Self-negating admissions

by on September 8, 2007 at 2:21 pm in Economics | Permalink

And call me naive, but I also think that Mugabe would not have pursued
his policies for this long if he had a better grasp of debt dynamics. 

That’s Dani Rodrik

You all can debate Mugabe if you want, I’m interested in the notion of a self-negating admission.  By writing "…call me naive" Rodrik is showing a level of self-awareness which seems to be signaling he is not naive.  A more direct example of such a construct would be "Call me unwilling to accept outside labels, but…" — the mere act of writing the statement is showing a willingness to accept at least one outside label (namely: unwilling to accept outside labels), which in turn means the writer cannot be unwilling to accept all such labels.

Call me unwilling to use self-negating admissions, but I wonder why writing "Call me naive…" should be more effective than simply writing "I am not naive."  Or for that matter writing "I am naive."  (What is the influence-maximizing claim to make about one’s own naivete?)

Don’t forget Dani Rodrik has a new book coming out: One Economics, Many Recipes.  I don’t agree with all of it, but it is a valuable correction to the hubris of many other writers.

1 Alex Ambroz September 8, 2007 at 2:58 pm

I think it’s a matter of the way we split the difference between how we view ourselves and how we want others to perceive us (and also, how we want others to view how we view ourselves, see David Foster Wallace for more on this).

—-“Call me naive…” should be more effective than simply writing “I am not naive.” Or for that matter writing “I am naive.”—-

It’s precisely because we want to speak on something that may stretch out knowledge / ability but want to appear to the person we’re talking to that we may not be 100% correct. Really, it’s humility over hubris. By jumping straight to ‘I am naive.’, we’re not giving the receiver of our discussion the option to decide that for themselves.

2 Anonymous September 8, 2007 at 3:18 pm

By saying “call me naive, but…”, you are inviting the listener to briefly consider, and then promptly reject, the notion that you are being naive. In effect, you are setting up a straw-man argument against yourself and letting the listener demolish the straw man, producing stronger agreement (if they are receptive) than if you had simply flatly stated your case.

3 Chris September 8, 2007 at 3:27 pm

It’s shorthand for “I have considered and rejected more sophisticated explanations.”

4 Pace September 8, 2007 at 3:50 pm

Settle Down.

5 Alexandra September 8, 2007 at 4:34 pm

I think that “call me naive” tends more toward an awareness that others might laugh and point at you once you’ve said your piece. It’s saying that you’ve accepted a simple interpretation, not because you’re ignorant of more complex arguments, but because you’ve studied the more complex arguments and think that they’re off base. If you were just stating your “naive” opinion without the knowledge that it might appear too elementary, it would betray a lack of experience in intellectual exchange. In other words, “scoff all you want, this is my reasoned conclusion.”

6 fishbane September 8, 2007 at 5:29 pm

As above stated, I think it is partially a way of stating that you considered and rejected the opinion that one is, in fact, naive. An additional point is that I think it is usually a communicative challange, in a debate sense – in essence, it offers your conversational opponent two options; to agree, or to call you naive. Of course, a smart debater who just wants to win won’t accept either one, regardless of the truth value of the statement.

7 J. September 8, 2007 at 6:13 pm

Call me somewhat redundant, but “Call me naive” functions as something like, “Some people will regard my view as naive, and it may seem to be at first glance, but it is not”.

8 John September 8, 2007 at 6:49 pm

From the Book Description of Rodrik’s new book at Amazon:

To most proglobalizers, globalization is a source of economic salvation for developing nations, and to fully benefit from it nations must follow a universal set of rules designed by organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization and enforced by international investors and capital markets.

Am I being simplistic here? I never considered those supra-national institutions like the WTO and IMF to be integral to globalization. Am I wrong here?

9 Yan Li September 8, 2007 at 8:07 pm

Call me a generalizer, but I think there are three types here:
1. A pluralist: “I think the answer is 60% A, 30% B and 10% C.†
2. A generalizer: “I think the answer is A.†
3. A self-aware but often reluctant generalizer OR an opportunistic pluralist: “call me naïve, but I think the answer is A.†

10 Paul N September 8, 2007 at 10:13 pm

My favorite example of that is “Don’t be offended by this, but…” which always means “I’m about to say something offensive, and I’m denying you the right to be offended by it, although you should be”

11 Ray G September 9, 2007 at 12:27 am

My favorite example of that is “Don’t be offended by this, but…” which always means “I’m about to say something offensive, and I’m denying you the right to be offended by it, although you should be”

Exactly what I was trying to get at in my long winded post. As if being aware, and then mentioning the flaw in one’s own reasoning is supposed to remove it from the table.

So yes, Dani is at least naive, if not down right delusional. His view implies that Mugabe cares. Amazingly naive actually.

12 Harald Korneliussen September 9, 2007 at 5:09 am

Read it as: “I know it may sound naive, but I know what I’m talking about, OK?”

13 Daniel Klein September 9, 2007 at 9:41 am

Here is Ken Arrow being naive:

The general uncertainty about the prospects of medical treatment is socially handled by rigid entry requirements. These are designed to reduce the uncertainty in the mind of the consumer as to the quality insofar as this is possible. I think this explanation, which is perhaps the naive one, is much more tenable than any idea of a monopoly seeking to increase incomes.
— Kenneth Arrow (1963, 966).

14 Shefaly September 9, 2007 at 10:42 am

Other instances of this false modesty in action are old favourites such as “With all due respect…”, “I do not mean to intrude but…”.

You say “self-deprecation usually implies even greater self-praise” which makes me consider the whole of the British society in new light. As a naive recent immigrant, I had been wondering why they are all so modest. Now I know they are far from it.


15 Karl Smith September 11, 2007 at 10:30 am

I think it has to do with an internal principle-agent problem that restricts what the individual can say.

16 Anonymous October 27, 2007 at 9:31 pm

This comment is a month and a half too late, but the point mentioned by Ray G above actually has a name: “hanging a lantern” on a problem.

This is a technique well-known to scriptwriters and political fixers.

In other words, if you have an unlikely coincidence or other plot hole in your script, have a character actually mention it in dialog (“gee, what a coincidence this is!”). If your candidate has a skeleton in their closet, have your candidate refer to it in an offhand way.

The idea is to draw attention to the issue in a superficial way, in order to get the audience to unconsciously believe that the issue has now been addressed, and move on, even though it has only been mentioned and not really addressed at all. This is preferable to letting the issue remain hidden and risk the audience discovering it out for themselves and possibly attaching importance to it.

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