I Am Free Of The Emancipatory Fire

Vladimir-NabokovIntellectuals and writers are, often, viciously uncreative. It is hard to write good books and make money in the market. What to do? They often find some cause or the other that stirs up the masses—and the other intellectuals. Now, what about the talented writers? I expect the extremely talented writers to send a counter-signal. 

As Tyler Cowen explains, “Consider that the most impressive Japanese business cards are those that list only the person’s name, and no title or affiliation. These are examples of counter-signaling. The Japanese business card doesn’t suggest the person does no business; on the contrary, he is so successful and important at his work that no introduction is needed. Counter-signaling is when the very rich dress like bums. A metrosexual is so sure of his sexual prowess that he can act, dress, and walk like a so-called girlie man. Does Bill Gates go home at night and tell his wife he earned a lot of money that day? I doubt it.” 

There is no reason to believe that intellectuals are an exception to this rule. Of course, they are sending out a signal that they are too good. Even without supporting fashionable causes, they will do just fine. Virtually all of my favorite intellectuals send such a counter-signal. I’ll quote some of these smarties:

“I believe in only one thing: liberty; but I do not believe in liberty enough to want to force it upon anyone. That is, I am nothing of the reformer, however much I may rant against this or that great curse or malaise. In that ranting there is usually far more delight than indignation. I never lecture, not because I am shy or a bad speaker, but simply because I detest the sort of people who go to lectures and don’t want to meet them. “- H. L. Mencken

“All right. You’re beginning to understand. So whatever we do, don’t let’s talk about the poor people in the slums. They have nothing to do with it, though I wouldn’t envy anyone the job of trying to explain that to fools. You see, I’m never concerned with my clients, only with their architectural requirements. I consider these as part of my building’s theme and problem, as my building’s material–just as I consider bricks and steel. Bricks and steel are not my motive. Neither are the clients. Both are only the means of my work. Peter, before you can do things for people, you must be the kind of man who can get things done. But to get things done, you must love the doing, not the secondary consequences. The work, not the people. Your own action, not any possible object of your charity. I’ll be glad if people who need it find a better manner of living in a house I designed. But that’s not the motive of my work. Nor my reason. Nor my reward. You said yesterday: What architect isn’t interested in housing projects? I hate the whole blasted idea of it. I don’t work with collectives. I don’t consult, I don’t cooperate, I don’t collaborate. “-Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

“Why did I write any of my books, after all? For the sake of the pleasure, for the sake of the difficulty. I have no social purpose, no moral message; I’ve no general ideas to exploit, I just like composing riddles with elegant solutions. I loathe such things as jazz, the white-hosed moron  torturing  a black   bull,   rayed   with   red,   abstractist  bric-a-brac, primitivist  folk  masks,   progressive   schools,   music   in supermarkets,  swimming  pools,  brutes, bores, class-conscious philistines,  Freud,  Marx,  fake  thinkers,  puffed-up  poets, frauds and sharks. I don’t belong to any club or group. I don’t fish, cook, dance,  endorse  books,  sign  books, co-sign declarations, eat oysters, get drunk, go to church, go to analysts, or take  part in demonstrations.”-Vladimir Nabokov

“Don’t feel that I want to reform the human race. I am free of the emancipatory fire.”-V. S. Naipual 

“Winter is here, and for the last few years this seasonal event has meant the sudden discovery of a brand-new category of the pitiable: the “homeless.” A vast propaganda effort has discovered the homeless and adjured us to do something about it—inevitably to pour millions of tax-dollars into the problem. There is now even a union of homeless lobbying for federal aid. Not so long ago there was another, apparently entirely different category: the “hungry,” for whom rock stars were making records and we were all clasping hands across America. And what has now happened to the Hungry? Have they all become well fed, and so rest content, while the Homeless are held up for our titillation? Or have they too organized a union of the Hungry? And what of next year? Are we to be confronted with a new category, the “unclothed,” or perhaps the “ill-shod”? And how about the “thirsty”? Or the candy-deprived? How many more millions are standing in line, waiting to be trotted out for consideration?”-Murray Rothbard

“Unjust treatment of the able may not be the greatest moral issue of our time. But unjust treatment of the able is a serious moral issue.  And it’s a serious moral issue that mainstream moral and political philosophy utterly ignores.  My question for bleeding-heart libertarians everywhere: Why don’t your hearts bleed for the able slave?”-Bryan Caplan

Psychological Health And Self Deception

define_normal“Many mental health professionals promote the idea that depression and other emotional disorders stem in large measure from irrational thinking. Depressives, they claim, believe false ideas about themselves and others. They are self-deceived and out of touch with reality. Irrational, self-deceptive thinking is alleged to be a factor distinguishing depressed people from “normal” ones, but this psychiatric homily turns out to be badly mistaken. Scientific research leads to the opposite conclusion that depressives seem to have a better grasp of reality than the “normal” psychiatrists treating them. Lauren Alloy of Temple University in Philadelphia and Lyn Abramson of the University of Wisconsin designed an experiment in which one of the investigators secretly manipulated the outcome of a series of games. Both depressed and nondepressed subjects took part in these fixed games. Psychologists have long known that “normal” thinking involves an element of grandiosity: we tend to give ourselves credit when events work in our favor, but dish out the blame to others when they pan out to our disadvantage. True to form, the non-depressed subjects overestimated the degree to which they had personally influenced the outcome when the game was rigged so that they did well, and underestimated their own contribution to the outcome when they did poorly. Turning to the depressed subjects, Alloy and Abramson found that depressed individuals assessed both situations far more realistically. The rather startling conclusion is that depressives may suffer from a deficit in self-deception. Similar results were obtained by the distinguished behavioral psychologist Peter Lewinsohn, who found that depressed people are often able to judge others’ impressions of them more accurately than non-depressed subjects are. In fact, these people’s ability to make accurate interpersonal judgements degenerated as their depressive symptoms diminished in response to treatment. Others have found that high levels of self-deception are strongly correlated with conventional notions of mental health, and that subjects with so-called mental disorders evidence lower levels of self-deception than “normal” people. This research suggests (although, of course, does not conclusively prove) that “normality”—whatever that word means—may rest on a foundation of self-deception. Remove or undermine the foundation, and depression or other forms of emotional difficulty may emerge. If mental health depends upon a liberal dose of self-deception then perhaps, as the philosopher David Nyberg wryly remarks, “Self knowledge isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.”-Why We Lie, David Livingstone Smith

Why We Lie

9780312310400_p0_v1_s260x420I am now reading “Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind”. I notice something strange about self deception. When people are supposed to do the right thing—and when they have no intention to do so—they create elaborate justifications for why they are NOT obliged to do that. Of course, they anger many people. They do wrong. They create enemies when they do so. These might be people who previously bore them no ill will. But, now their victims feel wronged and want to get even. But, this is precisely what people do in such situations.

A few months ago, a cheap smarty who spoke with a male friend of mine told me that this guy is cheap and mean. She said that she did not want to speak to him anymore because “they way he spoke—It was such a big turn off”. He was not someone I could trust, she said, because he fears that I might write about him. Much later, I heard from this guy that she had messaged him saying that I was annoying her. “Help! Help!” When I asked about it, she dodged the issue, and claimed that if I like her, I should trust her.

Poor thing. A week before this happened, she had sent me an email, pining.

Her full name is Akshaya Pillai. After all this, this smarty had sent him a long email explaining how I was annoying her, and why she had nothing to do with this.

Oh, the greatest writer of her generation chasing a little vermin with grandiose ambitions—the guttersnipe that struggles to write intelligible essays. But when I asked about this, she had forgotten the chain of events. She felt that she had not done enough to me. These cheapos have no self knowledge.

The truth was that what happened was mutual. I pursued her because she wanted me to pursue her.  She might have had her own reasons. Her father who drove bullock carts in the Middle East is now damaged goods and strapped for cash and was deported—to spend the rest of his life in a government hospital in Kerala. I do not know about that. I should have published her emails, and my conversations with her, but I have not done that.


The Genius Must Pay A Terrible Price

unemployedman“Rothbard was a wonder. At the conferences he would rarely appear until 1 or 2 in the afternoon. He would then give a great lecture on economics or history. Long after the other faculty members had retired for the evening, Rothbard would remain going strong. I remember one time when around midnight he declared that he was hungry. “Let’s go!” he said with his infectious enthusiasm and he, myself, and a handful of other students hopped in cars and proceeded to a local restaurant where we talked and debated for hours. At the time this seemed natural but in retrospect I am amazed that a man with such knowledge would be willing to spend so much time discussing ideas with quite ignorant people. I should add that Rothbard never encouraged sycophants and his manner was such that no one was ever afraid to debate with him.

I learned later one reason why Rothbard was pleased to talk with students at the Mises Institute summer conferences. He had no students to speak of during the rest of the year. As a naïve young person seeking out a university for graduate studies I immediately thought of Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute where Rothbard was then teaching. I remember vividly the day I called BPI for an application to the graduate economics department. “But Sir, we don’t have an economics department,” the secretary told me. “What,” I said incredulously, “you must have an economics department; you have one of the world’s best economists on staff.” But sadly it was true. I still find this a damning indictment of my profession and the American university system.”

When it was published, I missed this essay of Alexander Tabarrok in Walter Block’s “I Chose Liberty”.

The Kerala Myth

kerala-backwaters-thumbnailThe discussions about poverty and prosperity in India almost never mention IQ.  But, IQ matters more than almost anything.  

Manu Joseph in the New York Times:

Much of Kerala’s wealth comes not from within, but from a work force spread across the country and the rest of the world, chiefly in Middle Eastern nations. But the fact is that, because Kerala has invested in education and health care, it has ensured that a large proportion of its population, and not just its elite, could pounce on opportunities wherever they sprang up.

I do not trust the statistical data collected by Indian researchers. I do not respect the tendency to base one’s opinions on the statistics collected by government bodies in third world countries. But, let me accept these figures for the sake of an argument.

Now, Think. In 1951, Kerala had a literacy rate of 47% when the national average was only 18%. Many economists have argued that Kerala has not made spectacular progress after the Independence. True. Many states like Himachal Pradesh have radically improved the literacy rate. Kerala’s performance is by no means extraordinary. But, this is not the argument I wish to focus on here. Consider the argument that the remittances from abroad do not fully explain the high income level and development indicators in Kerala.  But, if Kerala’s literacy rate was nearly 3 times of that of the national average, and nearly twice of that of the second most literate state, Maharashtra, why is it so hard to assume that Malayalis have, on average, higher intelligence? Though no one has really done a study, I will be very surprised if this is not true. Isn’t it true that for this reason alone, we should expect Kerala to be far more prosperous and literate than the other parts of the country? Intelligence and other positive traits are correlated. So, isn’t it possible that Kerala would be far ahead of other states in health indicators too?

Remember. My point, still, is NoT that Keralites have a higher average intelligence. My question is: Why did such an obvious possibility escape the countless researchers who had praised or denounced the Kerala model? And, if all this is true, what needs explanation is not Kerala’s success in improving its people’s lot, but its failure. 

Ignoring IQ is like ignoring the elephant in the room. From Lynn’s “IQ and the Wealth of Nations”:

“Per capita income has been positively correlated with national IQs since 1820. The correlation between national IQs and per capita income increases from .540 (the average of the Pearson and Spearman correlations) in 1820 to .720 in 1997 to 1998 (the average of six Pearson correlations). Thus, national IQs explain 29 percent of the variance in per capita income in 1820 and 52 percent of the variance in per capita income in 1997-1998. The average of six Spearman correlations in 1997 to 98 rises to .833 and the explained part of variation rises to 69 percent. We conclude that differences in national intelligence provide the most powerful and fundamental explanation for the gap between rich and poor countries.”