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Mixed Society

We live in a mixed society. Partly open, partly closed, in Popper’s terms. Partly dynamic/rational, partly static/anti-rational, in DD’s meme terms.

What sort of mix is it?

Things change within the time scale of one generation or less. Not just technology. Fashion changes. Political trends/ideas/talking-points change, and these changes aren’t just adaptations of the same principles to new situations, there are changes in goals and bigger picture ideas.

Our society allows for lots of change, but it’s full of contradictions. Many people advocate being nicer to animals than to children. People learn anti-macho ideas, and ideas about peace instead of war, and various others, and they don’t apply this to their treatment of children. They make an exception for children. It’s not the only exception, just a big one. People’s way of behaving towards children is resistant to change. Many things resist change and progress.

Intellectuals, in general, are not open to criticism in general. There are specific, limited mechanisms by which they listen to new ideas (and they are extremely resistant writing down what the mechanisms and limits are, they don’t want to study or document that, or think about it much). They have some partial willingness to listen to ideas from peers, from authors with good reputations, from people with lots of credentials who get past the gatekeepers who edit academic journals. Sometimes they’ll listen to an idea from any source, if they happen to like it, but that’s much less reliable, there’s more resistance there. They find it much easier to ignore an idea from a low intellectual-social status person than from a high status person in their field.

Intellectuals, in general, are not interested in ideas as a category. They work in some limited area. This isn’t just a matter of specialization. They generally stick to the limits even when presented with explanations of why ideas in other areas are relevant to what they are doing. Intellectuals are generally either fakers or people who are interested in one area instead of no areas.

Most people really aren’t very interested in ideas in a serious way. So plenty of intellectuals are different. Even if it’s only like 5% of intellectuals that are interested in ideas in one area, that’s still a lot of people. The faking rates are higher in academia and in government work, and lower in the business world and with hobbyists/amateurs/non-professionals who actually spend a lot of time on it (there are a lot of amateurs who do intellectual stuff to feel clever, or whatever, but they don’t do a whole lot of it, and the faking rates are very high there).

Some of the difficulties for me, btw, are:

1) Only a handful of people are genuinely interested in epistemology. I present as evidence that someone with a real interest in the matter would not ignore Popper. They might disagree with Popper, but they’d be interested in some other ideas to engage with that offer some originality and some different approaches.

2) People who are interested in some other area, but not epistemology, are hard to talk with or collaborate with or whatever. Cuz they make some mistakes related to thinking methods (epistemology) and then they aren’t interested in that and won’t fix it. The thinking method errors create patterns of chronic error within their field. And I want to talk about the patterns, not the individual errors, but that doesn’t work for them because thinking about patterns like that is outside their field.

Epistemology is the most important field and it comes up so much in all the other fields. (That is a main reason why it interests me.) So when dealing with bounded intellectuals, who have limited interests, epistemology is the most common point of conflict. Epistemology is the most common tangent to come up that I think is crucially important and they don’t want to do.

Epistemology deals with thinking methods and criticism, and rational epistemology is a threat to static memes in all fields. So it’s one of the core things resisted by static memes in general. So that makes it hard.

Most of the resistance is passive, btw. People mostly just don’t do very much, and that passivity is extra strong when it comes to key areas like epistemology or parenting ideas. But hundreds of millions of people not doing much can still add up to quite a bit of change in society as a whole.

It’s very hard to tell how much there are a few doers/leaders/pioneers, and the others are mostly ballast, as Ayn Rand talked about. Or, in the alternative, the people getting credit didn’t do much and it was just lots of tiny contributions adding up. Maybe both things happen and it’s not primarily one or the other. Certainly there are plenty of fake leaders getting underserved credit, but there seem to be some real ones too. Some of the clearer examples are some of the few scientists who were highly productive. Maybe a few of them were just one among many who happened to get lucky, but I think some of them were actually exceptional. (Maybe some of them were one among twenty exceptional people who happened to get luckier than the others. Maybe that’s common. I don’t really know.)

Elliot Temple on February 10, 2019


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