Friday, July 11, 2014

Not All Substitutions are Created Equal

The Dub-MOE takes up Bryan Caplan's challenge and issues an essay on conservative authoritarianism. An excerpt:
Like liberals (and everyone else), conservatives can be guilty of mental substitution, which happens when people confronted with very difficult questions substitute much easier questions that don't require much reflection. This isn't the same thing as breaking a complex problem down into its constituent parts. It's changing the question, albeit subtly: "should the government punish people who produce and listen to this music?" becomes "do I want my kids listening to this music?" Sometimes the substitution is explicit for rhetorical effect: "do you want your kids listening to this garbage?!" Indeed, the best examples of conservative authoritarianism that come immediately to mind involve sex, drugs, rock & roll, war, and immigrants.
Art (who I can now count as a co-author!) buries the lede a little. The problem isn't that conservatives (or anyone, really) make little mental substitutions, but that they make rubbish substitutions.

Consider the same question mulled by Solon. Instead of "do I want my kids listening to this music?", the Divine Maxim of Plato would ask "would I be willing to bar my parents from listening to this music?"

The role of the government is to act as the servant of the people. When the reverse occurs, dominion and injustice probably aren't all that far behind.

Substitute questions aren't wrong in principle. The puzzle is how to align folks' incentives to start making good ones.

Daunting, but our euvoluntary future depends on it.

1 comment:

  1. Your invocation of the Divine Maxim is important, but it's a different version of the same question.


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?