Bryan Caplan  

The Rojas Effect

PRINT
Another One of My Health Care ... Where I'll Be... If I Really E...

For Halloween, here's the true, spooky story of how I met Fabio Rojas: In the Fall of 1989, young Rojas, a freshman at UC Berkeley, was assigned the roommate from hell. (No, not me!) The roommate was emotionally abusive and physically threatening. When Fab called in the dorm's "roommate counselor" to work things out, his roommate had a simple position: "Fab, I've hated you since the first time I met you."

So Fab applied for a change of venue, and Berkeley heeded his cry for help. The result: In Spring of 1990, he got a room one floor below me, making him a captive audience for my tireless Rothbardian diatribes. The effect, strangely enough, was to transform Fab into my best friend from my undergraduate experience.

I'm always amazed when I think about stories like this, where one odd event engenders a whole series of unexpected changes. If Fab had gotten a decent roommate his first time around, we never would have met, and my life would have been quite different. The best man at my wedding would have been someone else. And who knows, without Fab, maybe I never would have even gone to GenCon!

Of course, when you really think about it, events like this are just the tip of the iceberg. If you're a parent, consider: The slightest change in your behavior would have changed the identity of the sperm that fertilized the egg that became your child. Whenever my wife observes that we would have finished our attic if we'd known we were having twins, I counter: "But if we had finished our attic, we probably wouldn't have had twins!"

Question for Discussion: What's the smallest and/or strangest event that radically changed your life?


Comments and Sharing





COMMENTS (12 to date)
Troy Camplin writes:

Every event radically changed my life, as my life wouldn't have been what it is if every little thing that ever happened in my life hadn't happened exactly the way it happened. Thus, I regret nothing in my life, since all things, both good and bad, led me to where I am, married to whom I'm married to, with the baby I have.

I learned all this from Nietzsche. I talk about this very thing on my blog.

abe writes:

Bryan, I have always thought about things like this. Chance seems to determine so much of our existence. Most likely, if you hadn't met your pal in that situation, you would have met someone else. Even if you didn't, you wouldn't be aware of having missed out on making a best friend, so no loss. Just think about this: Imagine all the other people you DIDN'T meet back then who could've possibly been friends as good as Fab.

Fabio Rojas writes:

Dude, I'm touched!

Bryan Caplan writes:

Abe wrote:

Most likely, if you hadn't met your pal in that situation, you would have met someone else. Even if you didn't, you wouldn't be aware of having missed out on making a best friend, so no loss. Just think about this: Imagine all the other people you DIDN'T meet back then who could've possibly been friends as good as Fab.
It's possible that you're right, but it's worth pointing out that I don't meet friends comparable to Fab every month, or even every year. At least for me, finding good friends is more like winning the lottery than flipping t.v. channels. Probably because I'm so picky!

meep writes:

Lots of things, but definitely I wouldn't have married my husband Stu and wouldn't be living in my current home if a whole series of events hadn't happened that was a combo of good/bad timing.

I've got to agree with Troy. I think everything I consider important and radically-changing that has happened in my life has been influenced by a bunch of small coincidences. The mundane stuff has been mainly predictible in their trajectories.

C L writes:

If those apes hadn't found the monolith back in the Dawn of Man, I wouldn't be here writing this blog comment...

Penny writes:

I called in sick to my waitressing job (in Dallas) so that I could go to an Iggy Pop concert in Austin, where I met the guy I married. If I hadn't called in sick, I never would have moved to Seattle and had the exact kids I had, etc. etc. So calling in sick that night was the fateful turning point.

Eric Crampton writes:

I wouldn't have gone to grad school in econ if I hadn't attended an IHS seminar in the summer of 1997. I'd not have known to pay attention to the IHS seminar poster at the University of Manitoba had I not been involved with the Reform Party on Campus. I'd not have been involved with them if not for annoyance at the Liberal Party's gun control bill, C-68, which was itself a knee-jerk response to a loonie going off with a rifle in Montreal.

Lots of places at which a slight tweak means I wouldn't have become an economist and wouldn't have met my wife.

Of course, we needn't worry overmuch, as HHGTG tells us that even time travellers couldn't go back and change anything substantial because it all fits together like a jigsaw...all the important changes have happened before the things they were supposed to change and it all sorts itself out in the end....the main remaining problem being, of course, grammar and verb tenses.

randy writes:

brian -- do you actually believe in free will? this line of thinking sure seems to be the best argument against free will. basically, even if we are in possession of it, it doesn't matter.

Troy Camplin writes:

How does this negate free will? My approach (which is really Nietzsche's) is to will the past, to say that if I could will it all to have happened the way it happened, I would. You have the free will to do even that. Or not.

Shakespeare's Fool writes:

Bryan,
Did you not ask an unanswerable question?
Would not the smallest changes be such things as
alterations in DNA and transcription errors?
This could make the difference between getting
or not getting cancer.
Who would know the DNA had been altered or the
transcription error had occurred?
John

ElamBend writes:

In the summer before my junior year of highschool, I was taking the SAT. Because I was from a rural town in the midwest, I had already taken the ACT and the SAT was sort of an after-thought, just in case. While, I was looking to go out of state for school, my plans were nebulous.
On test day I discovered that the testing board would send the scores for free to four schools, not the three that the ACT did. So, I found myself searching for a fourth school to put in. Near the bottom of the list of schools (Yeshiva is dead last) was Yale. Because I thought it would be funny, I put Yale on the list.
My score did not send Yale knocking on my door, but when they came in my mother saw it and decided to send away for a brochure, finding out that you could apply early. She asked if I wanted to to that and without much thought I did.
It was only after my application was sent that Nov. 1 did I realize that "Hey, I really want to go to Yale" I wish it hadn't been the first application I'd ever done. However, two days before Christmas I got in (and didn't finish any other applications). I visited for the first time the next February.
Like I said, I had planned on going to school out of state, but Yale was a treat and I never would have considered applying there if it were not for the extra space needed on that SAT form.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top