Quietism and the Bubble
By Bryan Caplan
If I prefer to live in a Bubble, why do I spend so much my time publicly promoting my own ideas? A true Bubble Boy, you’d think, would give up on the world; to say, with The Misanthrope‘s Philinte:
And there’s no greater folly, if you ask me, Than trying to reform society.
My answer is that I enjoy sharing my ideas. Not with everyone; if someone finds me boring or demonic, I leave them be. But a world with seven billion people is packed with interesting, curious people. I like talking with them, even when the communication is one-way. In a more repressive society, admittedly, I’d have to watch my back. That’s probably why the great Epicurus advised his followers to “Live unknown.” But as matters stand, I’m comfortable speaking my mind. Indeed, strange though it seems, I’ve managed to make a career out of sharing my ideas. There’s enough demand for what I’m selling to pay my Bubble’s rent.
Don’t I also want to radically change the world, not merely “enjoy myself”? Sure. But I don’t want to change the world in the same way that I want to breathe air. I can’t survive without air. But I can survive and even thrive if the world ignores my ideas. Influence in the world beyond my Bubble does not measure the value of my life’s work. Popularity is a poor test of truth, and I know it. I am content to do some good while doing well.
In any case, I am often shooting for a goal in between intellectual self-expression and policy influence: Building my counter-culture. Changing a few thousand minds wouldn’t noticeably change policy. But it would noticeably increase the number of people who see the world my way. The subtext of much of my work is recruitment and retention: Convincing people to mentally relocate to my extended Bubble, and providing a steady stream of reasons to call this Bubble “home.” If “immigrants” bring interesting new ideas or interesting new people with them, so much the better.
The Serenity Prayer asks for “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” There’s no better advice for a Bubble Boy. I almost certainly can’t decisively change the minds of millions. But I can slightly nudge the world in a better direction, enrich the lives of thousands, and enjoy myself while I do it. It’s not ideal, but I still count myself an extremely lucky man.