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.