Robin Hanson has a new book out, The Elephant in the Brain. It’s a fairly tight synopsis of what I might call the blogosphere consilience of the past decade. This is a broad-based movement that includes the tech-based rationality community, the philanthropy-based effective altruism community, the public policy-based new neoliberal community, and the university-based evolutionary psychology community. Together, I suppose I should say, we have sketched an amazingly unified — yet to outsiders foreign — vision of the world.
It’s one in which, the basic outlines of rational decision-making are easily described both in principle and in practice; the gains to implementing that decision-making are large, yet human beings as individuals and societies reject the implementation largely because we have evolved to do so. Perhaps, more piercingly because we are evolved to selectively and strategically reject rationality, yet deeply and earnestly convince ourselves that we are doing no such thing.
Moreover, this isn’t a sin, flaw, or illness as earlier theologians, philosophers, and psychologists have imagined. Instead, it’s an integral part of our design, one without which we could not make our way in the world. That, “We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live”, is more fundamental to the human experience than even Joan Didion imagined.
All of which brings me to my post today. Ezra Klein tweets
I’ve never seen anything as cynical in politics as Republicans spending 4 months refusing to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program, then attaching reauthorization to another controversial bill, then blaming Democrats for not supporting CHIP. It’s breathtaking. https://t.co/NeoE2Fiu0h
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) January 19, 2018
I’ve always had trouble with this framing. On the one hand, calling this the most cynical thing one has seen is, simply a way of saying, “bah Republicans.” Which is itself a form of signaling. Still, I think something more here. Ezra, I believe is earnestly insinuating that Republicans are acting un-idealistically when they imply that, if only the Democrats would be reasonable CHIP would be funded.
This tack by Republicans, however, strikes me as simultaneously banally cynical and earnestly idealistic. Banally cynical in that it is in part simply the sort of blame-gaming that makes up most of the political news cycle. Earnestly idealistic, in that it risks political damage in order to achieve a sincerely desired policy goal. What is not, is deeply cynical.
Why does it seem so?
My guess is, precisely because it has an element of earnest idealism. One can sense that it’s not simply a run-of-the-mill blame game. Calling it earnest though, is too much for the brain’s elephant to handle. So, the mind identifies it as deeply cynical. In part, to insulate itself from the possibility of seeing the good in the other.