Tag: Slate Star Codex

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Panoramic Overton Window

 

What shape is your Overton Window? Is it tall and narrow, or low and broad? That is, what range of ideas are you willing to tolerate in public discourse? And how high are you willing to pile the rhetoric? Joseph P Overton, who worked for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, believed the realm of political ideas wasn’t limited so much by individuals’ interests as it was by a window of public discourse, where ideas at either end of the window were considered radical, and ideas falling outside the window (too “left” or “right”, assuming limiting ideas to a one-dimensional spectrum makes sense) were considered unthinkable, hence unmentionable. This window of discourse, usually thought of in just one dimension, was named after him — the Overton Window.

I discern two dimensions to the Overton Window, though, both width and height. It takes effort to maintain a big Overton Window, whether the window is unusually broad (breadth of ideas) or unusually tall (how high do people ratchet up the rhetoric?). Mere mortals, it seems, struggle to maintain expansiveness in both dimensions. Recently, Ricochet Member @steverosenbach wrote a post asking the Ricoverse for the names of honorable pundits on the left. One often-cited name was that of Scott Alexander, who runs the blog Slate Star Codex (SSC). Truth be told, Scott is not very far left (probably one reason so many of us find him palatable); moreover, Scott is sympathetic to much of the backlash against trends in leftist thought. Perhaps what’s most remarkable about Slate Star Codex, though, is that its Overton Window is panoramic.

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Harris-Klein Debate and Benefit of the Doubt

 

Jacob Falkovich, of PutANumOnIt fame, published a post-mortem on the Harris-Klein debate over IQ and race in Quillette. Not just the Quillette article, but the blog post inspiring it, The Context is the Conflict, are both worth a read. As Falkovich sees it, the Harris-Klein debate was merely one example of conflicting forms of political reasoning, pitting those who see political opponents as mistaken against those who see political opposition as conflict, and also pitting cognitive decoupling against contextualizing. To summarize the story the way Falkovich sees it, Sam Harris tells Ezra Klein, “Ezra, it’s dishonest of you to be so concerned with the social implications of the data that you discount what the data has to say,” and Klein shoots right back, “Sam, it’s dishonest of you to be so concerned with what the data allegedly says that you discount its social implications,” that is, whose interest is served by treating the data in question as reputable, and whose interests are harmed.

Both Klein and Harris have a point. We on the right are fairly open in our mistrust of “scientism,” after all. We know that, no matter how much data might seem to speak for itself, the scientific validity of data can’t be entirely separated from the nonscientific interests of the ones gathering, analyzing, publishing, and popularizing the data. Who funded a study, we wonder? Would funding have biased it? Was one study widely reported on while studies contradicting it were not; reflecting media bias? We aren’t fools for asking these questions, merely fools if we take them to their paranoid extreme: at some point, data must matter, even though it’s collected and interpreted by biased humans. Nonetheless, we suspect, probably rightly, that even good science can’t be wholly divorced from its social implications once it’s fodder for political dispute.

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Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Contra Caplan on Physical Illness, Too

 

In 2006, insouciant economic imperialist Bryan Caplan published a paper outlining a consumer-choice model of mental illness designed to rehabilitate the anti-psychiatry of Thomas Szasz. Caplan claimed this model shows that mental illness should not to be understood as a “real illness” (and therefore as a matter for medical rather than moral treatment) at all, but that mental illness should be understood as a weird preference rational actors persist in despite their preference being a poor match for functioning in society.

From the perspective of Caplan’s model, mental-health treatment is a form of rent-seeking designed to paper over the interpersonal conflicts that arise when somebody won’t relinquish a preference grievously at odds with society, rent-seeking that, on the one hand, provides the “mentally ill” with official-sounding excuses for their weird preferences while, on the other hand, providing the families of the “mentally ill” with medical justification for treating sufficiently “ill” family members against their will. In October 2015, the blogger Scott Alexander, himself a psychiatrist, published “Contra Caplan on Mental Illness”, an essay pointing out why, from his perspective, it seems so strange to call mental illness merely a weird preference. Given Caplan’s framework, I would like to point out how strange it is to call physical illness not a “weird preference”, albeit a weird preference most of us take pity on out of belief that it arises from physical derangement that we don’t expect sufferers to be able to compensate for completely.

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