My Beautiful Bubble
By Bryan Caplan
Unlike many readers of Coming Apart, you don’t have to convince me that I live in a Bubble. I’ve known it for decades. In fact, I think my 3-out-of-20 score on the “How Thick Is Your Bubble?” quiz greatly overstates my integration into American society. I live in a Bubble Within a Bubble.
You might even call it my Imaginary Charter City. I’m not just surrounded by Ph.D.s; I’m surrounded by libertarian economics Ph.D.s. I’m not just unfamiliar with NASCAR; I forget the very existence of professional sports for months at a time. I don’t just watch shows for yuppies; I manage my entertainment to make sure that I never hear a commercial. In my world, Alex Tabarrok is more important than Barack Obama, Robin Hanson is more important than Paul Krugman, and the late Gary Gygax is more important than Jeremy Lin… whoever that might be.
Unlike most American elites, I don’t feel the least bit bad about living in a Bubble. I share none of their egalitarian or nationalist scruples. Indeed, I’ve wanted to live in a Bubble for as long as I can remember. Since childhood, I’ve struggled to psychologically and socially wall myself off from “my” society. At 40, I can fairly say, “Mission accomplished.”
Why put so much distance between myself and the outside world? Because despite my legendary optimism, I find my society unacceptable. It is dreary, insipid, ugly, boring, wrong, and wicked. Trying to reform it is largely futile; as the Smiths tell us, “The world won’t listen.” Instead, I pursue the strategy that actually works: Making my small corner of the world beautiful in my eyes. If you ever meet my children or see my office, you’ll know what I mean.
I’m hardly autarchic. I import almost everything I consume from the outside world. Indeed, I frequently leave the security of my Bubble to walk the earth. But I do so as a tourist. Like a truffle pig, I hunt for the best that “my” society has to offer. I partake. Then I go back to my Bubble and tell myself, “America’s a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
Many people will find my attitude repugnant. They shouldn’t. Yes, I step to the beat of my own drummer. But I’m not trying to push my lifestyle on others. I don’t pester people who identify with America as it is. Indeed, I wish outsiders the best of luck. My only request: If you’re not happy with your world, don’t try to pop my beautiful Bubble. Either fix your world, or get to work and make a beautiful Bubble of your own.