Against obviousness

Things can be obvious if they are simple. If something complicated is
obvious, such as anything that anybody seriously studies, then for it
to be simple you must be abstracting it a lot. When people find such
things obvious, what they often mean is that the abstraction is so
clear and simple its implications are unarguable. This is answering the
wrong question. Most of the reasons such conclusions might be false are
hidden in what you abstracted away. The question is whether you have
the right abstraction for reality, not whether the abstraction has the
implications it seems to.

That's from Katja Grace.  Here is a good post on murder and evil.

Addendum: I liked this bit too:

Perhaps mysterious forces are just more trustworthy than social
institutions? Or perhaps karma seems nice because its promotion is read
as ‘everyone will get what they deserve’, while markets seem nasty
because their promotion is read as ‘everyone deserves what they’ve
got’. Better ideas?

Comments

That's why you need data. Nothing is obvious until it is obviously in the data.

Taking an example from macro: That investment and output co-move is obvious. That this is true because shocks to productivity drive both is an obvious possibility, but it is not obviously true.

I'll go you one better.

"If it's mine, you cannot take it from me without getting a black eye if I fight."

And, the basic purpose of government is to reduce the fighting, so sometimes they protect the protectors while other times they protect the predators. The reason we respect property is because owners take care of it and get the most out of it, generally. If they don't that's what the losses are for with bankruptcy being the orderly transfer of property that the government institutes to avoid fights over ambiguous obligations. That's why they call it bankruptcy protection.

"If it's mine, you cannot take it from me without getting a black eye if I fight."

This statement, like legalistic decrees generally, is presumptuous. Maybe you get the black eye if you fight while I survive unscathed. In nature, creatures sometimes surrender territory rather than fight, so artificial states aren't necessarily more "civil". They seem beneficial to humanity in other ways, but I'm skeptical of "civility".

... the basic purpose of government is to reduce the fighting ...

So the governors tell me. I'd tell them that they only reduce challenges to their own authority, if they'd listen, but they don't.

The reason we respect property is because owners take care of it and get the most out of it, generally.

We respect property within the state because we fear the state. Without the state, we don't respect property at all. We respect natural territoriality instead.

Maybe, some states establish property to encourage "taking care" of resources. Maybe, particular property rights have this effect regardless of the intent of statesmen. That's an empirical question.

If statesmen ultimately claim every available margin of value of every resource for their own benefit, I suppose they construct "property" to protect valuable resources, and I suppose they do want everything they can take, so we agree here.

What M. Brock said. Murder isn't the same as killing. Murder is unjustified, illegal killing (i.e not manslaughter). Hence saying "murder is unjustified and illegal" is a tautology.

Most of the reasons such conclusions might be false are hidden in what you abstracted away. The question is whether you have the right abstraction for reality, not whether the abstraction has the implications it seems to.

This is the correct response to most of the vast number of Internet arguments that cite "Econ 101" as their basis.

Yes, yes, this is exactly the problem with all those other people who draw "obvious" conclusion with which I disagree. If only they could see the clear *obvious* arguments (using my favorite abstractions) that show just how very wrong they are. :)

it's clear none of the commenters write software.

it's not possible to count the number of obvious but incorrect things i have to work with on a daily basis.
daily: misconceptions, shortcuts, and changes to the essential situation.

if you are working in an area where generalizations and rules of thumb are acceptable or where data is uncertain, you can probably get away with making hard conclusions that hold over time. but otherwise not.

A more concise formulation that I've often heard is: "every complex problem has a solution that is simple, obvious, and wrong"

Statist believe it is moral to murder people if you are a agent of the government and some people in the government want you to murder.

[TC: YouTube reference was causing glitch and required an edit.]

I've often thought the pop-karma idea that "what goes around comes around" doesn't really transcend the quid-pro-quo market-reciprocal attitude; rather, it dogmatically asserts that all costs are internalized.

I wonder about my weakness vis a vis other participants in the market, I have no doubt about it vis a vis the state's most central authorities. They order uniformed men with sidearms, and I don't. They possess nuclear weapons, and I don't.

When it comes to exact sciences I guess people can use abstracting a lot. I'm not sure how much people can abstract things that are not in the field of math, physics etc. Education has many fields and I did a search recently for masters degree nursing and I have to tell you if people are able to abstract nursing then I'm not sure what the world is about anymore.

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