Bryan Caplan  

Against Self-Subversion

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Here's Tyler's latest Dadaism:

A good blog should be subversive and help you see the faults in the author's own positions. Ask whether the blogs you are reading in fact provide that service. Self-subversion ought also, in the long run, to benefit liberty and other important values.
My key objection: If an author can show you the faults in his own positions, he should already have changed his positions!

It's very different, of course, to anticipate the most insightful objections to one's view, and try to answer them. That's good thinking. But pointing out your faults while refusing to amend them does not a good blog make.

Fortunately for Tyler, he has a great blog because he isn't self-subversive. Tyler almost never subverts his own views. Call me a megalomaniac if you must, but for the most part, Tyler subverts my views. Case in point: When I asked Tyler to play devil's advocate in favor of my free-will position, he instead defended something even further from my position. The bottom line is that if Tyler were truly self-subversive, he would spend a lot more time admitting that I might be right about areas where we disagree. Don't hold your breath.

Final point: Contrary to Tyler, self-subversion has negative effects on "liberty and other important values." This isn't logically necessary; but psychologically, irony and skepticism lead to blasé support for the status quo, whatever it happens to be.

P.S. Don't miss Tyler's link to a great piece of non-self-subversive writing:

I can think of lots of words to describe what’s going on in, say, China and India, as well as what happened previously to countries that adopted the “neoliberal global order” like Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea. Billions of people are leading dramatically freer, healthier, longer and more prosperous lives than they were a generation ago.

Of course, we all face plenty of problems. I worry about environmental catastrophes, and their political, social and economic aftermath. Many people are suffering, primarily in pockets of kleptocracy and anarchy. Life’s pretty bleak about 5 blocks west of the University of Chicago. In my professional life, I worry about inflation, chaotic markets, and their possible death by regulation. There is a lot for thoughtful economists and social scientists to do. But honestly, do we really yearn to send a billion Chinese back to their “local economies,” trying to eke a meager living out of a quarter acre of rice paddy, under the iron grip of some local bureaucrat? I mean, the Mao caps and Che shirts are cool and all, but millions of people starved to death.

This is just the big lie theory at work. Say something often enough and people will start to believe it. It helps especially if what you say is vague and meaningless. Ok, I’ll try to be polite; a lie is deliberate and this is more like a willful disregard for the facts. Still, if you start with the premise that the last 40 or so years, including the fall of communism, and the opening of China and India are “negative for much of the world’s population,” you just don’t have any business being a social scientist.


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COMMENTS (5 to date)
John Alcorn writes:

It's good to see that you and D. Henderson are (separately) keeping Tyler honest! :-)

Anittah writes:

Does "help you see" necessarily equal "show"?

I'm not so sure.

Kurbla writes:

Hm .. this Cochrane uses the notion of "democracy" in typical totalitarian fashion.

If he doesn't like something then he tries to disqualify it by saying that it is not democracy, but "government." Like government is not the result of the explicitly expressed will of the people.

And if he likes something, then he identifies it with democracy: "Monetization is democratization; it means things are accessible to anyone." Yeah right. By that definition Mussolini's Italy was just as democratic as modern Sweden.

Chuck writes:

I think what he means about a good author showing you the faults in his own position isn't so much "and here's where I'm wrong..." as it is "the underlying assumption here is ... blahblahblah ... so if that's not true, then it puts the whole thing in a different light."

And I agree with that sentiment.

anon/portly writes:

"My key objection: If an author can show you the faults in his own positions, he should already have changed his positions!"

Is this jocular? Obviously his view is that even the best position has faults, or weak points, which the holder of that position should be aware of and not hide from his audience.

"Fortunately for Tyler, he has a great blog because he isn't self-subversive."

Then you give as an example a blog post in which he goes so far over the top to self-subvert the ideas expressed as to use bold type as an aid. You must be having us on....

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