Dave Rubin and the Weinstein Brothers

They talk for almost three hours, and you have to hang with it until the end to hear my three-axes model invoked by Eric Weinstein. His point is that libertarians will not be helpful if they (we?) deny that sometimes the other points of view are legitimate.

I met Eric at Foo camp, and I was hoping to get together with him a couple of weeks ago, but I had a snafu that messed up my travel. Until about a week ago, I had never connected him with Bret Weinstein, the professor who was at the center of the Evergreen State College controversy last May.

One of the interesting points that Eric makes early in the video is that in the United States we went from having 8 percent of the population pursue education beyond high school prior to World War II to close to 50 percent by 1970. That growth spurt created some major distortions in higher education. One can infer what those distortions included:

1. Some dilution of student quality. We have to be careful here, because prior to 1950, colleges were more selective on social class than academic ability. So what probably happened is that quality went up at the top schools. Where the dilution of quality was felt was more likely the mediocre institutions that expanded rapidly, notably mid-tier and lower-tier state schools.

2. A sort of phase change in the demand for new faculty toward the end of the 1970s. Until then, the demand for Ph.D’s soared. The system kept producing Ph.D’s as if demand would continue to rise at this unsustainable rate. By the 1980s, the attempt to maintain high demand for Ph.D’s starts to become dysfunctional, with universities creating pseudo-disciplines and superfluous administrative positions.

A lot of the discussion concerns the issue of orthodoxy vs. dissent. Recall that I wrote about Eliezer Yudkowski’s case that one should doubt oneself when defying orthodoxy. Eric Weinsten offers a different perspective on this. He says that the way to tell a cult from a group that pursues truth is that the cult will not tolerate any dissent. What is odd about our current environment is that it is the mainstream in many fields that is behaving like a cult, and it is a small group outside the mainstream that is open-minded.

In Specialization and Trade, I include the quote attributed to Andre Gide: trust those who seek the truth; doubt those who find it. By that standard, it is the mainstream that cannot be trusted. For example, both Eric and Bret argue there are rational reasons to fear anthropogenic climate change. But the mainstream climate scientists are acting in ways that make themselves untrustworthy to anyone alert to cult behavior.

The discussants take the view that journalism, academia, and major political parties are so cult-like at present that the future of humanity is in doubt. Our world is fragile, due to a combination of technological dangers and mainstream institutions that are insular and complacent.

The participants talk about a “Game B” that somehow enables institutional improvement. It all sounds a bit conspiratorial. Nassim Taleb would be an example of a Game B sort of intellectual. Is Jordan Peterson part of Game B? Perhaps. Is Donald Trump part of Game B? No, but his victory in part reflects the dysfunctionality and corruption of mainstream institutions.

Whether the current political environment redounds to the benefit of Game B is highly uncertain. Eric’s fear is that things could get really ugly for the Game B types. If you read my moonshot essay, you know which side I am on as an economist.

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10 Responses to Dave Rubin and the Weinstein Brothers

  1. Robert Sterbal says:

    I like to think I’m very open minded but not smart enough to get a PhD

    I think the analysis is too focused on just academia.

  2. Matthew Young says:

    Its the high cost of sorting labor. Labor transactions conceal inside information from observations except long after the fact. So there is always a high intermediary cost needed to collect the inside information, hiring managers, very expensive.

    We have labor stuck on college campuses longer than they should be because no one wanted to foot the intermediary bill. Imagine the difficulty of labor mobility if all the inside information was from on the job skills. It would be very difficult to do efficient searches and learn how much labor was queued up (priced). Signalling is good, even when imperfect, at least the colleges did some expensive sorting for us.

  3. Tom G says:

    “Some dilution of student quality.” Unlikely, even if one is merely noting average student quality (as implied by mid-tier critique).

    Going from college kids mostly in the top 10% families, to opening up for the top students from all mixes. In my mind I see the top 60% of a bell curve, as 95% of the new students. Think IQ, middle 100, top 60% starts at 95 maybe, but the median is maybe 110. Half the new students are over 110.

    In the pre-WW II class, the avg IQ is higher than whole pop middle of 100, maybe 105, but there’s plenty of avg intel rich kids in college with their dad’s money. So on IQ alone, it’s unlikely to have really been student quality dilution.

    Plus, the ‘normal’ additional 40% (added to the pre war ‘rich kid’ 10%) is very likely to have better work habits and more hunger for advancement — since they’re NOT spoiled / well-bred rich kids.

    Hard working avg IQ normal kids are of ‘better student quality’ than slightly higher IQ lazy rich kids.

    The “college premium” was based more on the work ethic reward for studying & boot-licking superiors (a form of work, too; learning to do some, but not too much), plus very positive network effects, rather than the actual knowledge gained.

    Very interesting about how Libs should stop denying that other POVs are legit; I agree! (so of course it’s brilliant) (is this too much boot-licking here?)
    The key is to focus on your 3-axes, and claim that from the coercion-freedom view, it’s one way, yet from the oppressed-oppressor view its … the same policy recommendation but because it reduces the oppression in practice.
    Actually, in today’s media, focus on the dominant Dem oppressed-oppressor axes, and show how less coercion/ more freedom helps the oppressed.
    Tho enforcement of contracts between the rich & poor, so that the rich can’t cheat the poor, is probably the ‘single’ most important job of gov’t which can help poor folk all over the world. And it needs non-corrupt gov’t.

  4. Joseph K says:

    I’d be cautious about how you characterize the global warming debate. Sure, in politics and the media it’s very dogmatic and cult like, but the people involved in that debate are mostly non-experts. The people doing research are probably more open than you realize.

    • Handle says:

      ” The people doing research are probably more open than you realize.”

      This use of open could mean “open minded in terms of a willingness to entertain and publish opposing viewpoints and arguments, without succumbing to the temptation to circle the wagons and turn on the mean-girls-clique ad hominem hate machine” or it could mean, “eager to provide open access to the information needed to independently scrutinize claims.”

      Let’s say that’s a hypothesis we want to test: how can we evaluate that claim? No one is ever going to say, publicly and under their own name, “I confess to knowingly publishing a bunch of bogus research for years because of the politicized clique that has control over professional prestige and career advancement in my field would not have allowed me to check the boxes to get tenure in any other way.” There is no such thing as a qui tam award for that kind of revelation, there are no civil or criminal penalties that create any kind of authority or incentive for investigation, no way to “replace management,” (with whom, exactly?) as with a bankrupt company, etc.

      One way would be to look to what happens to the most reasonable, civil, professional, rigorous, and moderate skeptics of the most alarmist claims. The answer has been the hate machine: defamation (to put it lightly), exclusion from debate, and concerted efforts to impose unfair and unjust social and professional punishments. The answer to this is always, “just a few bad apples,” but if those bad apples spoil the bunch – that is, effectively influence all the other apples to cooperate with their imposition of social punishments – then the point of the argument – that it’s an insignificant phenomenon not worth mentioning or worrying about – is nullified.

      Another way would be to ask, when people have asked for data and code to be made public or to be allowed to examine it for themselves, or when they have filed for FOIA requests for emails covered under the law, how willing and cooperative, on average, have the prominent figures in the field been?

      The answer seems to be that, on average, the most prominent researches making the most cited and repeated claims relied upon to make new claims, have been consistently resistant to, and obstructive of, any such efforts. Take a look at Steve McIntryre’s Climate Audit for many tales of this kind of vigorous recalcitrance and vehemently closed attitude. The US government handles nearly a million FOIA requests a year and only willing to go to court to defend rejections in a relative handful of cases. Meanwhile, climate research-related FOIA requests here and abroad hit consistent insistence on secrecy by people who are willing to fight it out until their dying breath.

      Litigiousness in efforts to silence critics is another sign, and Mann’s infamously interminable suit against Steyn is a case in point.

  5. Charles W. Abbott says:

    “Cult” is a strong word. Let me give a listen and see how it works.

    Some of Prof. Arnold’s post above (including his paraphrasing) I would re-write along these lines…

    Some groups have a belief that they are attached to, and the belief is a working hypothesis, and members of the group (some, at least) can show you how they reached the belief, and they invite you to believe to. “Think about it, work it out in your head, and you’ll see how our conclusion is what we think.”

    Some groups have a belief that they are attached to, and the belief is doctrine which is taken as self-evident, the members of the group (some, at least) can invite you to believe to, and teach you to repeat the belief. There are negative consequences for failing to adopt the belief (or at least for questioning it publicly). There are positive consequences when you “get with the program” and embrace the belief, or at least publicly appear to do so. Education is more along the lines of “Repeat after me.”

    = = – = – = – =

    That still needs work–but that’s my first draft. It’s a question of doctrine, being indoctrinated, versus led to a conclusion that is consistent (we think) with evidence.

    Life is complicated because we all belong to various groups, and they have various beliefs. some of them are live wires. Some you cannot object to publicly.

    Every group probably has both sets of beliefs–some that are reasoned hypotheses, and others that are markers of group membership

    A good statement of this issue, as it takes place on some university campuses, was made here:


    = – = – = – =

    Paul Graham’s essay “What you can’t say” is still worth reading. Sorry if I’ve mentioned it excessively in the past.


    = – = – = – =

    also toxoplasma of rage, at Slate Star Codex. It’s new (to me)–methinks it was linked at the blog Lead and Gold.

    The odd thing about the “toxoplasma of rage” essay is that Scott Alexander has pointed out that the highly publicized news reports (of, say, official misconduct) tend to be the the ones that often wilt under scrutiny. Thus, you show your commitment to the cause by siding with an iffy case, not an clear-cut, slam-dunk, open-and-shut case.


  6. Lord says:

    Those who pursue the truth also have less tolerance for BS. Tolerance for BS is not open mindedness, but another way of closing them. It is used selectively against anything they would not like the consequences of if true and way of avoiding it. It inflates their egos and flatters their self image to believe there are conspiracies out there against them, that others have ulterior motives to thwart them, and that they are independent underdogs on solitary paths when they are only pursuing what they want to believe. Sound familiar?

    • Charles W. Abbott says:

      This notion “pursuit of the truth” reminds me of Paul Gottrfried’s article …


      Gottfried goes back to Max Weber:

      “It was the great German sociologist Max Weber who sharply distinguished in two related tracts between “Politics as a Calling” and “Science as a Calling.” According to Weber, educated people have to decide whether they are making statements as scholars, or whether they’re doing so as political advocates. One cannot do both, according to Weber, without losing one’s intellectual integrity and sacrificing one’s scholarly reputation. Although Weber lived in a time when academics were not as frenetically politicized as they are now, his distinction still has instructional value.”

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        When Paul Krugman moved from MIT to Princeton and got his NYT column, I noticed a real change in his writing. It was as if he had thought to himself, “I can write scholarly articles that give us a better understanding of the world and make it a better place eventually. I can continue to write long-form articles of explanation that help people understand and over the long haul will make the world a better place. But if I want to make the world a better place soon I have to find my team, and write only what will help them–and hurt the other teams. My team is the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.”

        To use Weber’s terms, he went from scholar to political advocate.

  7. Handle says:

    A lot of the discussion concerns the issue of orthodoxy vs. dissent. Recall that I wrote about Eliezer Yudkowski’s case that one should doubt oneself when defying orthodoxy. Eric Weinsten offers a different perspective on this. He says that the way to tell a cult from a group that pursues truth is that the cult will not tolerate any dissent.

    Eric is mostly right, but the trouble with this sine qua non test is with the “any”. Any group of people that tend to form their interactions based on the consideration of certain ideas have their own “Overton Windows”. All cults will accurately point to the existence of vigorous debate on certain matters within their own window (consider what led up to the council of Nicaea), and all non-cults will properly still not tolerate entertainment of some ideas that most of the most prestigious figures dismiss as unworthy of even being given a platform for consideration.

    How can we deal with cooks, cranks, and crackpots, especially the really smart and prolific ones? How can contrarians with accurate viewpoints but which are in the extreme minority convince gate-keeping prestigious figures they aren’t one of these crackpots? It’s not even sufficient to say that at least the experts in a field should just ignore crackpots or roll their eyes at them, instead of going on a crusade to crush and humiliate them, which would be a sign of cult-like behavior. Because again, the members of every non-cult discipline can always convince themselves that the danger of spreading misinformation about their field to the public in a way that threatens to become widely believed is too great and the experts have a duty to combat such fads by whatever means required to do so.

    The discussion always follows the same script. “You need to allow this in.” – “We don’t allow racism or flat-earthism in, and it is entirely prudent that we do so. This is just like those. What, are you saying we should let racism or falt-earthism in too?” – “Um, ah, {coughs} heh, no, {laughs nervously} er, of course not, {wipes sweat from brow}, I certainly against those things {stammers}, please never associate with those vile moronic ideas which are clearly beyond the pale, but, ah, you see, in some cases …” – “You’ve already conceded the principle of limiting tolerance and diversity, so it’s incoherent for you to argue for these things for their own sake, which thus only leaves questions about where the lines should be drawn.”

    Which is really a question of who gets to draw the lines, and can they be trusted to do it well. There’s no substitute for good, honest judgment, but many academic fields lack for good, honest judges.

    Cochran recently had a short post on this which makes the point that Haidt’s heterodox academy project has great difficulty addressing: “By what procedure can we ensure that we are striking the right balance between being so open-minded our brains fall out (again, see Cochran’s post), and being so selective that a social group dynamic succumbs to what I call a “social failure mode” and in which the real selection criteria turn into an ideological loyalty test.

    The left often uses the words “diversity” and “tolerance” as generic and vague “value” words which they use as if they always have unquestionably positive valence, and that no one would question it without simultaneously revealing himself to be an awful person. Haidt likes to try to ride this wave by arguing that they should also tolerate intellectual diversity too, but that never works, because the left gets to switch definitions when it’s convenient.

    It’s pretty obvious that this never had a chance of convincing anyone (that is, of “opening the minds of the other side,”) and so it’s tempting to suspect he’s mostly creating a focal point that allows dissident outsiders to organize, coordinate, and to appear numerous and also recognize their real numbers, but that he’s also performing for people who already agree with him about widespread social failure throughout the academy and enjoy watching the exposure of the other side’s hypocrisies.

    But there’s obviously bad and good diversity, and good and bad tolerance – intellectual or otherwise – and so arguing for diversity for diversity’s sake or tolerance for tolerance’s sake in any matter only mirrors the idiocy of those who do so in other contexts.

    Now, Eric Weinstein is right in that there is no good roundabout way to point out the problem by, for example, appealing to warm-and-fuzzy value-words, and there is no alternative to making a more direct claim in the form of an accusation that something is seriously wrong with what people are thinking and doing in certain fields. It’s just that “not tolerating dissent” is not a good way to support that claim, for the above reasons.

    Instead, what I propose is conceptually organizing a branch of Social Psychology and studying the modes of the phenomenon of ideological “Social Failure”, which is akin to “Market Failure”, and perhaps a species of Social Failure relevant to this particular discussion of problems in the academy could be called, “Ideological Market Failure.”

    I’m guessing it wouldn’t be too difficult, though perhaps time-consuming, to pull together existing scholarship on Social Psychology and group social dynamics and to spell out the various tendencies and mechanisms that can lead to social failure modes, and to create a nosology and series of diagnostic indicators of presented symptoms that indicate an academic field (or even a society at large) is suffering from some particular kind of social disease.

    (Maybe the advanced research topics or graduate student seminars in such disciplines would examine the implications for political science and investigate whether it is even possible in principle to avoid these issues in the long term in any open and/or democratic society.)

    This body of concepts could then give teeth to the kind of direct and specific accusations I’m saying are indispensable and unavoidable in these matters, as much as someone would otherwise prefer to be ‘diplomatic’ in broaching the subject and couch things in an abstract or general way appealing to socially promoted values, so as to maintain friendly relations and a good reputation among those who will want to socially retaliate against anyone making such claims.

    The reality is that the members of any ideologically-based clique have incredibly strong and accurate Schmittian instincts regarding potential challengers or defectors, and they are going to do whatever they can to punish and lower the status of any detractors anyway, no matter how polite and oblique they are trying to be about it.

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