Influences on One’s Thinking

Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute says who influenced him, including

How Richard Dawkins Got Pwned and An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives — Mencius Moldbug (Both very long.) I am not a neo-reactionary, but sometimes I think Mencius Moldbug is the greatest living political thinker. His claim that progressivism is a non-theistic sect of Protestantism, with all of Protestantism’s evangelism and intolerance of heresy, is in particular very persuasive to me. I also think ‘neocameralism’ is quite a cool model for a state and I’d like to see it tried out somewhere.

Pointer from Tyler Cowen.

Most of Bowman’s influences come from the right, but a few come from the left. I notice that all of those on the left have prestigious academic positions. Many on the right do not. I do not think that is purely coincidental. I believe that if you limit your reading to credentialed academics, you will miss many important thinkers on the right, but you won’t miss out on much from the left.

I always like to play this sort of game myself. In chronological order, some of my influences:

1. My father, Merle Kling, with his three iron laws of social science: sometimes it’s this way and sometimes it’s that way; the data are insufficient; and the methodology is flawed.

2. Murray Edelman, The Symbolic Uses of Politics. He makes a distinction between what I would call inside politics and outside politics. On the inside, it’s rent-seeking. On the outside, it’s theater.

3. David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest. Before I read it, my explanation for the Vietnam War would have been a Lenin-Chomsky story of capitalist corporations seeking foreign markets. Halberstam introduced me to the process of an elite closing ranks against outsiders and in the process closing ranks against reality.

4. George Gilder, Microcosm. It has been a long time since I read it, and perhaps it does not wear well, but it convinced me that in the computer age one does not need large chunks of physical capital to have a major business.

5. Amar Bhide, The Origin and Evolution of New Businesses. Again, many of his cases may be out of date, but his description of the business ecosystem struck me as very accurate.

6. Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age. The sci-fi novel that brought us Vickies and Thetes, thus anticipating recent work by Charles Murray and Robert Putnam almost two decades earlier.

7. David Brin, The Transparent Society. Another sci-fi author, but this was nonfiction and prescient in ways both large and small.

8. Robin Hanson, ___ is not about ____.

9. James Manzi, Uncontrolled. The book is about causal density, which I think of as the phenomenon that accounts for Merle Kling’s three iron laws.

10. Martin Gurri, The Revolt of the Public. Murray Edelman’s system becomes unstable when new media enable the audience to climb on stage.

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7 Responses to Influences on One’s Thinking

  1. asdf says:

    “Halberstam introduced me to the process of an elite closing ranks against outsiders and in the process closing ranks against reality.”

    Love this.

  2. Tom G says:

    I see no “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” (TANSTAAFL)– the alternate path towards Libertarians rather than Ayn Rand, tho usually both paths thru Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia”.

    Friedman’s “Free To Choose” also comes to mind, but I was already a small-gov’t guy when skimming it.

    I would expect “A Random Walk Down Wall Street” to be among your influences. (“I conclude that reports of the death of the efficient-market theory are
    vastly exaggerated.” << from 7th ed., 1999, free PDF).

    2 things (not really a book) 2 ideas explain most key insights in a subjects. For economics: 1) Incentives matter, 2) There's no free lunch.

    And not Richard Dawkins "The Selfish Gene"? Even if increasingly wrong (see 39 trillion non-human DNA bacteria in a body, vs 30 trillion human cells), it was a powerful evolutionary idea.

    And have you no mythic stories? "The Lord of the Rings" brings to mind the heroism of day after day, step by step, progress towards a goal of uncertain achievement.

    Finally, "The Evolution of Cooperation" Tit For Tat strategy – do good to others first move, then treat them as they treated you last move.

    Not much recent for me tho. Hmmm.

  3. Ben Kennedy says:

    Maybe you are not fully on the Scott Alexander bandwagon yet – but as far as thinkers go, he is top notch and defies a traditional Left/Right categorization. He is essentially his own axis of politics, see his most recent post for evidence of that

    • Jeff R. says:

      I was gonna say the same. That guy is good.

    • asdf says:

      Scott’s entire recent blog post boils down to “yeah, we are fucking everything up, but genetic engineering or something like that will bail us out, and if it doesn’t oh well. At least we will have given out AIDS meds to Africa in the meantime.”

      There is a lot of Trump hysteria too. The whole thing reads like giant status quo bias, which is really all he is. It’s all any of these progs are. People call Scott independent because he denounces the absolute fringe of low status progressive politics (and still thinks they are right on substance if wrong on message). Nothing special about this guy.

      Scott’s been dumb on a lot of things, but like everyone else he’s really missed the boat on immigration. It’s impossible to call radically changing the demographics of the entire western world “stability”.

      His point VI. that winning the election isn’t enough is true. You have to destroy progressivism. That means viscously going after the source with everything at your disposal. A Sulla type purge.

      Scott says this will be destabilizing, but it’s going to happen anyway. Already leftists don’t give a fuck about the rule of law, they do what they want, when they want, to whoever they want. Not fighting back doesn’t solve this, only defeating them solves it. Purge or be purged. And this has to be done before the Orcish hordes make the math impossible.

      His must absurd claim is that a Republican victory would make things more SJW. Did eight years of Obama make people less SJW? SJWs respond to power. This idea they think they are victims is absurd. They know they have power at their back, that’s why they do what they do. If they knew SJWism provided no sinecures, no social status, nothing but a cops baton to their skull, they would slink off to their Pokemon Go. SJWism exists because it captured power and uses it for the personal advancement of SJWs.

      This website to allow students to change the pronouns they want to be referred to in real time and sent to the teacher for each new lecture wasn’t developed by oppressed people. It was administered by people making $400,000 a year, built by IT professionals also making good money, etc. Progressivism is about acquiring personal power, if you take away the power progressivism will collapse.

      Scott’s plan to wait another 4 years for Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush to defeat progressivism is absurd. Which means all he really cares about is that nothing changes. This requires nothing of him and poses no risk to him. That it will doom his society within a generation or two doesn’t matter because “either we’ll invent AI or die off, whatever.” Weak, fuck him. This is the Flight 93 election.

      Life is a power struggle. We win it or they win it. There is nothing else. There is no calm status quo where things don’t go one way or the other. It’s a fiction of Scott’s mind.

  4. Handle says:

    I would put Scalia on my own list. Robin Hanson. Steve Sailer. De Jouvenal. Gordon Tullock. De Maistre. Schelling.

    Scott Sumner too, a little. Plenty of the DC metro econoblogosphere.

  5. Andrew_FL says:

    If the Right are now Cameralists then we are indeed enemies. They must be destroyed.

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