The Sweet, Boring Middle

Don’t read Marginal Revolution much anymore-find it kinda boring (too much economics minutiae and trivia)-but that reflects a deficiency of my own attention span and intelligence to appreciate it, not the inability of Tyler Cowen to be interesting. And evidently, his website is very interesting judging by the immense amount of traffic it gets, so my opinion is obviously an outlier. And again and again, as I discussed a month ago regarding Scott (both Scott Adams and Alexander), the greatest growth in the ‘intellectual middle’. The middle is the ‘sweet spot’, by courting both sides without having to have opinions that are ‘too extreme’ as to dissuade too many people from reading or sharing. For those on the ‘extreme’, how many would compromise some principle for a lot of traffic? I imagine many would, as that is the economically rational thing to do. Contrary to Daniel Kahneman and Michael Lewis who insist everyone is irrational, most people become rational decision makers when faced with easily quantifiable choices like choosing more money (or clicks, social status, etc.) versus less.

As part of the post-2008 ‘Cambrian explosion’ of intellectualism, Tyler’s blog is much more popular now (along with other ‘smart’ sites such as Slate Star Codex, Bryan Caplan’s Econ Log, Ribbonfarm, Wait But why, Scott Adams’ Dilbert Blog, and many, many more) than as recently as a few years ago, in agreement with this trend. But it gets even better–by pulling out ‘intellectual passport’, one who is in the ‘intellectual middle’ need not have to ideologically conform or compromise to be accepted, but rather be granted entry and be accepted into various ‘extreme’ but high-IQ groups (such as most of the alt-right) by virtue of being smart and authentic. That goes against much of social theory convention that says one must conform to be accepted. By being authentic, even if such views are counter-narrative, you gain more respect. Dissembling one’s motives and perceived pandering, even if one is ideologically close, has a repulsive effect, which explains why the alt-right has so strongly repudiated a handful of individuals, who despite otherwise agreeing with the alt-right on many things (such as being pro-Trump, pro-immigration control, anti-SJW, etc.) were perceived as only being involved ‘for the money’ and appropriating the alt-right ‘label’ for personal gain.

Regarding Tyler Cowen and Bryan Caplan, both unapologetically support open borders but oddly enough are highly respected by various alt-right and reactionary groups, their articles frequently cited. This has to do with intellectualism (both Tyler and Bryan are very smart) and authenticity (neither of them compromise or pander (and they don’t need to given how popular their sites are), and such steadfastness is respected), as discussed above–but also various shared narratives play a role, specifically a shared dislike of majoritarian systems, as described in Intellectual Solvent, Part 3:

Both smart left-wing and smart right-ring bloggers can relate to be ill-served by majoritarian school systems, that neglect the talented in favor of bringing the slowpokes and troublemakers up to speed. The same also applies to work settings, of the talents of smart employees being underutilized and or unappreciated, and this frustration crosses political lines. Both sides agree that incompetent people seem to be ‘running the show’, not the best and brightest, although in achieving opposite desired goals.

There comes a point where your’re so competent, pandering and compromising is unnecessary, and echoing Heidegger regarding authenticity, I think that’s what everyone should aspire to. George Carlin never had to compromise his angry, nihilist message to be accepted: audiences of all political makes found him funny, because, ultimately, he was a good comedian. When you read Paul Krugman or even Ann Coulter, there is the sense of desperation “I need to be accepted…I need to be edgy, funny, and partisan”, and that histrionic, excitable style of internet writing doesn’t work anymore [1]…better to be competent, even if that means being sightly ‘boring’, like Tyler Cowen.

[1] It works if you already have a huge audience that you built in the 90’s and early 2000’s as in the case of Ann Coulter and Paul Krugman, but not in the post-2013 era.