You Don't Understand Our Culture
By Bryan Caplan
My colleague and dear friend Robin Hanson has once again made the world of social media very angry. His response is to urge people to focus on his actual statements, not speculate about his “true motives.”
Let us instead revert back to the traditional intellectual standard: respond most to what people say, and don’t stretch too hard to infer what you think they mean in scattered hints of what they’ve said and done.
This is fine as far as it goes, but I sense a deeper problem. Critics often scold GMU econ bloggers for violating shared cultural norms. At the meta level, my response is: The critics presume we’re part of their culture. Frankly, we’re not. We have our own folkways, our own norms. These critics just don’t understand our culture.
What are the key differences between GMU econ blogger culture and mainstream intellectual culture? For starters:
- We value intellectual progress over emotional comfort. As long as speakers are polite, we blame listeners who get upset, not speakers who upset them.
- We are genuinely non-partisan. The Democratic and Republican parties both seem like absurd churches to us. Even if one is markedly worse, we’ll never join either because both are “often wrong and never in doubt.”
- The daily scandals that excite mainstream culture seem insipid and arbitrary to us. What matters are statistics, not emotions – and arguments, not stories.
- One bet is worth a thousand pages of punditry. At least.
- Giving in to Social Desirability Bias is a grave sin.
- Corollary: Don’t dodge questions.
- Hyperbole is the worst thing in the universe. Most problems and effects are marginal. If you’re really certain that X, you should happily bet at 1000:1 odds.
- Appealing to your identity is a reason to discount what you say, not a reason to pay extra attention.
- An argument doesn’t have to “prove” anything to be worthwhile; it only needs to change your probabilities.
- We’ll strategically appease mainstream thinkers, but that doesn’t mean they’re right.
How broad and deep is GMU blogger culture, really? It’s a continuum. Tyler Cowen might even claim to disagree with everything I just said… but he still exemplifies most of it. The important thing to know is that our distinct culture is thriving in your midst. We aren’t numerous, but we are a proud people. So please show some cultural sensitivity…