Arnold Kling  

The Folly of Fools

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Arnold's Clarification... Blame Everyone...

That is the title of a new book by Robert Trivers. Tyler Cowen thought it was worthwhile. Not me. The book is supposed to be about deception and self-deception, but that seems to be an excuse for Trivers to opine on any topic of his choosing.

When Trivers talks about biology, he seems to be on reasonable ground. I thought I learned something from reading his discussion of the battle that takes place between one's immune system and the world of viruses and such. He hints that the placebo effect may result from creating a mood that reduces other stresses, allowing the immune system work to more effectively.

When the book turns to human behavior, it becomes more ideological and less surprising. It just so happens that those who are most badly self-deceived and guilty of perpetrating deception, according to Trivers, are the usual villains of an academic lefty--corporate executives, market-oriented economists, and political conservatives. Most of the book is filled with what I think David McRaney would call asymmetric insight. (My first post on McRaney was two months ago.)

I think I am a little burnt out on psychology books right now. But if I read another one soon, it probably will be McRaney's.


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COMMENTS (5 to date)
J Storrs Hall writes:

Heh. Yes, Trivers is his own best example.

johnw writes:

That is the worst book title I have seen this year.

Steve Roth writes:

I haven't gotten to his book yet, looking forward to it. His work on evolutionary game theory is profound and seminal.

"It just so happens that those who are most badly self-deceived and guilty of perpetrating deception, according to Trivers, are the usual villains of an academic lefty--corporate executives, market-oriented economists, and political conservatives."

"It just so happens"?

Does he give evidence for it? Is the evidence any good?

What does 'It just so happens" mean here? It seems to be glancingly imputing bias, but with no discussion of the evidence (so: no evidence of bias), it reads like a cheap rhetorical trick.

Steve Sailer writes:

Trivers is an important historical figure, but he's also been, literally, off his rocker due to manic-depression. It's good to see he's publishing these days.

By the way, he published a paper in a scientific journal co-written with Huey P. Newton, founder of the Black Panthers.

D writes:

I thought he was schizophrenic. I'm not saying that as an insult. I remember reading it in the book Defenders of the Truth.

Brilliant guy though.

This format - point to some psychological bias and then show why your political enemies are particularly afflicted by it - was also used, although far more mildly and subtly than Trivers does, in the otherwise good book Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), which was about cognitive dissonance and rationalization.

For example, who would you think has to rationalize away more cognitive dissonance - prosecutors or criminal defense lawyers? Obviously it's criminal defense lawyers, since they're nearly always working for someone who's guilty. Yet the authors chose to go after those deluded prosecutors.

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