Opening Minds, Closing Minds
By Arnold Kling
The following thought occurred to me recently. Suppose we look at writing on issues where people tend to hold strong opinions that fit with their ideology. Such writing can
(a) attempt to open the minds of people on the opposite side as the author
(b) attempt to open minds of people on the same side as the author
(c) attempt to close minds of people on the same side as the author
So, think about it. Wouldn’t you classify most op-eds and blog posts as (c)? Isn’t that sort of pathetic? Here are some more thoughts:
1. The default is (c). If you are not consciously trying to do (a) or (b), then you will almost surely do (c).
2. Most of us, most of the time, do (c).
3. Doing (c) 100 % of the time can earn you fame and fortune. Yes, you get criticized for it by people on the other side, but the positive reinforcement you get probably more than makes up for it.
4. Try to think of folks who try to have a high proportion of (a) and (b). The first ones that I think of are David Brooks and Tyler Cowen. I wish I could think of more.
My biggest problem with David Brooks is the way he treats the class of people he famously dubbed Bobos. I think he cuts them too much slack, over-estimates their strengths, and under-estimates their flaws. My sense is that this class prejudice accounts for a fair number of the issues on which Brooks takes what I think is a wrong position.
Tyler is good at paying attention to the strongest arguments of those with whom he disagrees. Focusing on weaker arguments instead is a classic (c) move. I only get annoyed when he gets to be so cagey with his own point of view that people can take him for holding an opinion that in fact he definitely rejects.