Tyler on Robin on Tyler on Robin

Here is Robin on Tyler on Robin

I think of Robin as a dominant intellectual presence in my book (can you guess who the other presences are?).  He is the only specific thinker discussed at any length.  That’s conscious choice, not accident.  He also receives part of the dedication at the end.

In some ways I think of the whole book as an (attempted) rebuttal to Robin.  Robin is the rational constructivist, the logical atomist, the reductionist, and the extreme Darwinian.  The Inner Economist is trying to reconcile (modified) economic reasoning and a (modified) version of common sense morality.

But…for the secularist reductionism beckons and seduces.  Imagine an intellectual war with Darwin, Fourier, Comte, early Carnap, David Friedman and millenarian Christian eschatology on one side (that’s my mental image of how Robin maps into the history of ideas), with bits from Henry Sidgwick, Hayek, Quine, and William James on the other side, yet within the framework of modern microeconomics and with ongoing references to the blogosphere.  I am (implicitly) defending gradualism, pluralism, the partial irreduciblity of individual choice, the primacy of civilization, and yes also a certain degree of social artifice.

But can such a defense succeed?

Note that Robin is wrong to suggest I don’t reply to his views.  I paint him
as engaged in a subjective quest — including on bias — rather than standing from an
Archimedean point.  And within the realm of subjective quests, I try to
outline a superior one, especially in the last few chapters of the
book.  He doesn’t like being relativized in this fashion, and that he doesn’t see me as replying to him is itself an indicator of our underlying differences.

Still, I know I have to be afraid of Robin!  Most people who don’t find Robin’s ideas compelling are simply unwilling to face up to the holes in what they believe. 

Wake up, and take at least a sip from the Robin Hanson Kool-Aid.  Life will never be the same again.

And if you can, hire him to write a book for you.


Your wife Natasha and Greg Mankiw.Also Gordon Tullock

I'm honored to be Tyler's opposing foil, but I still find it hard to tell exactly what Tyler thinks he disagrees with me about. Somehow I am opposed to "Henry Sidgwick, Hayek, Quine, and William James", to "an Archimedean point", and to "gradualism, pluralism, the partial irreduciblity of individual choice, the primacy of civilization, and ... social artifice." But I'm not sure how exactly. Yes, it must say something about our differing styles that I am more uncomfortable disagreeing about vague labels, instead of more precise claims. Come on Tyler, indulge me and try to state as precisely as possible an important claim you think we disagree on.

So the main thing we disagree on, is that I want to be clear on what we disagree on, while you find the labels "reductionist" versus "pluralist" to be plenty precise?

How about the specific items on Robin's wild ideas web page.
Surely it would be illuminating to everyone if Tyler were to put quantitative odds on each of them.

Frankly, Tyler's quest seems less fun to me than Robins does, yet I get the impression that Tyler is having more fun anyway. Possibly because Tyler is more focused on the process relative to the outcome and because Robin is discontent with how irrational people are while Tyler doesn't mind so much.

I find that the best contrast is to note not how much less useful people are than rational people would be but rather how much more useful they are than no people would be.

Tyler -- why do you think cutting down on bias is less important and less moral than (in your view) Robin believes it to be?

I shouldn't try to speak for Tyler, but I have thoughts on the importance of the reducing bias concept. It is important, but as an organizing principle, perhaps not as important as Hanson seems to think.

1. On some level it is a fool's errand. It is human nature to have biases and it is actually a useful facet of human nature. No human being who has to function in a real world can examine everything from first principles. Functionally it is more important to replace bad biases with good ones.

2. Biases can be useful. In loving relationships for example, it can be useful to edit or minimize differences and play up or maximize common bonds. This is an emotional relationship tool. Like any tool it can be overused (witness passive doormats) or exploited (sociopathic manipulators). But that doesn't suggest that it should be 'overcome'.

3. Like many useful tools, it can be great for you MOST of the time but still damaging at other times. This is where Hanson's quest can be most helpful in my view: be aware of your biases so that you can at least sometimes figure out when they are hurting you. That can be much more fruitful than trying to excise them.

"Why wouldn't a relationship based on the true levels of differences and common bonds be equally or more useful?" It might very well be more useful, but we are talking about relationships between two human beings. It might not be more useful relative to the overall difficulty in overcoming the biases.

That is why I think it is interesting to talk about useful (most of the time) bias and unuseful (most of the time) bias, and how to discriminate between them. (And use them for that matter).

It might be better to have a fair number of useful biases to cement things together so that both of you can focus on doing things other than uncovering and dealing with biases.

wait, what does this post have to do with Robin Trower?

"This assumes self-esteem is a dependent variable. If, instead, self-esteem is an independent variable, then success is determined by self-esteem and pretensions."

very true. in fact, it's very unlike William James to have such a self esteem formula. I could see him critiquing himself in the same manner you did.

Again, I say, what does this post have to do with Robin Trower?

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