What You Wish For…

One of the blogs I frequent is Scott Adams‘ who, in my opinion, writes like a decent baseball player: mostly strikeouts (boring posts) and walks (skipped without reading), some singles (posts I read) and the occasional home run. By home run, I mean what Tyler Cowen and Bryan Caplan mean about Robin Hanson:

My other friend and colleague Bryan Caplan put it best: “When the typical economist tells me about his latest research, my standard reaction is ‘Eh, maybe.’ Then I forget about it. When Robin Hanson tells me about his latest research, my standard reaction is ‘No way! Impossible!’ Then I think about it for years.”

Anyway, last week, Scott pulled one of his posts and made a big deal of it. I was traveling and couldn’t muster the interest to try and figure out what happened, so I got on with my life. Little did I realize that this was a tempest in some teacup or other, and prompted Scott to pour his heart out in a meta-post:

I write material for a specific sort of audience. And when the piece on Men’s Rights drew too much attention from outside my normal reading circle, it changed the meaning.

I found that interesting and I see a parallel to a recent theme rattling around in my little hall of mirrors: the constraints on leaders.

There’s a massive incentive for prominent folks to be all things to all people and ride the gravy train as long as they can.

You know, don’t anger the audience.

But that audience is desperate to be provoked! It feels so good to set evildoers straight, people happily blur the line between misunderstanding and deliberate offense.*

I’ve tried and failed to find a certain quote from frustrated pundit pondering the fate of Larry Summers following Obama ’08. The upshot was that this guy was puzzled why so ‘smart a guy’ wrote such crappy columns at the FT. Never read them myself, but I gather they parroted conventional wisdom nakedly pandered to declared political allies. No boats being rocked there.

Controversy is fine for small audiences but, believe it or not, our system carefully selects the leaders we have. They’re the ones saying what we (collectively) want to hear.



*Far as I can tell, adult life starts in self-absorbed adolescence, then sets an infuriating pace of expanding complexity. No honest, self-aware mind can pretend to keep up. Why, then, bother being honest and self-aware?

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