Scott Sumner has a new post (hot off the “press,” perhaps? – only three comments so far) in a second response to Paul Krugman’s claim Market Monetarists are “homeless.” While I suppose everyone wants to be “wanted,” I am not so sure that being adopted would be better for all the reasons Scott mentions and even more.
When I was in my late 20s and early 30s I was quite ambitious and right about a lot of things in my line of work. I was good at what I did and I knew it. But there were a lot of things I didn’t know, in particular about a thing called zeitgeist that is so much larger than one person’s intellect. Certainly it is much larger than even reason itself. There are only so many things one can do to point out improvements that can be made, different ways of thinking about common problems, and alternative solutions that could almost be thought of as radical; and I found out the hard and painful way that I did an exemplary job at leading the horse to water, but nothing more. As astounding as it is for obviously intelligent people to reject logic that is as simple and plain as water running downhill, it happens. And it happens far more often than not. Not because they are stupid. They aren’t. Their brains just are not wired quite the same way; they don’t have the habit of deep thought or curiosity (I suppose we call it critical thinking skills). They take much of the world at face value, and, for many, have to have a sort of Darwinian moment before they rethink the situation at hand. In a word, thoughtless unless it has something to do with avoiding pain, embarrassment or loneliness. It matters not how bright the idea presented. If it doesn’t fit the priors, it is nonsense, especially when there is a large personal investment in the priors. It’s generally what being human is all about and there isn’t anything that will change it.
At the same time, I’ve got my own things to worry about. And as I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten a lot easier to state my peace and leave it. It’s a daily thing at work where, in the technology field, there are a lot of egos with things to prove to deal with. I do my work, put the engineering report together and distribute it, as if to say, “This is how to make it work in a cost effective manner.” Then, it’s off to the next thing. I don’t sit around and argue about it. In fact, I think I’ve become much better at not arguing without agreeing to things I don’t agree with than anything else… and it works! It works because, I think, these people imagine themselves as they truly are – going it alone, having to do the work already done and they come back to the fold. But it is a somewhat lonely experience, never really having a meeting of the minds, with nobody to engage in those kinds deep intellectual conversations with.
I suppose what I am trying to say is that being “homeless” is more of backward compliment than it is a slur; partly because acceptance doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with being correct or having the best ideas. That’s just the way it is.
PS: That Tony Yates post is worth reading from a social science PoV. I find the frequent use of the word “we” rather fascinating, and I think it says more about what he really means than the technical jargon flung about that means almost nothing.