disagree ... Resonates. It is interesting how both extremes are drawn to the oppressor/victim interpretation of events, disagreeing only about who is the oppressed and who is the oppressor.

My approach is to try to decentralize debates, focus on narrower problems where distributional issues (oppressor/victim) issues can at least be seen in the context of pareto improvements.

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