Keeping up with the Fits, 1/14
Noah Smith reads books on China and talks with Tyler Cowen; Glenn Loury, Ed West, and Robert Wright worry about tribalism; Freddie deBoer reviews Julia Galef
Noah Smith surveys several books on China. About one of them, he writes,
Then there’s the cast of colorful and peculiar (and often deeply corrupt) supporting characters, some of whom might strain the suspension of disbelief if they appeared in the pages of a fiction novel — prostitutes, politicians, gangsters, farmers, and frauds. My personal favorite is the self-help author who makes it all up, lifting bare-bones insights from American bestsellers and slapping on a layer of cartoonish cynicism. This is capitalism in its raw, primal form; you can’t escape the eerie feeling that you’re peering into America’s own distant past, to the Cleveland or the Chicago of a hundred years ago. I kept thinking of my grandmother, who worked in a sweatshop in St. Louis making shirts as a teenager in the 1930s, and wondered how much she had in common with Chang’s factory girls.
I recommend his entire post.
Smith interviews Tyler Cowen, who says,
I think today the variance of weirdness is increasing. Conformists can conform like never before, due say to social media and the Girardian desire to mimic others. But unusual people can connect with other unusual people, and make each other much weirder and more "niche."
…The complacent are ever more complacent. The entrepreneurial and independent-minded are all the more so. …A major impact of the internet seems to be to increase variance. …The good get better, the bad get worse.
A world like that may be exciting, but it is always going to make us feel nervous and unsettled, and for good reason.
Of course, he wrote an entire book titled Average is Over.
Glenn Loury and John McWhorter wonder why there are few prominent heterodox black women relative to the number of prominent heterodox black men. They wonder whether it is because heterodox black women have difficulty getting attention.
They never consider what comes to my mind, which is to relate heterodoxy to gender.
Empirically, men and women to tend to differ on the trait that personality psychology calls agreeableness. More women show up as high in agreeableness than men.
[As an aside, I once wrote Nassim Taleb and the Disagreeables.
Nassim Taleb’s latest book heaps praise on the trait that personality psychologists call low agreeableness. . . I am pretty far out on the disagreeable end of the spectrum myself, but Taleb makes me look like a goody two-shoes.
Taleb came across the essay and tweeted this response:
There is this BS in this "disagreebleness" scale used by psychologists, unconditional of domain. Like most psych categorizations, BS. Many are socially gentle but intellectually rigorous & no-nonsense: others nasty in person but appear gentle in public . BS!
I rest my case.]
I think that heterodoxy and disagreeableness are related, and that would be my explanation for there being fewer prominent heterodox women of any race. I look at economics, and I think heterodoxy is much more common among men than women.
I think that the increase in women in higher education is an under-appreciated causal factor in the change in culture from one of independent thinking to one of conformity.
Loury and McWhorter also discuss January 6. They downplay the event per se but worry about the tribalism it reflects.
Infovores turned me on to Ed West. West writes,
Loser’s consent is a vital component of democracy
That concisely and eloquently expresses my view.
West says that one cause of civil wars is demographic instability. When one ethnic group sees itself losing out to another ethnic group, the country can turn violent. At the grass-roots level, the cure for this in the U.S. would be for non-whites to vote on policy preferences rather than ethnic solidarity. Many observers see this happening. But I think that the Democratic Party will want to try to arrest this development and instead encourage ethnic identity politics. If they succeed, this could be very destabilizing.
On tamping down the potential for civil war, Robert Wright points out
people in the blue tribe (like me!) who recommend turning down the volume shouldn’t be accused of counseling surrender to irrationality. Our view, right or wrong, is that high-decibel blue-tribe self-righteousness can increase red-tribe irrationality (and vice versa, but since my advice is even less likely to be heeded in red circles than in blue ones, I don’t dwell on that).
Speaking for the red side of the divide, I would say that turning down the contempt is what is important. Couples who express contempt for one another are ready for divorce. It is hard for social justice activists not to feel contempt for MAGA, and it is hard for those of us on the right not to feel contempt for social justice activists.
Freddie reviews Julia. Self-recommending, as Tyler would say.
Whether the distancing from the rationalist movement is intended or not, The Scout Mindset seems like a great delivery vehicle for those ideas, presenting the best elements of the tradition without any of the smarter-than-thou baggage.
But he goes on to complain
The Scout Mindset's tone is that of a patient sixth-grade geography teacher, trying to guide her young charges calmly and gently and landing on an attitude that's perhaps 5% too chipper and 10% too condescending.
I would say that I find Freddie’s tone on his blog to be perhaps 5% too combative and 10% too profane. But that is who he is. And that he can even tolerate Julia, who is so different in tone, is a credit to him.
"Loser's consent is a vital component of democracy". True of succession. But civil disobedience may be crucial to counter tyranny of the majority in policy-making, as well as tyranny of experts.
Individual liberties are vital components of constitutional democracy. A wise polity greatly restricts the scope of majority rule and of rule by experts, and second-guesses majorities and experts in rule-making, always by checks and balances, and occasionally by civil disobedience.
Beware paternalistic or authoritarian tyranny of the majority and rule by experts: The minority gets the government that the majority and/or experts think the minority deserves.
Political decentralization is a vital component of constitutional democracy. It enables local policy experimentation. A minority can exit a local tyranny of majority or expert rule by migrating to a more favorable jurisdiction.
What are the optimal scale and optimal scope of majority rule and of rule by experts? These are contested issues that depend partly on changes in technology and social density, complexity, diversity. A presumption of liberty should carry great weight in the debate.
Despite being incredibly heterodox himself, Taleb enforces one of the tightest and most arbitrarily enforced orthodoxies I've ever seen around his own set of views. If you deviate from his perspective one iota on certain topics (GMOs, IQ, Covid) he becomes absolutely unglued.