2013-08-12

Anyone Who Disagrees Is Stupid And/Or Evil

When I was a young man, I was thoroughly convinced that the world was full of good guys, bad guys, and people too stupid to have chosen a side. What this implied was that people who didn't agree with me were generally either stupid or evil. It sounded nice, but I ran into problems when I started meeting people who were good, intelligent people, and yet they still disagreed with me.

So, these days, I take a different approach. I assume that almost everyone is more or less equally intelligent, and are also rationally self-interested. I also assume that people are basically good. I then supplement this rather optimistic view of human nature with another important assumption: that human beings possess flaws that are inherent to the process of human cognition.

What I'm getting at with this latter assumption is that human beings excel at abstract reasoning, but that abstract reasoning isn't perfect. If you see a red rubber ball drop from the roof of a building, you could probably come up with a large number of plausible explanations for why it happened, based on what else you happen to know and observe. But there is only one correct explanation, and it may or may not appear on your list. What makes one person assume that the ball was just recently thrown there by a local child, while another person assumes that the ball had been on the roof for a long time and the wind blew it down?

More importantly, what makes people who subscribe to the first theory suddenly believe that the people who subscribe to the second one are either misinformed, stupid, or evil? Do people actually believe this sort of thing?

Well, yes:
I’ll tell you what they envision. 
-Their graduate-student friends have an easier time getting/staying here, less annoying red tape.-Slightly lower prices at the marketplace for, like, lettuce (and derivates) [sic], and lawn care, and such. 
-Um, that’s about it. No other effects on them, particularly no bad effects that they can perceive inside their bubble. 
Then they extrapolate their experience to be representative of everyone’s, and wonder what on earth the problem could possibly be. Even when people go to great lengths to tell them flat-out.
Poor Anonymous Reach believes that people who support the open borders idea consist of a specific category of people; you know, people with "graduate-student friends," live in a "bubble," and "extrapolate their experience to be representative of everyone's."

Well, I think it's too bad that Anonymous Reach isn't friends with any graduate students, but aside from that attribute, the group of people he just described is a lot like he and his friends. That's because we all live in the bubble of our own perspectives and extrapolate from personal experience. What else should anyone do?

In fact, the whole benefit of sharing an opinion rooted in personal experience is that other people - you know, people like Anonymous Charmer - may have experienced something quite different, and we can both have more-informed opinions if we share those experiences. Of course, when one person's experience consists of meeting a lot of hard-working, honest people from other countries and the other person's experience is an unsubstantiated belief that darkly complected people are bankrupting the nation, the major gains from this sort of exchange will be felt by one side disproportionately. (Not to put too fine a point on it, this means that the Anonymous Reach will benefit more from reading OpenBorders.info than its writers will from reading Rhymes With Cars & Girls.)

The problem is much larger than one blog author, of course. Anonymous Charmer is getting his information from the likes of Steve Sailer and Chateau Heartiste. These corners of the internet have developed their own private language describing those with whom they disagree: The "spergs," "The Cathedral," the "elites," "NAMs," "SWPLs," and so on.

Essentially, what we're looking at is a process of in-grouping. These folks all enjoy circling the wagons and placing others in enemy categories because... well, that's what in-groups do. They exclude. That is the whole purpose of having an in-group, and when the primary task is maintaining it, any outsider is an existential threat. If one's goal is to maintain an in-group, then one's mind - being human, which is to say rationally self-interested, but cognitively flawed - one feels compelled to place all outsiders into a single out-group.

Paul Krugman calls this out-group "knaves and fools." (See the parity here? If you disagree, you're either stupid or evil.) Anonymous Charmer calls this out-group "Smart People," which is a revealed preference for stupidity over nefarity - at least we can say that he has a rosier view of human nature than Paul Krugman, even if it is faint praise to say it. The Austrian School of economics crowd calls the out-group "Keynesians," and the Rothbardians call them "statists." Progressives use the catch-all term "rednecks," but they've been at this game for a long time, so they have all sorts of dog-whistle phrases like 'murica and Mc-Anything.

So there is a lot of human nature driving this insistence on seeing any disagreement as an epic conflict. Unfortunately, the more one does this, the further one gets from the actual truth. Herein lies the catch-22 faced by Steve Sailer's fans: In order to better understand the world around them, they have to allow foreign ideas to infiltrate their bubble and assess those ideas on their merits. They must allow themselves to grow tolerant of ideas to which they object, to stop seeing them as nefarious or idiotic and instead process them with more maturity and a better appreciation for diversity of opinion.

The fact that this is a near-perfect analogy to immigration should not be lost on anyone.

I'll leave you with the first and last paragraphs of another great recent post at Economic Thought:
I think it’s fair to assume that, on some level, we can distinguish between liberal Libertarians and conservative Libertarians, where the major difference is in the prediction of what a close-to-ideal libertarian society would look like. The liberals predict a plural world where borders matter less and where differences can be resolved through trade, whether through institutions of the market or institutions of governance. Conservatives, especially those least interested in trade-offs and compromise, foresee a world where (some or all) people migrate to form relatively ethnically homogenous communities — this prediction may not be explicit in their writing, but this is my interpretation.1 Both doctrines are consistent with the broad Libertarian value of limited government, they just differ in the prediction on human behavior and values (i.e. the debate is over an empirical question). This division doesn’t always work, but I think it does to a sufficient extent.
...
I tend to think that cosmopolitanism, pluralism, and limited government are all related, in the sense that freer societies tend to be more plural and more cosmopolitan than their less free counterparts. Part of this comes from a clear belief in the Whig interpretation of history, as far as liberalism goes. “My” theory, however, doesn’t predict that society will necessarily become more free, more plural, and more cosmopolitan, but that if it does become more free, it will also be more plural and more cosmopolitan.