The "Conservative" Moral Sentiments: Do We Need Them?

Via this week’s Science Saturday on Bloggingheads TV, I find Jonathan Haidt’s TED Talk (embedded below) on the difference between liberals and conservatives, and the synergy between the conservative and liberal dimensions of the moral sense. As Jon notes, many liberals wonder why the in-group, authority, and purity dimensions of the moral sense count as moral at all. Why doesn’t harm/care and fairness/reciprocity just exhaust the moral field? With characteristic ecumenism, Jon cautions us against underestimating the function of the conservative sentiments in a successful society. “The great conservative insight,” Jon says, “is that order is really hard to achieve, it’s really precious, and really ready to lose.” The conservative and liberal dimensions of the moral sense create a balanced unity, like Yin and Yang. Our conservative impulses secure stability and order in the face of liberal change. 

Frankly, I find this extremely unconvincing, and I daresay even pernicious. The lesson, it seems to me, is that it is dangerous to become too thoroughly liberal, for that way chaos lies. What Jon needs to show is that there is a threshold on the conservative channels of the moral equalizer below which social stability is threatened. In the talk, he barely gestures toward evidence to this effect. (He does metion the results of an experimental game demonstrating how the willingness to punish can help solve collective action problems, and he seems to characterize the disposition to punish as “conservative,” but what in the experiment points to more than a well-honed sense of reciprocity?)  Indeed, my sense is that the societies in which the space between high liberal settings and low conservative settings is the greatest–that is, the most imbalanced–are by and large the best places for human beings to live. 

My own view is that there is a distinctive form of liberal order achieved by extended market societies. As Hayek noted, the decisive shift in human history was the shift (in some places) between personal to impersonal exchange. And part of this is a shift from personal to impersonal mechanisms for achieving order. If the conservative dimensions are so important, Jon needs to explain why the people of the advanced market democracies are so much more liberal than they used to be, so much less conservative, and yet so much less disordered (i.e., less violence, less war, etc.) 

I think the answer is that in Hayek’s “extended order,” the conservative sentiments play a relatively small and decreasing role. A more thoroughly liberal moral culture evidently not only sustains order, but sustains an order that leaves us healthier, happier, and orders of magnitude wealthier. If cranked-up conservative sentiments were necessary to sustain that order, then their decline would indeed endanger us, and could not constitute moral progress. But insofar as they have become superfluous, the failure to further suppress them is a failure of further moral progress. This is not a story of liberal/conservative Yin and Yang. This is a story of Yin devouring Yang. 

I admire Jon’s anthropologist’s impulse to take the variety of moral cultures seriously, and to take our own society’s mostly intra-liberal moral pluralism seriously. But I think he’s making a mistake if he think his work points toward the importance of the conservative sentiments. It’s pointing me toward a clearer grasp of the ecological conditions under which those sentiments are functional and adaptive. And we aren’t in them. When we recognize that, in the advanced world, those conditions have largely vanished–when we recognize that is partly what makes it the advanced world “advanced”–the question cannot be “Why do we need to respect tribalism, subordination, and moralized disgust?” The question is what to do with impulses that now hurt more than help, but are written into us anyway.      

Stupid Season

I must say I agree wholeheartedly with David Friedman:

One interesting–and irritating–feature of online argument, especially in an election year, is the routine assumption that everyone is on one side or the other and that which side you are on determines what you say. If you say something favorable about Governor Palin you must be a Republican supporter and are therefor obligated to respond to any argument offered against Senator McCain. If you say something favorable about Obama you must be a supporter of the Democrats and obliged to defend Obama against any and all arguments.

[…]

Part of the explanation of the pattern is, I think, the natural human tendency, probably hardwired, to view the world in terms of in group and out group, us and them….

There may be a second element. Most people are not very interested in political, economic, historical matters. But most people do enjoy cheering for their team. So political arguments, especially online during an election year, are populated by a lot of people who are arguing not because they are interested in the ideas but because it is a way of fighting for their side. It is natural enough for them to assume that everyone else is doing the same thing.

And that’s how an empirical conjecture about the partisan political forces behind certain norms of political participation gets construed as an argument in favor of the poll tax. Oh well. I look forward to temporary partial relief from Partisan Derangement Syndrome on November 5th.

David Brooks' Jihad Against Individualism

On behalf of America, I am staging an intervention. Country first!

David Brooks is evidently infatuated with the idea that individualism is just downright unscientific. It is more than a bit queer that Brooks uses this alleged Fact of Science to argue that American conservatives ought to purge all remaining vestiges of individualism from its thought since, you know, American conservative ideology is engineered entirely along scientific lines. On one understanding of the words, the opposite of “individualism” is “socialism”. So I think it’s safe to say that David Brooks is on a quest to make the Republican Party safe for scientific socialism. And that’s just the sort of surprise that makes David Brooks such a consistently interesting thinker.

Nevertheless, I cannot say I understand what he is talking about. Brooks appears to believe that the discovery that human beings are hypersocial mammals is some kind of earthshattering gamechanger, but it’s hard to grasp why he thinks this. Brooks’ account of the science is fine, but the remainder of the column is a lavish non-sequitur, a richly embroidered but intellectually vulgar instance of the naturalistic fallacy. Indeed, the fact that he tries to get where he does with the science he cites is evidence that he doesn’t understand it so well. Now, Brooks is entirely correct when he writes that

…we are intensely social creatures, deeply interconnected with one another and the idea of the lone individual rationally and willfully steering his own life course is often an illusion.

And it is also true that we are intensely social creatures, deeply connected to one another, and the idea of the lone individual rationally and willfully steering his own life course is often not an illusion. It is least often an illusion when one inhabits a moral culture in which psychological individuation, autonomy, and independence are cultivated and prized. If we have managed to wring a relatively individualistic culture out of the raw materials of our tribal natures, that is a triumph of deanimalizing civilization. Individualism is indeed unnatural — much like other noted mockeries of the natural order, such as equality under the law, vaccination, and the wheel. Brooks might stop to note that improvements on nature are both possible and desirable. The existence of mirror neurons no more debunks individualism than the existence of retinas debunks telescopes.

Americans individualism is a manifestation of human sociality. In our culture, individualist norms are routinely transmitted from one generation to the next through the unique hypersocial-mammalian capacity for cultural transmission. Brooks apparently wants to interfere with further transmission of individualistic norms because they produce a politics he finds insufficiently authoritarian and illiberal. Which is, of course, precisely why we need to double down on a moral culture of individualism.

Do individualistic cultures cut across the grain of human nature? Sure  — in a good way! It is a well-confirmed finding of happiness research that individualistic cultures are happier than collectivistic ones. Indeed, this discovery grounds a number of hypotheses about why average wealth correlates with average levels of self-reported life satisfaction. For example, here is Aaron Ahuvia in the Journal of Happiness Studies:

Rather [than increasing happiness directly through increased consumption], economic development increases SWB [subjective well-being] by creating a cultural environment where individuals make choices to maximize their happiness rather than meet social obligations (Coleman, 1990; Galbraith, 1992; Triandis, 1989; Triandis et al., 1990; Veenhoven, 1999; Watkins and Liu, 1996). This cultural transformation away from obligation and toward the pursuit of happiness is part of a broader transition away from collectivism and toward individualist cultural values and forms of social organization.

Got that? Wealth, which produces all sorts of hugely desirable human goods, also weakens orientation toward pre-assigned roles and their obligations and strengthens the orientation toward individual fulfillment, resulting in more fulfillment. Collectivist moral cultures do serve an important function in the typical human condition. But we are lucky when that function has become unnecessary  —  when collectivist values become a vestigial organ of the body politic. Ahuvia puts it nicely:

Collectivism revolves around face, honor, and public reputation. Collectivism is associated with poor countries because it is a cultural survival mechanism born of the necessity for group solidarity. Indeed collectivism is a survival mechanism that is positively correlated with well-being if one looks only at a sub-sample of poor countries (Veenhoven, 1999). Survival mechanisms are serious business. It is not surprising, then, that collectivist societies often rely on social coercion via threats and rewards to one’s public reputation to ensure compliance with group norms, since the stakes for the group are so high.

Does Brooks really want to fight so hard for a morality of poverty? It is true that in straitened circumstances we are forced to close ranks and get with the program, but this is and ought to be repulsive to a free people.

Brooks mentions Edmund Burke and Adam Smith as “conservatives” (WTF?) who really understood social embeddeness. They sure did! So they’re not individualists? Well, in Friedrich Hayek’s brilliant essay, “Individualism: True and False,” he says this:

The true individualism which I shall try to defend began its modern development with John Locke, and particularly with Bernard Mandeville and David Hume, and achieved full stature for the first time in the work of Josiah Tucker, Adam Ferguson, and Adam Smith and in that of their great contemporary, Edmund Burke…

The difference between Brooks and Hayek on this score is that Hayek understands Western political thought, and, more generally, he grasps that sociality is an enabling condition, not the antithesis, of the ethos of individualism that created modern liberty and the wealth of the Western world.

America is reputed to be the world’s most individualistic culture, and has been for a long time. Our individualism is the foundation of the mind-blowing innovation and variety of the American scene. Our individualism is a main source of our world-historical prosperity and high levels of happiness. Yet Brooks, unembarrassed or unaware, wheels out a fallacious appeal to nature specifically to discredit this — the most distinctive and valuable feature of American culture.

It clearly tickles Brooks’ collectivist fancy “when John McCain talks at a forum about national service.” But that is precisely when McCain exposes his martial animosity to the character of his own country. Brooks may wish to join McCain in an effort to efface the separateness of lives, to degrade the dignity of self-creation and self-command by denying its possibility, to cultivate in Americans the docility of subjects ready to kill and die for the state. In Prussia this may have been a “conservative” project. But this is America. And defending American individualism is my one conservative impulse!

So, David Brooks, here’s a line. Paine, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Garrison, Spooner, Tucker, Twain, Mencken, Hayek, Friedman, Rand, and America are over here on this side. And there’s you over there. You are most welcome to step across and attempt to wrest the individualism from our cold dead fingers. Bring McCain! In fairness, I should say that Emerson is a vicious Indian leg wrestler.

Sex, Culture, and Sarah Palin

Democratic politics, in the end, is not about rational deliberation. It is about coalitional signaling. It is about expressive solidarity. It is about identity and emotion. That’s why I have a deep mistrust of democratic politics. But I think I’m as attuned to the subrational frequencies of electoral politics as anyone; I just don’t take my gut reactions to provide reasons for endorsement or action. Indeed, I tend to think both rationality and morality require that we often disapprove of, discount, and override our gut reactions. That said, my gut found Sarah Palin enormously appealing.

First, let me just get it out of the way: I think she is a tremendously sexy woman. How this will effect the race, I have no idea, but it’s just got to. It’s not an issue of glamour so much as a kind of Paglian chthonic sexual power. Set in that context, her unabashed embrace of her fecundity and motherhood as a kind of qualification makes a lot of sense. Megan O’Rourke’s post on Palin’s political eros has it right, and I think she may even be on to something when she says we got a “glimpse of a novel problem for a presidential candidate: sexual tension with his VP.”

Palin exudes sexual confidence and maternal authority, which in a relatively conservative culture like ours is the most recognizable and viscerally comprehensible form of female power. It makes a lot of men uncomfortable, but that’s because it’s the kind of female power they are most often subject to, and most often fail to successfully resist. I spent much of my life taking orders from women a lot like Sarah Palin — women like my mother and my Iowa public school teachers. Indeed, it makes a lot more emotional sense for me to feel led by by a woman like that than by some hotshot Air Force pilot. When a guy with a buzzcut says “jump,” I say “screw you.” When a woman like Sarah Palin says “jump,” I am inclined to deferentially inquire into the requirements of this jump.

Palin’s speech, I think, set in stark relief what Hillary was/is lacking. Again, I think O’Rourke gets it right when she says,

Ironically, [Palin] may have an easier time bringing what CNN called “toughness and femininity” together precisely because she never assumed at the outset of her adult life that she’d end up in a role like this.

I have very mixed feelings about this. I do not think politics is noble, and I deplore career politicians like Barack Obama, John McCain, Joe Biden, and, yes, Hillary Clinton. I would in fact rather be ruled by competent small-town mayors than accomplished professional rent-seekers. (Palin, being very smart, made great strides in this regard during her short time as Governor, because opportunistic predation is what politics is.) But I feel that Hillary’s struggle to connect as a strong leadership-worthy woman was part of an attempt to forge a sense of feminine authority not founded an maternality and female sexual power. That she almost succeeded in this is astounding, and I think hugely to her credit.

But we all know that politics is a primate sport. We’re used to marveling over the fact that the taller man usually wins, that a commanding, alpha-male jock toughness is de rigeur for successful presidential candidates. Palin’s gut appeal drives home the perhaps inevitable but nevertheless regrettable fact that female political success is at some level going to be grounded in primate appeal, too. And, as a female primate, Palin is evidently “a force to be reckoned with” — as the pundits kept saying.

But I don’t want to push too hard on the biopsychology of this. Biology is heavily strained through through the filter of contingent culture and identity. That Palin reminded my of my school teachers is a matter of her acquired manner and the assumptions beneath them, a matter of her Upper-Midwest-sounding accent. I’m from a small town. She’s from a small town! And damn straight: people who study at the University of Idaho (which is, in fact, where my sister is currently studying law) are every bit as smart as all you snide elitist Ivy League cosmoplitans!

The overwhelmed Republican delegates interviewed after the speech were at a total loss when asked to pin down specifically what they had liked about Palin’s address. What they liked is that they saw a feminine yet powerful conservative Christian mother — someone they understand, someone they would like to have as a friend, someone they are or would like to be. What they liked was the thrill of such direct cultural identification, of being on that stage and commanding attention and respect. I do not doubt that conservative Christian moms all over the country were brought to tears by the power of this. There are a lot of conservative Christian moms.

Palin made my gut want John McCain to win and then suffer a fatal heart attack. But I am a studied skeptic of my gut, and no wordly force could deliver my vote to him. However, every stars-and-bars stripes backdrop, every picture of the bloodied-but-not-bowed McCain in hospital, every Shephard Fairey icon of Obama, tells me that this skepticism is not broadly shared.

[Photo by Ryan McFarland]

McCloskey on Happiness and Flourishing

Speaking of McCloskey, I’m enjoying her response to critics [doc] of Bourgeois Virtues. I’m symapthetic to her position on happiness in this passage:

[Graafland and I] do more sharply disagree that “the goal of virtues is just this: to become happy.”  The Greek word that started the discussion, eudaimonia, is indeed sometime translated erroneously as “happiness,” which then slides over to the pot-of-pleasure definition favored by modern utilitarians.  A well-fed cat sitting on the window sill in the afternoon sun would report to a happiness-questionnaire scientist that she was happy, being at 9 on a scale of 10 (reserving 10 for sexual intercourse).  But we are not cats—though I would be the last to deny that a cat-like “happiness” from time to time is an element of a full life.  Baskin-Robbins. 

One would have thought that more economists, though, would be familiar with the Experience-Machine example that Robert Nozick devised in 1974 (I discuss it in The Bourgeois Virtues, pp. 124-125).  “Superduper neuropsychologists,” wrote Nozick, “would stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel” any life you want. Then you would die.  “Would you plug in?”  No, of course not.  You are you.  You have an identity (faith) and projects (hope) and loyalties (love).  Being Queen Elizabeth I would be great fun, the fun we get from a novel or a history about her reign, or a TV series starring Helen Mirren.  But in a novel or TV series we do not have to give up being ourselves, and won’t.  Nozick’s argument devastates any version of utilitarianism that does not have a serious theory of identity (faith, hope, love).  The experiment shows, as Nozick put it elsewhere, that “we are not empty containers or buckets to be stuffed with good things.”

The better translation of Plato’s and Aristotle’s eudaimonia is “fulfilled” or “flourishing” or close to literally (though having then anachronistic Judeo-Christian overtones) “blessed,” since the word literally means “having good spirits attending one.”  Doubtless, if she was lucky enough in 1800 to miss smallpox and starvation, Burns’ impoverished Scottish nut-brown maiden, “Her eye so mildly beaming/ Her look so frank and free,” equaled in “happiness” defined in the pot-of-pleasure sense the average person on the streets of Glasgow nowadays.  That is what recent research on so-called happiness claims, quite plausibly.  Nonetheless the modern Glaswegian has gigantically greater scope.  She can do 100 times more of some things, leading a fuller life-fuller in travel, education, ease of life, ease of listening to “The Nut-Brown Maiden” sung in English and Gaelic on the internet.  “Happiness” viewed as self-reported mood is not the point of a fully human life.  Therefore I think it obvious that modern economic growth has greatly improved modern life, and made people better as much as better off.  Some people don’t get it, true, and watch TV for six hours a day and eat Frittos by the bagful.  Therefore let us preach to them.

I don not believe that recent happiness research in fact implies that the nut-brown maiden would have reported a level of happiness no less than contemporary Glaswegians. But the broader point is bang on.

Nozick is right that we’re not utility pots. But I’m skeptical of superstrong notions of personal continuity, too, (“faith” is the right word for identity) and therefore I’m skeptical of certain kinds of strong conceptions of flourishing as living according to virtue — unless simply we define virtues as “those habits of mind and action that facilitate flourishing” — in which case, we need an independent account of flourishing. I’m not skeptical of the idea that neural deselection and myelination creates deeply persistent skills or excellences that one might want to identify with virtuea. But I doubt that (1) there is a pattern of such brain development that counts as virtue everywhere and always, completely independent of local social structure, and that (2) the internalization of local norms — the kind we tend to identify with virtues — generally goes this deep. Once acquired, it is difficult to lose a well-practiced backswing or the hard-won ability to see through to an argument’s implicit logical structure. But given the right shift in social context, many of our virtues can turn on a dime.

I Heart Adam Smith

I’m really glad I got a chance to finally read A Theory of Moral Sentiments closely. It is I think deeply incoherent in a way that highly recommends it, because it is the incoherence of lived moral reality.

To be happy is to be loved and praised. Also, to be happy is stoic indifference to love and praise. The love of high relative standing is based on misery-making self-deception. And this self-deception turns the wheels of industry, which produces wealth, and leaves even those of low relative position in a good absolute position. Which is all you really need to be happy! That is, as long as you are stoically indifferent to love and praise, to relative position. Which, really, none of us are, because, OMG, we really really want other people to think highly of us. And, hey, again, that’s a pretty good thing when you think about it, otherwise none of us would be self-deceived enough to do all the crazy hard work that creates the wealth that leaves us all in a good absolute material position. So, you personally should probably worry about becoming actually praiseworthy, instead of just seeking to receive praise, because you’ll be happier if you deserve it, whether or not you get it. Unless everyone is doing this. In which case we’ll all just be poor, which isn’t good at all.

A different strand… We are naturally sympathetic. Of course, our sympathy is rather limited and weak. But because we are sympathetic, we sympathize with the weakness of others’ sympathy. So, being sympathetic to the limits of others’ sympathy, we mute the expression of our own emotions, so that others will not be made uncomfortable or burdened by their failure to connect fully with what we really feel. And, likewise, we appreciate it when others do this for us.  A sympathetic person doesn’t put other people out. Observing many instances of this pattern of praise for the sympathetic accommodation of weak sympathy (“thank you for not asking me to be that sad for you!”), we produce a general rule. And then we apply it to ourselves and come to disapprove of freely expressing unmuted emotion even when alone — even though we are actually having our emotions and not trying to sympathize with them. Our natural sympathy, wedded to the general weakness of sympathy, generates an individual conscience that demands that we be no more emotional than other people are ready to handle. Therefore, stoic self-command is awesome. “It’s OK! Just let it all out.” Nonsense! Why would you so rudely embarrass yourself with your own emotions?

This is truly great stuff.

On the Willingness of Past Selves to Let You Buy Them a Beer

Steven Berlin Johnson writes:

But sitting here at forty, for whatever reason, I’m imagining it the other way: would 1985 Steven have happily had a beer with the current model? I think he would, and that the pair of us would have hit it off. That’s one measure of success, right? Your continuity with your past selves; their willingness to let you buy them a beer.

Yeah. That’s one measure of success. It’s also one measure of failure. My secret theory is that the point of personal continuity is to solve assurance problems. Stability in personality, values, and aims is to a large degree a function of the nature of our iterated games. If not for those ongoing games, continuity matters very little. (You are then free to be “authentic” in the Sartrean sense.) If you are deeply socially embedded, enmeshed in a web of thick obligations, you can’t just turn on a dime and become a whole new person. Change has to be gradual and semi-imperceptible in order to bring along gently one’s ongoing cooperative partners. You know a relationship is about to end when someone says: “I don’t know who you are any more.” So we remain more or less the same to sustain our relationships, to enable the mutuality of lovers, family, friends, and community.

So whether or not continuity is a sign of success depends on the worth of those relationships. If you find yourself after twenty years as submissive, superstitious, and hidebound as ever, then continuity may be your greatest failure. Who cares if this was an “effective” strategy in your particular ongoing social tit-for-tat. That might not have been a game worth playing. Pathetic continuity is no success.

When I was the age Johnson was in 1985, I didn’t drink beer.

[Via PEG.]

Uncooperative Collectivsm

Gated summaries of gated papers are annoying, but the result is interesting, so I thought I’d pass this along:

Put four Boston students-all strangers-in a game where they must distribute tokens among themselves using rules that reward both selfish and cooperative moves; allow them to punish each other by taking back tokens (albeit at a cost to themselves); and then watch the chips fall. The students not only penalize freeloaders- that is, players who don’t give enough tokens to the group- but also respond to each other’s punishment by giving more to the group in subsequent rounds. So do students in western European countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and Denmark.

But half a world away, in the more collectivist cultures of Istanbul, Turkey; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and Muscat, Oman, the play is a little rougher. Students give less overall to the public weal. And when punished, the freeloaders strike back, exacting revenge from the do-gooders who penalized them in earlier rounds. Closer to home, students in Greece, Russia, and Belarus likewise act less altruistically and more readily ding their cooperative colleagues.

Having watched college students play the token game in 16 cities, the researchers conclude that “culture strongly influences cooperation and punishment,” says Simon Gächter, an economist at the University of Nottingham in England and one of the study’s authors.

[…]

Ironically, a distaste for civic cooperation and the rule of law tends to travel with collectivism, data from the World Values Survey show. Collectivistic societies stress interdependence between people and the pursuit of group goals. But not just any people or group’s goals count, explains Gächter: “In these societies you cooperate with people inside your network, which is organized along family and friendship lines. In our experiments, everyone is an outsider to everyone else. You might not accept punishment from outside your network.”

Conversely, individualistic societies view each person as independent and value the pursuit of individual goals. These mores are more prevalent in wealthier democracies, notes Herbert Gintis, an economist at the Santa Fe Institute, in an accompanying article. “In modern, market-based societies, group boundaries aren’t very important,” explains Gächter. “You have to be able to cooperate with unrelated strangers.” And so rather than being hotbeds of cut-throat competition, capitalist democracies are actually kinder and gentler than more traditional economies—at least for strangers.

Similar results have been rolling in for a while now. So it should be considered scientifically and thus intellectually bogus to characterize individualist cultures and markets societies as encouraging some kind of atomized dog-eat-dog ethic. There is tribalist solidarity, which certainly has its share of mammalian gratification, but leads to vicious conflict between tribes. And then there is liberal, market solidarity, which is based not in exclusion, or a feeling of warmth for our kinsmen, but in a perhaps less “meaningful” yet much more materially significant relations of extended mutual advantage.

[Thanks to Ashley March for the article.]

Procrastination Is Not Laziness

I’m sympathetic to but ultimately must disagree with Seth Stevenson’s take on procrastination, a topic I sadly know a great deal about.

Why did I subject myself to so much stress, instead of starting my work earlier like “normal” people do? Well, you’ve no doubt heard all manner of theories regarding the root cause of procrastination. Fear of failure. Crippling perfectionism. Abnormally low type-2 phloxiplaxitus levels.

I’m here to tell you that it was none of these things. The root cause of my procrastination, in technical terms, is this: I’m lazy. Extremely lazy.

Don’t judge, pal—you’re lazy, too. It’s why you procrastinate. When there’s a difficult, disagreeable, or tedious chore that needs to get done, guess what? You don’t want to do it. So you don’t. Until you have to.

It’s just that simple, my slothful friend.

I’m sure I procrastinate as much as Stevenson, but the thing is, I’m not lazy! I am in fact super-industrious. It’s just that I am always motivated to do something other than the thing that most needs to be done. Stevenson mentions Da Vinci was a flaky, distractable procrastinator. OK.  But lazy? That’s retarded. Doing something else is not laziness; it’s misdirected industriousness.

No discussion of procrastination is complete with John Perry’s now-classic essay “Structured Procrastination.” You can even buy a “I’m not wasting time, I’m a structured procrastinator  t-shirt!”

Econonerd Shindig

Tyler and Alex’s son give their impressions of the party at Robin Hanson’s lovely home yesterday afternoon. It’s a special kind of relief to be able to spend a few hours with a whole house full of people with whom one does not have to be defensive about thinking rationally (i.e. “reductively”, “autistically”, “soullessly”) about tough questions. This is a party where you’re the weird one if you don’t think it’s appropriate to apply cost-benefit analysis to the choice to have kids, or if you don’t think it’s more or less obvious that open immigration is welfare-enhancing, or that robots are awesome. Good times. Here’s some pics.