Bryan Caplan  

Two Alienated Questions

Cordato on Bathrooms and State... Early American Immigrants...
I am deeply alienated from the society in which I live.  I regard our policies as criminal, and politicians of both major sides as evil people.  My assessment of our society's opinion leaders is similar, though milder and less categorical.

Many thoughtful people I know regard my rejection of our society as childish.  Rather than defend myself, I have two questions for all such people.

1. In what actually existing societies would my alienation be morally justified?  Nazi Germany, I hope.  North Korea, I trust.  How about Saudi Arabia?  Putin's Russia?  Napoleonic France?  The antebellum South?   

2. Look at your answers to Question #1.  Now ask yourself: If I grew up in a society in which, by my own account, alienation would be morally justified, would I in fact be appropriately alienated?  In how many such cases would I at least inwardly damn my damnable society?  And in how many cases would I take the path of least resistance, accepting the status quo as morally tolerable or even laudable?

Inquiring minds want to know.  And yes, thoughtful people, it does go to credibility.  But don't let that bias your answer!

COMMENTS (31 to date)
Cole writes:

I've wondered about question 2 many times. I'm libertarian, but I think it was largely an accident and a result of what I was exposed to in my formative years. I think I would always take the path of least resistance, I certainly did in our current society.

I think anyone's alienation from society is justified. We all have our individual utopias and those that are living in their utopia probably don't ever think about politics or changing the world.

Vladimir writes:

My intuition as to why people would think it's childish is not because you're necessarily wrong, but because you're meaninglessly right. If you use "evil" in a historical sense, then it's trivially true that people of the past are evil, and the people of the present are evil compared to some predictably less evil future.

Imagine if you went to a really backwards African nation and broadcast a message proclaiming everyone to be evil, which would probably be mostly right, what substance has been added?

My guess is that "evil" is a word that only means something non-trivial (to most people) if you're using it to compare someone of the past or present to the frontiers of the current majority conception of moral behaviour. That's why your proclamation of politicians being evil is interesting to other libertarians because you're measuring them to a common frontier of moral thought.

Dangerman writes:

Good set of questions, however... I would test the degree "childishness" by reversing the question: name at least one, preferable a few, examples of societies where the policies WEREN'T criminal and the politicians evil.

Purely anecdotally, I find most of the people who assert those things to in fact be childish, because they have no answer to my question. Present company excepted, of course.

Andrew_FL writes:

Bubbled alienation from Nazi Germany would not be enough. You'd be wise to flee the country. They'd come to your door like they did Wilhelm Ropke's if you spoke out against them like you do about America-and I am sure you would. And I'd hope your reaction would be about the same as his, too.

I do not use the word "society" as Bryan uses it. Say "state" when you mean state.

I would not talk about "my state" because clearly I have no ownership (control) of that organization.

Graham Peterson writes:

I know a lot of people on the left and the right who basically think the world is full of evil, our social systems are fundamentally broken, and that it's all getting worse. They'll say things like that, more or less, then turn back to their beer and go to work the next day. I don't see what's so extreme or childish about honestly and formally exploring those kinds of sentiments. But I gravitate toward extremists. They have better articulated opinions that are more fun to argue with than moderates.

j r writes:

I think the premises here need some work. For one thing it doesn't make any sense to talk about children as alienated, or alienation as childish. Children aren't supposed to be connected to the larger world, because they mostly exist as extensions of their parents. Once children enter adolescence is when alienation starts, because that's when they start to test their fledgling identities, with all of its conceptions of the outside world, against the objective reality of that outside world. That is an experience that is bound to produce some level of alienation, which is probably why teenagers are teenagers.

The real question should be: are you acting like the adolescent who has a healthy skepticism of authority or are you the preening goth kid in the corner kvetching to anyone who will listen about how little you care about anyone else's opinions?

And let's just get to the elephant in the room. Some people will say that you are an upper middle class, maybe wealthy, white male with a remunerative (public sector) job and a rewarding, relatively high-status hobby in blogging. Just how "deeply alienated" can you be? I don't think that any of those things means that you can't be alienated, but it's a question worth considering.

What it means to be alienated in the antebellum American south or in Nazi Germany is objectively different than what it means for you to be alienated in present-day America (unless you happen to be locked in a jail cell for selling a plant or something like that). For one thing, the alienation you describe comes with no explicit penalties (other than people on the internet calling you childish), so it's not that we're talking about accepting or not accepting the status quo. You have accepted it, you just don't want to acknowledge that you've accepted it. And that does strike me as slightly adolescent.

Of course, you are under no obligation to not be slightly adolescent.

Nathan Smith writes:

Christians ought always to feel alienated from the societies in which they live. Our allegiance is to the kingdom of heaven, not the kingdoms of earth. The Crucifixion is the archetype and symbol of what the world does to good men. Some regimes are better than others, but we must always "trust not in princes, in the sons of men."

Bravin Neff writes:

"And let's just get to the elephant in the room...remunerative (public sector)'s a question worth considering."

Cheers, I wish I could have said it as well. There are other elephants in the room: I don't know of a single anarchist that has packed up his bags and accepted any of the several anarchies on offer. Revealed preference and all that.

Brad Delong said it best, contrasting deontological from consequentialist libertarian behavior:

"You can sleep easy if you play by the rules even if you think the rules are non-optimal, as long as you point that out. That's Milton Friedman. You cannot sleep easy if you play by the rules if you think the rules give you a license to steal. that's Robert Nozick, Robert Bork, and Ayn Rand. That's the difference between utilitarian and deontological theories. Deontology is a bitch."

[Quote beginning with 'You can sleep easy..." is from "Deriving Their Just Powers from the Consent of the Governed..." by Brad DeLong, Feb. 2011. --Econlib Ed.]

Greg G writes:

It seems odd to me that anyone (especially a libertarian) would think there is one "appropriate" level of alienation for each regime of government.

Wouldn't it be more "appropriate" to expect that such alienation is impossible to measure in a anything like a reliable way? And impossible to pull apart from alienation caused by other non-political problems?

Shouldn't we expect, and even support,some variety of differences in who is correctly alienated?

Nathan W writes:

Calling it childish sounds like a way to try to get you to shut up about speaking about importance things. No, things will probably never be perfect, especially from the perspective of most people. Yes, we should openly speak about this aspects of society, and in this case, most especially government, governance and politicians, that need improvement. We should always encourage everyone to hold ourselves to fairly high standards.

"Microwave auditory effect". Find out what it is and think about what it, and other related technological developments, means for cognitive liberty. If there is no cognitive liberty, there can be no liberty whatsoever.

Philo writes:

No one is completely satisfied with his "society" (whatever, exactly, that includes). How dissatisfied must one be in order to count as "alienated"?

MikeDC writes:


1. In what current cases would your alienation be justified?

I'd argue it's largely unjustified now, because as you wrote in your alienation point, you're mostly free to create and live in your own bubble.

So, your alienation is justified to the extent your society infringes upon your bubble. In the US, this extent is rather small. More generally, I think most people can create and dwell in their own bubbles in the US.

Your fear and loathing of those who don't share your bubble shouldn't obscure the fact that most you still get to have a bubble.

In other countries... your bubble gets popped differently.
* Most of Europe and the developed Far East would probably be OK for me, but if you're the sort of person who wants to have 6 kids or work 80 hours a week developing your own business, or have a sprawling farm in the middle of nowhere, it'll be difficult to do there.
* Places like Russia would be very hard for the homosexual or politically outspoken, I'd think.
* Most of the less developed world is varying levels of "downright dangerous" to people with unconventional social practices, a strong need to commune with the like-minded, or an intolerance of the differently-minded.

So, it'd vary.

2. Would I be alienated in those places? Europe is the most obvious alternative to the US and I could more or less live any lifestyle I wanted to and converse with anyone without much fear of arrest or imprisonment. I might not be very fulfilled or happy with the taxes I pay though, or the fact my kids and I feel crowded. On the other hand, getting a visit from police over mildly oppositional facebook posts or for criticizing a a foreign leader would, in fact, be quite alienating to me.

So... when I look at the best options outside of the US, I guess the US still remains better because here there's little likelihood of having my bubble burst, while there I'd be getting visits from the authorities for doing, basically, nothing.

Thomas Strenge writes:

Your alienation is justified, and I share your sentiment. Ironically, I don't feel it when I am abroad in places that often have less freedom and opportunity. In part, that is because I care about these United States. However, a greater part may be the sheer and utter hypocrisy of it all. Can anyone stand in line at the airport and sing our national anthem and mean it? "Land of the Free and Home of the Brave"; more like Land of the Semi-Free and Not so Brave. All day we're bombarded by fear. China is stealing our jobs! Really? Have you been to China? I call it the land of not quite right based on the many errors I spot in daily life. Drugs are everywhere and will ruin your children! Hm, public schools seem to do a better job of killing their future. Terrorists are planning to harm thousands of Americans! Ok, judging by Flint, our own public water systems do just as efficient a job. And reasonable people can certainly disagree, but there is a complete absence of reason in public discourse! So, in the end, there is still hope for America, but the prognosis is not good.

Colombo writes:

I share your rejection of society and I also consider it contradictory. And it is a happy contradiction.

Let's pretend that a society is like an organism, like a human being, and let's also pretend that it has a mind of its own. Let's now assume that mental illness (an illness of the mind) does not exist and what it is commonly called mental illness is mostly malingering. The defects that we see in society may very well be malingered, that is, deceptions created by the same society, in order to signal something to other societies. And we that lament the evil ways of society's leaders, and the ubiquitous stupidity and obstinacy among the masses (perhaps promoted by the leaders) have been fooled by this malingering. We believe that all the defects could be solved if society neurons (the politicians) became rational, but in fact they are very rational already, since they are lying and they always choose evil, consistently. We should not ask for any more rationality, lest we wind up in a gas chamber. Alientation (voluntary, consciously chosen alienation) is a correct, appropiate behavior. It's like choosing not do business with a fraudster.

There is no cure because there is no sickness. Therefore we should stop worrying and love the bomb: homeschooling. I have the feeling that greek philosophers already reached this conclusion, but it didn't work at all, as Alexander the Great proved.

But why I say it is a contradiction? Because unless we go to the woods and avoid any contact with other human beings, we are partaking in the charade. That is, to be coherent with this analysis, we should reject free market and follow the doctrines of Schopenhauer. This is terrible! We should happily embrace contradiction.

austrartsua writes:

Is our society really evil?

Undoubtedly there are evil people, stupid people, people with good intentions but whose ignorance would lead them to do evil things, people who don't care but are just signalling, and smart people who are just mistaken. All of this is true.

But this is the marvelous thing about democracy and free market economics. It doesn't matter! Society goes on despite the stupidity of the average man. We are smarter than the sum of our parts.

This is the primary innovation of the enlightenment, the fruits of which we are still living off. Society can be made smarter than the sum of its individuals.

For example: people say all sorts of stupid things. I support Trump! Climate change is the most important problem in the world! But that's because "words are wind". When it comes to actions that effect their own wallets, people are still dumb but MUCH less so.

But I don't have to explain this to the author of the concept of "rational irrationality".

Brian writes:

I guess I would describe your alienation in the same vein as the spoiled teen who, unable to behave himself, is said to be suffering from "affluenza." I'd call your affliction "afflienation." That is, you may feel alienated because U.S. society doesn't fit your precise preferences, but this is the alienation of someone who is so well off that he doesn't have anything else to complain about.

Is it justified? Sure, in the sense that you really feel that way. Is it a spoiled and immature reaction? Yes, that too.

Either way, I don't see how your feeling of alienation has anything to do with whether the policies can be called criminal and politicians evil. I suspect most people would view your characterization as an overreaction, the use of extreme language where it doesn't really belong. As others have said, if the state allows you to live happily in a bubble, then it likely is not criminal or evil enough to justify the use of those terms.

In short, the answer to your questions is that alienation is appropriate in bubble-crushing societies. Whether the societies you listed above qualify can only be answered by each person, based on how resilient their bubbles are.

Jeff writes:

I think it's more common for people to be alienated from specific institutions or segments in society rather than as a whole. The obvious example here being North Korea: the ruling military elites are pretty awful people (perhaps not even uniformly; some of them probably favor some kind of stabilizing, liberal reforms but fear the consequences of speaking out), but I'm sure the average North Korean is a pretty swell guy. Should I still condemn North Korean society? It's clear who is steering the ship, and it isn't Swell Average Guy. But then maybe I should condemn him, as well, for not doing more to rebel against the regime. But would I rebel if I was a North Korean? Probably not, but who knows? After all, I do get pretty irritable when I'm hungry, and people over there are hungry a lot. Would you rebel, Bryan?

The point is your questions are lacking in nuance, and if you expect people to go through this exercise and admit their moral weakness, I would retort that it's easy to talk loudly about how alienated you are from evil, rotten, American society when you risk nothing by doing so. As the great Jack Donaghy one said, virtue never tested is no virtue at all.

Jasonico writes:

jr brought up several interesting things to consider I think.

You being labeled as childish in the way I interpret it (though taken apart and properly reframed by jr as adolescence) comes from what perhaps is seen by more mainstream members of society as ‘not wanting to play nice’ and electing instead to sharp shoot from afar, often the opinions of a whole bunch of people who often don’t have the luxury/convenience to acquire the wealth of knowledge in which you and I, and the select and few fortunate have. Add to that, with the blanket of comfort/security being an American, an academic, white guy, educated, etc., it can come off that way.

On a Tinder date several months back, I met up with a county defender who I felt compelled to bitch to regarding the system of justice in general, and the ridiculousness of the scene I just participated in as my first jury duty came into being. She listened to my complaints, agreed at the multi levels of injustice taking place, explained what it means to have to deal with it all, etc., and then properly scolded me for my cowardice in not applying what I know and my failure in bringing to bare what resources I have at my disposal to effectively make a change in the justice system. It is seen as a lack of maturity, or mislabeled as jr pointed out as ‘childish’, to withdrawal into our tiny, happy little bubbles where we only listen to our favorite podcasts, read the best blogs on whatever the hell, and attend our events, etc. I’m guilty of it right at this second. And it’s scary stuff (the childishness that is) to think considering the alternatives in the forms of other lands and their true failure in governance, (in my experience living in working for our government in Kenya, Paraguay, Israel/Palestinian Authority, Afghanistan, Kurdistan) that we as Americans could alienate ourselves and claim any moral high ground while doing so.

Regarding Saudi Arabia, Or looking at Putin’s Russia, I think it’s important to look at what was said earlier by jr regarding the penalties of withdrawing/alienating oneself from society. Mess around in Mecca and you could very well find yourself being beheaded for insulting Islam. Cross Putin and off to the work camps you go. When I worked in Afghanistan as a security contractor that meant FOX news 24/7 on the tube, a social/political/intellectual scene of scant display, and me being isolated for the most part in a display of distinction and quasi disobedience. That alienation, I meant, only cost me friendships or coworkers to want to eat with. Even that I realize now, is silly. After leaving these austere places and living in these United States (Miami Beach, where ISIS ain’t a thing and people for the most part don’t give a damn about EconTalk) I’ve slowly noticed this alienation that people turn to and form into societies that is pretty destructive and amounts to a sort of free for all where individual interests are put forth at the cost of a common good.

LD Bottorff writes:

Dear Bryan, dear Bryan, you have no complaint,
You is what you is, and you ain't what you ain't.

Seriously, you get paid to teach economics at a prestigious university. You get your books published (I paid full price for one). People who strongly disagree with you still like and respect you. I might regard your attitude as childish, but your contributions earn you the right to that attitude.

If this is alienation, Lord smite me with some!

PotatoSinclair writes:

Bryan is frequently preaching moral superiority over others but its profoundly unwarranted. In the 'Evil People' posting he questions how much time pols spend on moral inquiry. I wonder how much time Bryan reflects on how limited his scope and experience of life are and how complex our world is and how this can lead to a somewhat constrained vision and understanding of the behaviour of others. I know its reasonable to construct a moral framework and critique those who don't believe in it, but its also important to understand why others don't agree with the premises of the framework.

The problem we confront in our society is that we simply don't agree on everything and yet we still have to pass laws and enforce them. There is no single person, not even Bryan, to whom we should cede this function. We have to do it as a collective and then let the process of public debate and moral inquiry sort out the bad/immoral ideas. Fortunately Bryan participates in this process and has some very good ideas, but again with too much arrogance and without a healthy dose of respect for the complexity of our society. Bryan, you are not uniquely intelligent and moral, you have one life experience among many.

Greg G writes:


If it's "appropriate" to be "deeply alienated" in even the most free and prosperous society in human history then you are defining being alienated as the only appropriate way to ever feel.

I urge you to consider making room for a wider range of appropriate feelings.

Colombo writes:

Dead philosophers lie not: Ortega, I and my circumstance.

For anyone interested in alienation, mob rule and personal salvation.

Ari T writes:

[Comment removed. Please consult our comment policies and check your email for explanation.--Econlib Ed.]

Alex writes:

Very simple answer: Freedom of speech

As long as you can have a blog where you are free to criticise the government you should be grateful. During most of mankind and even today in many countries most people don't have that possibility.

Thank you John Locke

Scott Sumner writes:

I would NOT say that in all societies the glass is half full and half empty.

Rather I'd say that in all societies the glass is really, really large, much larger than we imagine when we think about the society. Indeed much larger than we are capable of imagining.

And I'd also say that in almost all cases this unimaginably large glass contains vast amounts of water, and vast amounts of air.

And I'd also say that when we think about a society we have a hard time making sense out of the proportions, because both portions are so vast. So our estimates of water and non-water reflect our mood at the moment.

(Apologies if this comment sounds like New Age drivel)

j r writes:

I think what Scott says, despite its New Age-iness, is spot on. We are all stuck in our own perspective and it is a constant struggle to expand that perspective. At least it ought to be.

Thinking more on the stages of development, from child to adolescent to adult, the thing that defines adolescence is the inability to differentiate between your internal notions of what the world ought to be and what the world is. As you get older and wiser you, hopefully, develop the psychological and ethical frameworks necessary to reconcile the two. That is to say, adolescents are solipsistic in their cognition. And that is something that we ought to try to avoid.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, if you're content to float on that little piece of surface tension between water and air and not worry too much about the great big glass, I guess that's fine as well.

Bedarz Iliaci writes:

Ironically, the alienation that Bryan Caplan feels is the proof positive of the ineradicable political nature and instincts of mankind--precisely that political nature that is denied by Caplan's philosophy.

Nobody can be happy in a bubble. People want to think and be like their neighbors. Caplan is alienated because his neighbors do not think like him. This basic human social fact, this distinction between neighbors (that share your thinking and ideals) and strangers (that do not share your ideals) is what political nature of man is and precisely the fact that manifests itself in form of nations, states and governments.

Ari writes:

Bryan, the fact you can build a bubble is 21st century luxury. What would you do if there was a breakdown of society because of natural disaster or something else, and you had to rely on *gasp* strangers. I come from a society where people take care of each other, even during war. There heroic stories of people being rescued from holocaust and whatever. None of this would happen if people would treat others just strangers.

Read stories of people surviving in anarchy. Anarchy can still happen. Your skills, relationships and posessions are probably optimized for modern environment.

Besides, you are just a single man. In no other field (even Einstein) people claim such confidence. You think you have solved morality. Where are equally respected and confident mathematicians?

I think this is what is wrong with economics in general is that is this extreme opportunism it fosters. People are economic maximizers until something bad happens, then we have to work together to save ourselves, after that its just free for all again.

Somehow I think there are other Bryan Caplan's from much more worse backgrounds who didn't become as successful as Bryan. I think Noah smith gave good examples in other discussion. I think there's research on this.

I'm looking forward to an answer.

Alexi writes:

I don't think Caplan is particularly interested in what others think about the validity of how he feels. Nor do I think he's interested in what others think about the validity of his questions. Nor do I think Caplan's personal ideology is of much interest, since personal philosophies are a dime-a-dozen. From my reading of the discussions around this post, I think the most interesting (i.e. least obvious) aspect of this whole episode is how Caplan is haunted by the incompleteness of his self-professed alienation (assuming Question #2 reflects his own personal struggles). That's what caught my attention when reading this, and that's what I think is the real story here. So without further ado, here's my attempt to understand Caplan's curious case of incomplete alienation:

[the content below was originally published as a Facebook comment, in a thread discussing this blog post]

Let's start with Caplan's first question. We'll take it as a premise that there exists an evil society in which Caplan lives (or could live). The real question is then whether it is moral for him to reject it (i.e. to alienate himself from it). For maximum effort, let's go all out and distil it into a syllogism.

Premise 1. Rejecting evil is moral.
Premise 2. Society S is evil.
Therefore: Rejecting S is moral.

Okay, looks air tight, right? Well, not so fast: this isn't a sound syllogism.

The first clue was from Caplan’s second question, which simply reduces to: Can a person who lives in S completely reject S? Caplan tells us (in the way he rehashes the second question) that he believes the answer is NO. If correct, then it would imply that Premise 1 is not a universal proposition. But that would mean there should be cases where it’s moral to accept evil. That can’t be right, can it? Well, let’s ask Socrates for some help:

Alexi: Hey, Socrates.
Socrates: ‘Sup, Lex.
Alexi: There's this post on Facebook, and it’s confusing.
Socrates: You’ll have to be more specific.
Alexi: It seems there’s cases where its right to accept evil. But that’s gotta be wrong? Right?
Socrates: Oh, yeah. I was just telling Plato about that this morning. Most of your confusion comes from the ambiguity of the word “evil”. So let’s clear that up first. Assume for a minute that "there is but one good, namely, knowledge; and but one evil, namely ignorance”.
Alexi: Hold on, haven’t you just exchanged one ambiguity for another?
Socrates: Not at all! The philosophy of ethics depends on the existence of ‘persons', and a ‘person' is defined by knowing at least ‘something', even if that tiny little ‘something' is that they are a ‘person'! Epistemology, for all its faults, is prior to the emergence of ethics, and thus is more fundamental.
Alexi: Alright, so how does this help with Caplan’s problem?
Socrates: Well, do you agree that there is but one good, namely, knowledge?
Alexi: Seems right.
Socrates: And there is but one evil, namely, ignorance?
Alexi: Sure.
Socrates: Then, when is it right to accept ignorance?
Alexi: I don’t think there’s any case where being ignorant is a good thing!
Socrates: Is there no knowledge that shouldn’t be known?
Alexi: Nope!
Socrates: What about an experience you would never want to feel?
Alexi: Well that’s easy. For one, I’d never want to experience being raped.
Socrates: So you would want to be kept ignorant of rape?
Alexi: Well, not ignorant of the existence of rape. Just of what it's like.
Socrates: But how would you know that rape was wrong if you didn’t know anything about it?
Alexi: Okay, so I would want to know just enough to know it was wrong.
Socrates: Then you agree that there is knowledge about rape you don't want to know about?
Alexi: Yes, in particular the first-person subjective knowledge of myself being raped.
Socrates: So then, you agree there is something you would prefer to be ignorant of?
Alexi: I guess so. But if ignorance is evil, does being ignorant of being raped make me evil?
Socrates: No. Of course not.
Alexi: But you said there is but one evil, namely, ignorance! So dear Socrates, by your original premise, how is my ignorance in this case not evil?
Socrates: I said that ethics emerges from epistemology, not that epistemology was ethics.
Alexi: That’s confusing.
Socrates: Indeed.
Alexi: Fine. Assuming that you can somehow get ethics from epistemology, I hope you are at least telling me that I am moral to want to be ignorant of the subjective knowledge of myself being raped?
Socrates: You’re telling yourself that. But yes I agree.
Alexi: And yet, in our current era, it seems obviously immoral to be ignorant that rape is wrong. So evidently, it is immoral to lack SOME knowledge of what its like to be raped?
Socrates: Yes.
Alexi: So you're saying that ignorance is evil, and yet there are indeed cases where an appropriate degree of ignorance is desired?
Socrates: Correct.
Alexi: I think I’m starting to understand. Is it right then, by your original premise, that if ignorance is “evil” AND there exist first-person experiences that are terrible, then there must necessarily be cases where “evil" is desired.
Socrates: That’s right.
Alexi: I think that's a far more complicated view of “evil” than most people have time for.
Socrates: It is. But that doesn't make it wrong.
Alexi: Well, at least it answers Caplan’s problem.
Socrates: And how so?
Alexi: I guess it means that Caplan is moral to want to alienate himself from the ignorance of society. But this alienation is never complete, because he must know about that which he believes is terrible in order to want to alienate himself from it, but by knowing about it he has already internalized part of the first-person subjective knowledge he was hoping to not know about.
Socrates: Exactly. You might almost say that Caplan has to look into the Abyss to avoid stepping into it, but by then it’s already too late.
Alexi: Clever, I think Nietzsche would have appreciated that.
Socrates: Who's Nietzsche?
Alexi: Don't worry 'bout it. Anyways, thanks for the help.
Socrates: No prob.

Alexi writes:

In my previous comment on this post, I intended to point out that Caplan's own ideology, while special, is only one of a great many options (both past, present and future). I expressed this rather clumsily by saying that personal philosophies were "a dime-a-dozen". But it occurred to me (perhaps too late), that not everyone is comfortable with the notion that personal philosophies are in large abundance (both geographically and historically). So it may be worth mentioning explicitly how this remark was relevant to Caplan's post (though I still regret the tactlessness with which I stated it).

In brief, I took it as a given that a diversity of personal philosophies will exist within a sufficiently large human population. Assuming this much, it then seemed reasonable that some people will get alienated if only because some philosophies will be more similar than others and thus some persons will hold philosophies more alien than others. I've no idea if such studies have actually been made, but it seems at least plausible (if not obvious) that people like Caplan are inevitable in a sufficiently large population (it also seems likely that these people will be tenured professors, who are, in the best cases, actually encouraged to develop relatively radical philosophies).

Anyways, I doubt this would have offended anyone here, but that doesn't discount the tactlessness of my remark, so I thought it was worth clarifying. Bottom line is that it wasn't Caplan's views that were under the spotlight (since the thrust of the post was more general than just Caplan's particular situation, or his particular personal philosophy). That is, at issue here is the (incomplete) alienation that having a (relatively) radical philosophy can have on an individual.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top