Not everyone sees the world in the same way.  This is one reason why market economies work better than centrally planned economies.  If everyone preferred black mid-sized sedans, you could have one government-owned auto manufacturer churn out millions of copies of a standardized car, and achieve significant economies of scale.  But not everyone has the same taste.

None of this is particularly controversial.  But the rest of this post will be a bit more controversial.  I claim that most people underestimate the extent to which other people see the world differently from the way that they see the world.

I’ve met many people who like modern art, and many people who dislike modern art.  In the later group, I often find a disbelief that anyone truly likes abstract art.  I often hear people suggest that modern art lovers are faking their interest, in order to seem hip.  What’s going on here?  Before answering this question, let’s consider another example.

During the course of my life, there’s been a significant increase in political polarization.  People no longer simply disagree with people holding differing views, they increasing regard the other side as bad people.  More and more often, people will refuse to even date someone holding different political views, something that rarely occurred when I was young.  What’s going on here?  It’s not nice to suggest that those with different artistic tastes are fakers, nor is it nice to suggest that those with different political views are evil.

I don’t believe that increased political polarization is due to the issues becoming more important.  Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the world faced many very important issues, such as high inflation, the nuclear arms race and the Vietnam War.  Instead, I believe the increased polarization is due to the (mistaken) impression that others are seeing what you see.

The people that cannot accept that other people like modern art suffer from a failure of imagination, an inability to grasp that other people process visual information differently than they do.  People that view voters for the opposing party as evil often fail to grasp that not everyone sees political issues the way that they do.

Differences of opinion on economic regulation or corporate taxes don’t tend to cause political polarization.  Voters understand that the issues are complex and that other people might have a different perspective.   Polarization is most likely to occur when the issues seem more personal (trans rights, abortion, affirmative action, etc.)  Polarization also increases when political styles become more diverse.  People often gravitate toward the style they prefer, and wonder how anyone could possibly be attracted to the opposing candidate.  Over the course of my life, I’ve seen increasing divergence in political styles.

At the same time, religious polarization has mostly been declining over time, except where a religion adopts an overt political stance.

Hypochondria is another example.  Many doctors will assume that patients are faking an illness if the doctor is unable to diagnose the problem.  A few decades ago, a colleague of mine (in his 40s) went to (highly rated) Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston complaining of chest pains.  The hospital did a few tests and sent him home, perhaps viewing him as a hypochondriac.  A few hours later he died of a massive heart attack.

Don’t assume that you know what’s going on in the minds of other people.  You do not.  You don’t believe that your neighbor needs a painkiller?  How would you know?  We need free markets precisely because we do not know what other people see and feel and taste.