Re: What is to be done?

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Mon, 24 Mar 1997 17:07:11 -0800 (PST)

> Consider these 3 reasons why someone might take an extreme view:
> 1. They like to be extreme so they can shock people and feel special.
> 2. They have to reason through everything for themselves from basics,
> and refuse to rely in any way on the opinions of others. A small
> fraction of these people will inevitably take an extreme view.
> 3. They take the opinions of others seriously as an important source
> of information, and only take an extreme position when they think
> they have a particularly unique source of info on the subject, or
> when they think an especially strong but apparently overlooked
> case can be made from publicly available information.

An interesting taxonomy, and worth thinking about, but I see myself
as all three. I do not discount the value of shock, I have particular
disdain for unjustified authority, and I am thoroughly convinced by
a few overlooked, unpopular, but brilliant arguments.

> So if you want your extreme views to be taken seriously by other
> people, you aught to try to look like a type 3 extremist. And if you
> want to make good decisions over all, you aught to try and be a type
> 3 person. This means making a good effort to find reasons why smart
> thoughtful people might disagree with you.

This is two different contentions, and I see no connection between
them. If the majority of those I am trying to convince are swayed by
their impression of how you fit into that grouping, then it might make
sense for me to give the appropriate impression. But why must I let
their judgements affect me? Why must I personally give in to their
intellectual pathology that judges ideas by their holders rather than
by their actual merits?

I do not wholly discount the value of other opinions: indeed, there
are many whose opinions have earned my considerable respect, which
causes me to think much harder about disagreeing with them. It has
taken me years, for example, to convince myself that my position on
copyrights and patents is the only sound and rational one, because
the fact that Rand and Friedman do not hold that opinion spurred me
to extra effort to try to understand why they were mistaken. But the
value of any opinion--whether the majority, or a authority who got
there by accomplishment, or an authority who got there by fiat--is
to serve as a check-and-balance to one's own reason, not a substitute
for it.

> However, others tend to think of our social systems as fragile and
> interdependent, and so think more global oversight and control is
> needed to prevent contagion from local experiments from threatening
> everything else. It bothers me that I don't have good arguments
> against this view.

Your existence is the argument against that view. Your ancestors
made it through ice ages, famines, wars, and technological changes
no less dramatic in their time than our ideas are in ours. They
survived, and flourished. Their "social systems" may not have, but
good riddance. We found better ones. We will find better still.

> This highlights another core issue: to what degree does social pressure
> function to stabilize our social order? Economists like me, who tend
> to ignore social pressure in our models, tend to think that the effect
> is minor. But others see social pressure which keeps people acting
> "nice" and punishes very "selfish" behavior as central. And so they
> fear the consequences if this pressure is relaxed. It bothers me
> that I don't have better arguments to say why they are mistaken.

I'm not sure they're mistaken either. But the existence of social
pressure, and its possible efficacy or even necessity, begs the
question of what it is pressure toward. One cannot judge raw ability,
one judges how it is used. If the existing social pressure is
toward demonstrably ineffective policies, then one should not ask
how to eliminate the pressure, but how to alter it to be pressure
toward more effective policies. That is, one should concentrate on
results, not motives.

Lee Daniel Crocker <>  <>
"All inventions or works of authorship original to me, herein and past,
are placed irrevocably in the public domain, and may be used or modified
for any purpose, without permission, attribution, or notification."--LDC