The other side of the hill

I just saw someone suggest that one needs to make a serious effort to understand the best arguments of people you disagree with – that you should, for example, [  spend 30 minutes or so a day reading the “other side.”]

I could imagine reasons for this: tactical reasons, for example. Trying to understand what the opposition may do next.   Or, in another different, world, you might actually face an opposition that had logically valid things to say on some issues, even many issues.

But in many situations, today’s for example, your opponents may just be loons. Do you really think that my life would have been improved in any way  if I’d spent half an hour a day reading Freud?  Or Judith Butler? I don’t think so.

Shortcut:  if they make predictions, none of which ever come true,  forget about them. Saves valuable time.







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81 Responses to The other side of the hill

  1. manwhoisthursday says:

    You can get all the Butler you ever need by reading Sara Salih’s short (and clear) intro:

    It’s written by a Butler sympathizer too, so you’re not getting a hostile caricature. I got some laughs out of the lesbian phallus.

  2. masochistory says:

    Do you really think that my life would have been improved in any way if I’d spent half an hour a day reading Freud?

    Maybe, maybe not, but you’d recognize that this — an unwillingness to engage with the “other side” — is occasionally an ego defense designed to protect your schemas. If you happened to find something capable of changing your mind on the other side, it would shatter your current reality, and that is internally terrifying. (For everyone.)

    I don’t mean to come across as accusatory, because you’re right: other people may be “loons.” Particularly dogmatic leftists. But as a principle, it’s not a terrible thing to attempt to understand the other side; you hope decently smart people believe things for decently respectable reasons. And if your “opponent” or the “opposition” — both your words, and telling — is decently respectable, it might be worth uncovering just why they believe [Silly Thing X].

    Frenetic protection of epistemology is indicative of something more than truth-abiding…

    • gcochran9 says:

      Have a prediction come true and I promise to listen. More exactly, a few, more than you’d get by using a magic 8-ball. No correct predictions, no me listen.

      In 2016, the number of homicides in Chicago jumped 58% from the year before. According to Slate, “Most social scientists have struggled to reach any firm conclusions.” While I didn’t have much trouble understanding why, to them it’s forever mysterious. And that’s not an isolated event: they’re always wrong. It’s their job. So why should I pay them any mind? Why should I take their ideas seriously? Why should anyone?

      Should I have taken social psychology seriously? I never did: was I just lucky?

      • masochistory says:

        Your point is taken re: predictions — is it the Popperian view of science that asserts scientific knowledge is Good only if it helps us make predictions about the world? I basically agree with that. But oh boy is that not the whole picture in regards to why we maintain certain beliefs.

        Can’t speak to the Slate article, simply not familiar with the whole ordeal, but I can infer what you’re getting at: the Cathedral has doctrine to uphold. If these aren’t isolated cases, yeah, I wouldn’t listen to Slate after a period of time.

        I don’t know why you would though: your Slate example doesn’t have them providing an argument, does it? Just a tepid claim — and a claim to uncertainty at that. So perhaps it’s not the best example if we’re trying to “understand the best arguments from people you disagree with.” Slate’s a journalist rag, no surprises here, why would expect it worthy of dispersing top-notch science? If we’re going to take the dictum in the OP (from the anecdote) seriously, we’d be better off engaging e.g. a reputed blank-slatist. (Pun intended. You know what I mean, right?

        FWIW, Freud isn’t quite social psychology, but rather psychoanalysis. (If that is what your last sentence is referring to.) Won’t provide a critical summary of it all here, but yeah, a lot of the stuff is unsound a century later, e.g. castration envy. Much of the stuff is also interesting, though, and has definitely provided bricks for edifices of knowledge, e.g. tripartite model of psyche.

        Of course, deciding to take ideas seriously is a completely solipsistic endeavor; your call. Analysts make a good amount of money doing nothing, though…

        • Toddy Cat says:

          “deciding to take ideas seriously”

          But of course, the question is, what ideas? We have only a limited amount of time on this earth, and the question is, how do we decide which ideas to engage? Cochran’s Razor, of demanding that an idea have at least some successful predictions before it is taken seriously, seems reasonable to me.

        • Jim says:

          The average peddler of snake oil as a panacea probably has more empirical evidence than Freud ever presented.

          • albatross says:

            Didn’t Freud have a pretty successful practice with lots of patients who claimed he’d done them a lot of good? That’s some empirical evidence, albeit not super convincing.

            Similarly, I imagine there were Roman physicians with a great reputation….

      • “I never did: was I just lucky?”
        Maybe nobody offered you enough to recite the tribe’s catechism. How much would I have to pay you to get you to say “differences in hereditary endowment make no contribution to differences in nervous system function”? In private, maybe $0.25, then you laugh and take my money. To make the same assertion in a +YouTube video, considerably more.

      • Jacob says:

        I wonder if it can be useful to have a baseline correct prediction rate against which subjects can be judged. Since I’m creative/original, I call it “better than a coin toss.” If you can predict a hypothetical 1-in-2 greater than 50% of the time (or a 1-in-4 >25% of the time, etc), your model has predictive validity- until its baked-in assumptions are violated. But the model having ever been useful means that its assumptions must have been true at some point.

        So, we could quantify how useless these people are. Every time some new economic, social, or political situation arises, devise a question with limited possible answers asking what an implication of the change might be. Then poll social scientists of various disciplines. You’d have a statistical sample of predictions. If they get it right as often as you’d expect from random chance, they’re useless. Less often, inverse weathervanes. More often, their model actually has some utility.

        Then WE could make predictions about which fields serve as the strongest inverse weathervanes. Surely behavioral geneticists, evolutionary psychologists, and psychometricians aren’t as dishonest as economists, sociologists, and cultural anthropologists? Maybe some of the results would surprise us. At a minimum, it’d be a quick & dirty way of showing the uninitiated which subdisciplines are worth reading and which aren’t.

        Better yet, whichever fields had the worst scores could lose as much credibility as they did during the Sokal affair or the revelation of their replication crisis. And the ideology that motivates those lines of inquiry could lose some of its unearned credibility as well.

        Also take their IQ, Conscientiousness, and results on a general knowledge test. Bet you fields higher in those would be better at predicting stuff, implying that people wind up in bullshit fields like gender studies because they’re too stupid or lazy to do real science.

  3. NobodyExpectsThe.... says:

    Well, commies, whether steel making or gender-bender ones, still are wrong everytime.

    Thats valuable. They still are inverse weathervanes.

    Example. Which country was their favorite in the past decade?

    • gcochran9 says:

      Kolmogorov was a commie. Abrikosov and Ginzburg’s explanation of Type-II superconductors.

      Tukhachevsky has some useful ideas about “deep penetration”, while much could be learned from studying Vatutin’s record.

      I think the Soviet and Nazi versions of “assault guns” were more useful than our tank destroyers. The Soviets developed the supercavitating torpedo.

      and so on. But as for gender-bender commies, useless.

      • Toddy Cat says:

        Commies were always wrong about Commie-specific stuff (dialectical materialism, labor theory of value, anything that stemmed from their own messed-up view of the world) There’s nothing that derives from Marxist theory that makes the AK-47 a fine weapon, etc (at least nothing that I’m aware of)

        • gcochran9 says:

          Sure, but steel-making Commies made steel, while gender-bendng commies make nothing, discover nothing. They’re about as acute as a pithed frog.

          • Irate eye rater says:

            They might waste your time turning it into car before they sell it to you, but cheap steel is cheap steel.

  4. Duandiren says:

    I think identifying the strongest possible versions of arguments (“Steel manning”) and reading them is reasonable, especially in book form. 30 minutes a day is pushing it, but I try to read 10 books a year I know I am going to disagree with, and I think it has made my thinking clearer on many issues.

    • albatross says:

      The trick is figuring out which of the many people with whom you disagree you’ll spend time reading or listening to. For example, if you’re absolutely sure perpetual motion machines are impossible, how about spending an hour with a guy trying to sell you one? It’s just going to be a waste of time, right?

      One heuristic I use: I’m not interested in people whose modus operandi looks to be “Find out what the position of my team is, and then write convincing justifications for it.” That seems like it can teach me something only by accident. On the other hand, someone who actually seems to be his own man, thinking things through on his own and coming to interesting conclusions, might be worth listening to.

      Another heuristic is to look to see if they show their work, and if so, is it any good. It’s actually way easier to evaluate an argument for something you disagree with than for something you agree with–your instincts want to find their errors.

      A third heuristic is to look for whether their ideas are consistent with reality, to the extent they’re talking in a realm where you can expect that. (If they’re arguing moral philosophy, it’s hard to find experimental or observational data that will show they’re wrong.)

      You will often find much stronger arguments for unpopular ideas than for popular ones–the popular ideas are widely accepted anyway, so someone making an argument for one of them can phone it in and get away with it most of the time. Someone making an argument for an unpopular idea needs to nail things down very carefully, and still will often end up being “refuted” in the public eye by some idiot who made a nonsensical argument that sounded kinda convincing and got the “right” answer. (See Gould’s commentary on The Bell Curve for a painful example.)

  5. Realist says:

    Who doesn’t know the ‘other’ sides story….that’s all the MSM reports.

    • Henry Scrope says:

      Agreed, getting away from their constantly regurgitated, dumbed down, dishonestly presented agitprop is an effort in itself.

    • albatross says:

      a. There are a lot more than two sides.

      b. When there’s massive social pressure to come to the “right” answer, you probably aren’t seeing the best arguments in favor of the right answer–nobody wants to be seen contradicting the argument for the right answer, after all.

  6. The_G_Man says:

    Prior to Freud, it was widely thought that anxiety disorders were caused by an excess of liquid in the uterus and doctors were divided, on moral grounds, on whether to prescribe masturbation or a good rodgering.

    There’s probably not much point for anyone except a historian to read Freud nowadays, but it seems that a lot of people are excessively eager to diss someone for the great sin of being part of discipline in its infancy.

    • Kraepelin.
      Freud set the discipline back decades.

      • Jim says:

        Freud was the anti-Newton of psychology.

        • Michael Eisenstadt says:

          I wonder how many of those calumniating Freud here have ever read anything by him. His The Interpretation of Dreams is a challenging reading adventure. His theory of the tri-partite soul (primal appetite – the id, the internalized repressions of human society – the superego, and the integration of those forces in the mature self – the ego) seems to explain well the psychological dynamics underlying what we chose to do and not do. His theories of wish fulfillment in dreamwork, and how a kind of censorship of dream content operates in order to suppress thoughts that would wake the dreamer up, etc. have shaped subsequent theorizing.

          • gcochran9 says:

            It was all nonsense. Generally didn’t even rise to the level of being wrong.

            No numbers!

            • If you’d read Freud (which you havent–you just read the pop sci versions which you’d never accept if it was physics, say) you’d be aware that he nearly won the Nobel prize for physiology and medicine. He was just pipped at the post by Golgi whose neuron staining method was a bit better than Freud’s. His early work came within an ace of discovering the neuron. Is neuroscience numbersy-enough for you?
              His core psycho-analytic idea (that humans are animals pretending that they arent animals) is still one of the smartest ideas anyone had since Darwin. His mistake was thinking that telling people this would make them better. It doesn’t. But judging someones entire output by one idea that happened to be wrong seems lop-sided.
              But as to the other stuff–early childhood experiences conditioning later relationships (what we now call ife history theory); a mind divided against itself (what we now call cog sci) and defence mechanisms (strictly speaking his daughters work) was pretty much on the money prediction wise, even if details were wrong. Hell, dont pioneers get some credit?
              But–if we want to play one-upmanship games (and you do, Greg) then lets point that Marvin Minksy (who was always the smartest guy in the room even if you were in it too, sorry) used to rate Freud pretty highly. I don’t recall his mentiong you at any point…

              • gcochran9 says:

                ” Is neuroscience numbersy-enough for you?”


                Einstein rated Freud pretty highly too, but he was wrong. Freud was a fountain of nonsense.

          • Jim says:

            The id, superego and such are no improvement on archaic explanations of human behavior in terms of inner demons or spirits. It’s just “good angel” vs. “bad angel” stuff dressed up with Greek words.. They are like pictures of little men inside a persons head. Presumably the little men have even smaller men inside their heads.

            Freud’s theories are a lot of empty verbiage that rarely make any contact with empirical reality and when they do it is usually wrong – cross-cultural studies show no relationship between toilet training or age at weaning and personality type, there is no empirical evidence for a death wish or penis envy. It’s all nonsense.

            • Jim says:

              The structure of such explanations as Freudian psychology (which is a form of a “possession” theory) is to explain human behavior by postulating inner persons of some sort – angels, demons or spirits – who control our behavior. So the behavior of humans is derived from that of the inner spirits – the id or superego or whatever you call them. It’s like explaining why the sky is blue by saying that it is made up of blue particles. But the blueness of the sky is an emergent phenomenon not due to individual nitrogen or oxygen atoms being painted blue. In a similar way human behavior is not due to inner spirits or demons or other little people inside our heads. Human behavior is emergent from the complex structure and functioning of our neurological cells.

              Most scientific explanation is like this. Macroscopic observable phenomena are explained as emergent from phenomena of a completely different type. Thus the coldness, wetness, etc. of water is explained in terms of the electronic shell structure of the molecules of water. But electronic orbitals are not themselves cold or wet.

              So human behavior emerges from complex physical occurrences in our brains. Inside our brains are many kinds of molecules interacting in complex ways from which our behavior emerges but there are no little people.

  7. jwenck says:

    These examples are about beliefs vs. facts. So they aren’t the interesting ones.
    There are, however, competing theories about facts whose validity is currently undecidable. I can’t imagine that Ed Witten doesn’t read Lee Smolin and vice versa.

  8. Eponymous says:

    There’s a logical problem with your argument: if you don’t read them, how do you know whether they have made good predictions?

    Personally I find it very useful to seek out the very best arguments by the foremost advocates of a view. This allows me to apply a powerful heuristic: if their arguments are terrible, then I can safely conclude that their position is wrong.

    Of course, a more charitable reading of your position is that, after you have read enough by advocates of a position to discover that all their arguments are nonsense and their predictions keep turning out wrong, then you don’t need to continue to subject yourself to their writing. That sounds reasonable.

  9. I lazily let other reliable people tell me if there is a good new idea or bit of evidence on the other side and give it a whirl on their recommendation. Other people seem happy enough to put in this energy – I need not. I also have people who seem to have understood things well in most places who have different views than mine in others. Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex would be one of those. Nicholas Nassim Taleb would be another. They give me plenty of “opposition” to encounter.

  10. Smithie says:

    I find the best substitute for PG Wodehouse is an earnest liberal.

  11. dearieme says:

    It’s one of the great disappointments in life that so little of what the other-siders say is even interesting, never mind true. On the other hand occasionally they get something right. It seems to me that the American Left’s longstanding belief in the corruption of the FBI was truer than was my disinclination to pay much heed to them.

    Ironically they now seem to approve of that corruption. Which further means that what they now have to say about it is uninteresting.

    • DRA says:

      We should erect a statue of Snowden. After finding out about the NSA repository, I immediately pointed out to my wife that any politician that could access the info could probably blackmail any number of politicians that didn’t have equal access. In less than a decade we have folks using the FISA Courts to gather more information on their political opponents the Nixon’s “plumbers” ever dreamed possible.

  12. Smithie says:

    When I was a boy, some years before I took up reading as a pastime, someone dragged me into a used bookstore. God help me, but Freud was one of the names I recognized, so I flipped through one of his books.

    I was really shocked by how downright weird and scatological it was. It took me some years more of experience before I developed the wisdom to be weary of popular phenomenons.

    • Zimriel says:

      I think you mean *wary of.
      I recently borrowed ‘The Chalice and The Blade’ and read that. I felt the need to revisit 1980s controversies on account that part of it (the kurgan thing) has been vindicated by modern genetics. Its failure to distinguish between the hunter-gatherers (ballpark, 45k BCE) and those first riverside farmers (~8k-6k BCE) was its worst problem. Not just getting the dates wrong like I probably just did, but flat not recognising that these were different people.

  13. Yudi says:

    I said something similar to this in a previous thread (ignore people/fields that are inverse weathervanes). However, if one wanted to be charitable, one could engage in “steelmanning,” or finding the best possible arguments the other side has to offer. Look at the Matt Bruenigs, not the Ezra Kleins.

  14. anonymous 87108 says:

    Stupidity is contagious. Brilliance much less so. Old chess improvement strategy- Play in the Open Sections where the Grandmasters compete and forgo playing in the Class Sections against others around your own level. Struggle hard. Try not to drown. To find the best arguments of people you disagree with it helps along the way to first find the best minds. In chess the player ratings make that easy.

  15. DdR says:

    “Shortcut: if they make predictions, none of which ever come true, forget about them. Saves valuable time.”

    Does this also include political predictions, like believing that Trump was a shoe-in for president?

    • deuce says:

      Who said DJT was going to be a “shoe-in” for president? Not even Coulter said that. I know plenty of people who felt he COULD win, but nobody thought he would be a “shoe-in.” Or are you using your own definition of the term?

      • DdR says:

        Scott Adams and the guy who runs Akinokure blog both predicted it well in advance. The latter is kind of crazy, but he was thoroughly convinced Trump was a shoe-in and backed it up with a lot of his theory.

        • Toddy Cat says:

          Well, Trump did manage to win, which puts Adams and Akinokure ahead of those people who thought that Hillary was a shoe-in…

        • MawBTS says:

          Please be aware that Scott Adams did not just predict that Trump would win, he predicted that Trump would win 65% of the popular vote. He says it here. Allow this to damage his credibility to whatever degree seems appropriate.

          • jb says:

            Trump was a truly terrible candidate, but he won anyway because he took advantage of an enormous political opening that Republicans and Democrats had both been totally and willfully blind to for years. If he weren’t a complete flaming jackass he probably could have won 65 percent of the vote. What a lost opportunity!!!

            • albatross says:

              Soon before the election, Michael Moore predicted a Trump victory. (He was not happy about this prediction.) I suspect this had to do with having some sense of the way a lot of nominal Democrats in the rustbelt were feeling, but he may also have just gotten lucky or been trying to be contrarian.

              538 actually makes falsifiable predictions pretty often, and gave Trump about a 1/3 probability of winning. That’s certainly not inconsistent with what happened, and I think overall their record is pretty decent, though their poll-aggregation formula is a massive exercise in overfitting a model.

            • gda says:

              “We are what we are because we have been what we have been.”

              Trump was the perfect Freudian candidate.

            • MawBTS says:

              Yes, Trump could have gotten 65% of the vote under some ideal set of circumstances, but that’s true of almost any prediction!

              65% would be a crazy Presidential victory, unlike any seen in the mass-media era. From reading Wikipedia, the closest I can find is Nixon’s 61% in 1972, and LBJ’s 61% in 1964.

              Scott Adams was just wrong, and if he’s trying to start a career as “the Trump whisperer” I wish he’d be more forthright about it. I give him credit for predicting the direction of the 2016 Presidential Election, but he would have also gotten that right if he’d predicted Trump would get eleventy billion votes, or something.

      • dearieme says:

        He’s certainly using his own spelling of it.

  16. R. says:

    Why the hate on Freud?

    I’m told he was the first person to manage to convince people flying high on enlightenment ideas that the human mind is neither rational, nor unitary and really just kind of a sham.

    Now we know that the conscious mind is basically nothing more than PR department for the human, that the mind is not unitary, nor internally consistent.

    Sure, he was a bit kooky but at least he was barking in the right direction. Was anyone else doing that?

    • “Was anyone else doing that?”
      I wonder how unusual was the idea of subconscious motivation. I suspect that there’s a strong element of pr in the claim that Freud discovered the unconscious mind. How ’bout Aesop’s tale of the fox and the grapes? Isn’t the point of the story that the fox managed to lie to itself to ease his/her frustration?

      • Jim says:

        Freud took a lot of the “unconscious mind” stuff from Schopenhauer.

        • syonredux says:

          “Freud took a lot of the “unconscious mind” stuff from Schopenhauer.”

          The concept of the unconscious mind has a genealogy that goes back to Plato.

          • Jim says:

            That’s right, but Freud was particularly influenced by Schopenhauer.

            • j says:

              One should read Freud for its high entertainment value: see Die Traumdeutung “Interpretation of Dreams” and his discovery of “vaginal orgasm”, all first class science fiction. On the other hand, only masochists read Schopenhauer.

              • Jim says:

                Well apparently Freud read him.

              • Jim says:

                Freud once interpreted a dream reported by Leonardo Da Vinci. As Freud stated the dream a vulture had appeared in it. Freud went on and on about vultures in every mythology ever recorded. Sometime later it was discovered that Freud had relied on a mistranslation of Da Vinci’s account. It was actually an eagle not a vulture. I’m sure Freud could have gone on and on about eagles.

              • BB753 says:

                So what do you make of Kierkegaard readers? Fear and Trembling, The Concept of Anxiety and all those other depressing books? Though I must admit Either/Or wasn’t so bad.

        • Garr says:

          Schopenhauer offers a lot of extensive quotations from various physiologists and biologists about nerve-impulses and chemical responses in plants, and I think that the adjective “unconscious” was already being used by these scientists, including in paragraphs of theirs that he quotes, but I’m not sure about that.

        • You mean Plato, not Schopenhauer. “In the Republic, Plato asserted that the ψυχή (psyche) is composed of three parts; the λογιστικόν, (logistykon, logical), the θυμοειδές (appetite) and the ἐπιθυμητικόν, the “on the appetite. The appetite part of the soul is the Freudian id. The intelligible part of the soul is Plato-speak for the logic of the perfected society. The epi-(on the) thumos is the moral agent who trammels pure appetite making use of his comprehension of the logical. That is the Freudian integrated ego. Plato’s and Freud’s tripartite theories correspond exactly. When asked, Freud denied with a straight face that he had read the Republic. That would have been impossible for an educated person. The unconscious mind is foreshadowed by Ancient Greek tragedy plays. The great mysterium of 5th-4th century BC Athenian writers is that they is us, the mentalities do not correspond exactly, ours is theirs 2400 years later. Take that, science fiction writers!

    • Jim says:

      I don’t hate Freud anymore than i hate say P.T. Barnum or W. C. Fields. But the latter two were probably somewhat more reliable.

    • Maciano says:

      “why the hate?”

      Yes, why do we hate a guy whose nutty ideas retarded science for decades? So weird.

  17. moscanarius says:

    Strategy and understanding, as you mention, cover most of the ground, and your shortcut is great. However, I’m feeling verbose today…

    I think we should hear the opposite side for four sequential reasons:

    One, to know that opposition exists, and which of the many possible oppositions actually exists. Even if they are loony, just by existing they force us to take different actions than we would in a world we are free from them – so better know if they are there or not.

    Two, to see if they are worth listening or dissing; if I don’t read them, how will I know in advance? The proposed shortcut may work, but not if I am still too ignorant on the topic to even propose or evaluate a prediction. Things I take for settled matter may not be so, and it’s easier to find my mistake (if there is any) by reading what other people wrote than trying to reinvent the wheel everytime.

    Three, to see if there is not at least a drop of sanity among the madness – often the opposition is mostly nuts, but may have some good points worth scrapping. Marija Gimbutas was nuts about the peaceful Goddess-worshipers of Old Europe, but kinda right about the kurgans.

    Four, to try to understand why they are nuts, so as to try to avoid being nuts the way they do.

    • albatross says:

      Also, sometimes even when someone’s proposed policies are disastrous, they’ve still got some useful insight somewhere–for example, in recognizing some real problem that others are ignoring.

    • savantissimo says:

      Five, to be able to guess their probable goals and strategies and the vulnerabilities thereof.

  18. Jim says:

    If we could set them up as Delphic Oracles and ask them any question we wanted relying on the fact that their answers would always be false they would be highly useful. Unfortunately the bastards would probably try to confuse us by occasionally speaking the truth.

  19. dlr says:

    Back in 2007 you did a q&a over on : 2blowhards : (

    one of the questions was:
    “2B: As for the mideast, what do you think of Steve Sailer’s “cousin-marriage” explanation of why Arabs are so tribal? Are they in fact capable of much organization beyond the tribal level?

    Cochran: I’m not sure it’s the root cause. I think that the Middle East seems politically untalented compared to Europe, less inclined to trust non-relatives who live in the same country.

    This goes back a while — Islam is not the cause. Look at Anabasis, the March of the Ten Thousand. Greek mercenaries were on the losing side in a Persian civil war. When their generals/recruiters tried to negotiate a way out, the Persians killed them all in the middle of the negotiation. So the Greeks elected their own generals that night and fought their way out of the heart of the empire. You’ve seen “The Warriors,” right? In that one night the Greeks showed more talent for self-government than the entire Middle East has in all the twenty-five hundred years since.

    I have a notion as to the cause and I’m still thinking about it. It might be that cousin marriage is more of a symptom than a cause, although it could be both of course.”

    Any further thoughts on the cause?

    • MawBTS says:

      In that one night the Greeks showed more talent for self-government than the entire Middle East has in all the twenty-five hundred years since.

      I always wondered about that. The classical Greeks were obviously intelligent, but were they stable or good at governing? The Persians had an empire spanning three continents and 5.5 million square kilometers. The Greeks had lots of warring city states, and never established an empire.

      • Smithie says:

        Of course, you are referencing the classical Greeks, but the Ptolemaic Dynasty lasted 275 years. The Seleucid Empire also lasted a fair time. Of course, most of their subjects were not Greeks. Not sure how much outbreeding there was, but I think settlers were key to their success.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      Cousin marriage puts a 6 point dent in the expected IQ of the next generation. Not good, not good at all but not the reason for the much larger dent in the IQ of the Middle East from an expected average IQ of 100. Especially when you consider a smallish fraction of this population practices cousin marriage and outbreeding removes the effects of inbreeding in a generation.

      Let’s talk about accurate prediction, the point Cochran makes to trust an information source. The average IQ of nations does one hell of a good job of predicting that nations prosperity, especially now that communism is in the rear view mirror. People look to blame problems on the Middle East and other places on single causes like cousin marriage, but a much better predictor for a nations well being is fairly obvious, the average IQ of that nation.

      Check it out if you don’t believe me.

  20. jb says:

    You may have a friend, or even a child, who to some greater or lesser degree gets sucked into some sort of looniness. If that were to happen, understanding the details of said looniness might increase the odds of your being able to draw them back out.

  21. albatross says:

    So who are some people with contrary opinions that seem worth listening to?

    Some suggestions (assuming “contrary to hbd-flavored conservativism”):

    Paige Harden, Freddie DeBoer, maybe Bret Weinstein, Thomas Sowell (conservative but pretty anti-hbd)

  22. Caldwell says:

    I guess this belongs here because it’s stupid and false and it’s from some sort of university:

    Where hominid brains are concerned, size doesn’t matter

  23. charles w abbott says:

    Thomas Sowell has a useful operational definition of intellectuals. “An intellectual is someone whose work begins and ends with ideas.” Or something like that. I would say we should beware of scholars who only produce ideas but no testable, falsifiable hypotheses (policies, programs, objects, devices, etc). The input is ideas, and the output is more ideas, free-floating.

    Freud had ideas, and other people produce more ideas using his ideas. The whole thing becomes slippery. The idea succeeds if it becomes popular and is still taught and discussed.

    There is also the issue of “interpretation.” You can interpret a lot of things, after the fact, with the sort of Marxoid social theory that is big in some social sciences and that takes a long view of the process of economic development in the so-called Third World.

    The big problem is that that sort of “critical social theory” doesn’t do a good job of providing policy prescriptions. If you became the philosopher-king of DR Congo or Chad or Afghanistan tomorrow, what useful policy could you put into place based on your history seminars? That is the big test. An engineer can build a bridge, an agronomist can provide a program or policy to improve production and marketing of agricultural products.

    A lot of history in some fields has a Marxoid theoretical cast to it. It may have some use in understanding the way a society got to be the way it is. What it tells us going forward is harder to pin down. The value of such studies is an empirical question.

  24. Michael Eisenstadt says:

    “Freud had ideas” is meaningless. Freud had evidence, his dreams and others’ dreams. Through a long process of speculations about specific recurring dreams, he convinced himself he had noticed regularities. His best insight was to notice that some dreams represent wish-fullfilments of the dreamer. A nasty proof of this is the negation of an immoral wish by the censorship. A waitress colleague of mine reported that she dreamt her father had died. I asked her what emotion accompanied the event and she reported feeling very sad. The first part of the Interpretation of Dreams is a survey of all the dream theories up to his time.

  25. Bob says:

    How Much Should We Trust the Dictator’s GDP Estimates?

  26. Pingback: This Week In Reaction (2018/05/13) - Social Matter

  27. Rich Rostrom says:

    I think you should consider Chesterton’s parable of the fence. Imagine a road, and a fence across the road. The simple reformer says “This fence blocks the road; tear it down at once.” The prudent reformer says “Why is this fence here at all? Until we can say why it was put there, and what it was intended for, we should not destroy it.”

    I think there is an analogous principle in the field of ideas. One should not dismiss an idea as merely wrong and thereafter ignore it unless one can say where it came from, and why. In particular, pay attention to the grievances of people who are not like you. Something’s bothering them. It may not be what they think it is; it may not be a real problem. But try to find out.

    • albatross says:

      I’d say you need to separate out the listing of problems from the model used to understand them or the list of proposed solutions. I’m sure that intersectional feminists are right that, say, a lot of women get forcibly raped in the country every year, and that this is indeed a bad thing that should be stopped. But as far as I can tell, their model of what’s going on and why (like “rape is about power, not sex”) is nuts, and their proposed solutions don’t seem likely to help.

  28. Warren Notes says:

    Agree totally with your premise. It’s like the galling assertion that “compromise” is ALWAYS better than gridlock. Gridlock is usually better. BTW, I once experienced an unconscious mind. Something about getting a shot at the Doctor’s office got my vagus nerve excited. I fell against the wall and broke an electrical outlet.

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