Bryan Caplan  

Questions Worth Answering

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You're unlikely to see more thought-provoking questions than the set in Robin's latest:

Some classic great divides: tyrants vs. freedom-lovers, rich vs. poor, faithful vs. heathen, urbanites vs. townies, men vs. women, intellectuals vs. ignoramuses, artists vs. the undiscerning, greens vs. greedy, civilized vs. uncivilized, east vs. west, farmers vs herders, hill folks vs. valley folk, Aristotle vs. Plato followers, jocks vs. nerds, extroverts vs. introverts, neats vs. scruffies, makers vs takers, communitarians vs. individualists, [can add more here].

Some questions, which I rarely see adequately answered:

  1. How is this division a key division, underlying many others?
  2. How do people acquire their sides in this conflict?
  3. How has this conflict lasted so long, without one side winning?
  4. How could one side finally win such an old conflict?
  5. Why is one side better than the other in an absolute sense?
  6. Why can't those folks be persuaded that their side is bad?
  7. Why can't peaceful compromise replace conflict?
Want to try?  Please model your answer after Robin's stab at the rich-poor divide.


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COMMENTS (6 to date)
Sam writes:

You forgot-
Self vs. Other

And then there's the meta-level..
Dichotomy vs. ???

David R. Henderson writes:

On #3, how does he know that one side didn't "win?" What does it mean to win? Robin doesn't say.

Brian Moore writes:

The reason these (still) exist is because the imagined conflict works in the interests of one or more of the parties.

Steve Sailer writes:

"How has this conflict lasted so long, without one side winning?"

Long lasting conflicts tend to have roughly equal arguments in their favor. Football fans have spent the last decade arguing over Peyton Manning v. Tom Brady because a good case can be made for both sides, using different kind of evidence. Human beings are attracted to arguments where there is no clear winner, while being quickly bored by arguments where there is.

Hegel argued for a thesis-antithesis-synthesis model of progress, where somebody finally figures out how to merge the best of both sides.

Troy Camplin writes:

Paradoxical opposites are creative so long as they can continue to coexist. They are not to be overcome, but embraced. Beauty is the affirmation of paradoxical opposites.

I have a whole chapter on this in "Diaphysics."

sanjiv writes:

Is a peaceful compromise always preferable to conflict? Here is Avishai Margalit describing what he calls "rotten compromises" in a lecture promoting his book titled "On compromise and rotten compromise":

"But is the Munich agreement a clear case of a rotten compromise? My answer in the book is that yes, the Munich agreement is a rotten compromise but not predominantly because of its content. If the content of the agreement isn't shamefully wrong, then what is? It cannot be the motive of the person signing the agreement that makes it rotten. There was nothing shameful in Chamberlain's yearning for peace as a motive for signing the agreement...The agreement cannot be rotten just because it was based on an error of political judgement. Putting Britain's trust in the hands of a serial betrayer, that is a political blunder, not a moral sin. So, what is rotten in the Munich pact? My answer: the one with whom it was signed, not what was signed, makes it rotten. A pact with Hitler was a pact with radical evil, evil meant to eradicate morality itself. Not recognizing Hitler's radical evil was a moral failure on top of being a bad political judgement."

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