Richard Epstein on Happiness, III
By David Henderson
40:40. Epstein talks about insights from sociobiology, now called evolutionary psychology. He points out their finding (obvious when you think about it but, nevertheless, powerful) that narrow self-interest cannot account for why people and most animals are so fiercely protective of their young.
44:00. New parents are stunned by the power of biological impulses. Good line: “Mother Nature snuck up on them.”
This made me think of two incidents shortly after we had our daughter, Karen. First, I used to be anal about watching a whole TV show and not missing even one laugh and especially not missing the denouement. But after about the third clean-up of my daughter’s formula throw-up in the middle of one of my favorite comedy shows, finding out what happened seemed almost completely unimportant.
Second, one night I came to bed late and tripped on the corner of the bed. “S**t,” I yelled out involuntarily. My wife was sound asleep and didn’t even stir. A few seconds after I lad lain down, I heard Karen wimper softly in her room. My wife woke up instantly and went to see what was wrong.
45:00. “Walking away when a child is sick is a losing strategy.”
46:00. Epstein points out that the happiness literature assumes hedonism. He probably overgeneralized but much of it does.
51:00. Epstein notes that sentiments increase cooperative behavior.
52:00. Great line: “Most people, when they meet somebody else, will give them a chance. The first interaction is usually not a fatal form of a prisoner’s dilemma.”
53:00. The real risk of the thug is when the thug has the power of the state. His statement reminded me of something I wrote in Chapter 7 of my book, The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey:
Government use of force against ethnic groups is far more effective than private use of force against these same groups. I remember that when I first heard about Hitler at about age eight, and asked my mother who he was, I was told that 15 years earlier he had used tanks and other weapons to try to take over the world. I pictured a nut with some tanks he had bought coming down our highway and invading our small town in rural Canada. I didn’t understand at the time why Hitler was such a threat; I had been raised to believe that the police would protect us. Imagine the shock and sudden surge of overwhelming fear I had when, years later, I learned that Hitler employed the police and, indeed, ran a whole government. That was scary. Even as a child I knew that the government, any government, had more power than anyone who was not in the government, and that when the government passed and enforced a law, you couldn’t legally fight back. That’s when the true terror of Hitler dawned on me.
53:45. After Epstein has pointed out the danger of putting immense power in the hands of government officials who used it for evil ends–he lists the usual suspects: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc.–Russ Roberts has a great understated line, “The Middle Ages weren’t so good either.”