Rationally speaking, is a presentation of New York City skeptics dedicated to promoting critical thinking, skeptical inquiry and science education. For more information, please visit us at NYC Skeptic's Doug. Welcome to, rationally speaking, the podcast, where we explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense, I'm your host, Julia Gillard. And with me is today's guest, Will Wilkinson. Will is the vice president for policy at the Niskanen Center in Washington, D.C. He is also a writer focusing on politics and philosophy and society for a bunch of venues, including Vox and The Atlantic and The Economist.
And in addition to all this, he teaches creative writing at the University of Iowa. Will, welcome to the show. Hi, Julia. Thanks for having me on. So let's jump in. There's a topic that I've seen. You write some pretty interesting posts about recently in which you argue that the concept of social justice has come to refer to this specific cluster of ideas or policies that's that's become very associated with the left wing in America. And you argue that, you know, it didn't have to be that way, that this isn't the only or even the best necessarily the best way of defining what social justice should mean.
Can you elaborate on that? Like what? What is an alternate version of social justice that we could have had instead of the one we do have? Well, the notion of distributive justice or sorry, social justice that we have that was sort of dominant throughout the 20th century was largely about economic distribution, like who gets how big a piece of the pie from economic production. And so it's and in that sense, it's kind of a Zero-Sum notion, like if you get more, I get less.
It plays into a kind of, you know, sort of class war politics and the sort of ideals of social justice throughout the 20th century were largely identified with with a kind of soft socialism. But the the idea was that the ideas dominated by the left, partly because the right just conceded the right just gave away the idea. So there are all sorts of kind of other normative political ideas, you know, the idea of of of rights or the idea of liberty or equality.
These are all what political philosophers call essentially contested concepts. Right. Like everybody is constantly fighting over what freedom really means or what equality really means. But the right, by and large, decided not to contest social justice. They just decided to just give it away to the by and by.
They decided to give it away. You, I assume, don't mean they decided to concede all the specific policies the left was arguing fit under the definition of social justice. They just didn't argue with the definition that the left was using of social justice.
Right. So the the argument which goes back to Friedrich Hayek, the great Nobel Prize winning Austrian American economist, and Hayek is one of my great intellectual role models. But on this, I think he's completely wrong. So the argument for just not contesting the idea of social justice is mostly due to Hayek. And he basically said that the entire idea of social justice was like a category er like it just didn't make any sense, like, like essentially. So it's like, you know, like a like a loud color or something like that.
It just, it's just, it's just mixing up categories of thought. So I thought that justice was essentially a matter of how individual people treat one another so I can treat you justly or unjustly. But there's not a question of the justice or injustice of the distribution of economic goods or holdings because nobody's doing the distributing. And so we thought that that. Yeah, yeah. Like, well, and this is part of the. Clearly, governments do do distributing.
But he thought that was a, you know, a grave mistake. So, you know, Hyeok, as I'm sure you know, is kind of a greatest proponent of the idea of of prices as signals of information that tell people what to do. And, you know, market orders are spontaneous orders. They emerge from, you know, millions of individuals making all these little individual decisions in response to the economic conditions on the ground and the emergent.
Sort of pattern of holdings is essentially unpredictable, like nobody can plan it, nobody can do that. Distribution and his defense of the price system and free markets, he thought, suggests that, you know, because having free markets and just like a price system that is allowed to. Move in a freeway, you know, prices can go up and down in response to changes in supply and demand, and we want people responding to those changes in prices.
But the whole point of it is that we can't predict in advance what the. Most efficient allocation of resources is people responding to these diffuse incentives create the kind of prosperity that we all want. That's what's responsible in part for broad based prosperity. And he thought that that was desirable, that we definitely want people to prosper, that we want people to be wealthy, and in particular, that we want the kind of system that leaves even the people at the bottom as well-off as they could possibly be.
But he thought that system just is a market system in which nobody, no particular agent is distributing economic goods. The distribution is done through this completely decentralized mechanism of millions of people responding to making millions of little choices. Now, the difficulty with Hayek's argument is, is that he still has a normative standard that he's using to evaluate structures of institutions. He still has an implicit rule that the best system of rules that are going to govern our polity and our economy is the one that overall leaves people best off.
And he was sensitive to the idea that that system of rules needs to actually be mutually advantageous, that that that that that there is a distributional aspect to the justification of a system of rules that if a certain kind of market order left some people fabulously wealthy but left other people in conditions of utter poverty and despair, he wouldn't think that that was a good result. But the kind of, you know, standard for picking or evaluating a system of institutions like that, one that's sensitive to how the institutions leave everybody and in particular the people at the bottom, that's largely what the idea of social justice is about in the abstract, you know, like not specifying any particular conception of social justice.
The basic idea has generally been that that social justice requires a system of political, social and economic institutions that leave everybody better off and in particular, leave the least well-off, as well-off as they possibly can can be. And Hayek accepted that in his own way. But he's so ambiguous about it and that he denies that that is social justice. He's so focused on denying the idea that governments ought to be in charge of determining what the distribution of goods is, that he, I think, kind of confuses he confuses the idea of social justice with the idea of kind of centralized management of economic distribution.
But it doesn't need to mean that.
Yeah, interesting. So what is a response that you think the right or libertarians could have given to the left's conception of social justice or I mean, maybe to cashed out more concretely, is there a specific policy or even an unofficial social norm that you think could sort of be consistent with both the basic concept of social justice and also with the things that the American right wing or libertarian camps hold dear? Yeah, so, I mean, pretty much every conception of social justice is about at some level, liberty and equality and left wing versions of social justice put the emphasis on equality, that social justice requires legal equality.
And I think that's actually the usage of social justice that that is dominant right now. So when people when certain folks on the right complain about social justice warriors, the kind of social justice they're actually talking about is not necessarily this notion of economic distribution. Yeah, I was going to get to that. How that shift. Yeah, exactly. And it's an interesting development. It has more to do with equal treatment under the law, has more to do with treating people with equal respect, ensuring that everybody that their sort of basic human dignity is acknowledged not just by formal legal institutions, but by social convention and norms.
And so a lot of a lot of a lot of political correctness, quote unquote, is about sort of weeding out the the norms and often linguistic norms that seem to have presuppositions embedded inside them about, you know, inequalities in status or inequalities in respect or worth. And so. Contemporary social justice war hearing is about ensuring that everybody is sort of treated equally and respected equally so that that's that's become more preeminent recently on the left, but historically, the kind of equality that social justice was understood to require and this is what Hyeok was responding to, is some notion of economic equality.
So some kind of economic egalitarianism. But that's not essential to the, you know, the very notion of social justice. Classical liberals have always had a notion of equality that's actually quite a bit like the social justice warrior notion of equality, which is which is that equality is fundamentally about equality of rights and equality of our sort of status with respect to the state. So when people talk about individual rights that everybody ought to have them, that's a notion of equality, that in virtue of being a human being, you have certain rights and everybody has those rights to the same degree.
Right. They have them equally. And our ideas of and sort of right wing ideas of injustice often have to do with different people being treated differently under the law. So the sort of equality condition is pretty easily met by a notion of equal rights and and equal rights kind of carry with it an implicit requirement of equal dignity and equal respect. And it's worth pointing out that the classical liberal tradition in the 19th century was largely about this notion of equality of rights.
So so the abolitionist movement, the suffrage movement, those were were movements about establishing equality under the law for different kinds of people that didn't didn't imply any kind of economic egalitarianism. Now, in the 20th century, the the idea of social justice became so deeply identified with socialism and libertarianism as a as a as a particular ideology historically is a response to the threat of socialism. So there's a sense in which libertarianism is continuous with classical liberalism. But it's also discontinuous that that in some ways, and I put it before, that libertarianism is is like weaponized anti socialism.
It's specifically it's specifically calibrated to oppose socialism. And that meant that a lot of the progressive aspects of the classical liberal tradition got dropped. The so that the push for gender equality and racial equality and lots of other forms of equality, like equal rights, that were the dominant concerns in many ways of the classical liberal tradition. A lot of those got not exactly dropped but but but diminished relative to a very dogmatic notion of property rights and and a kind of ideological love of capitalism that was just kind of the you know.
You know how like how like, you know, high school kids who get into Satanism, you know, it's just because they have Christian parents. Right. Right.
And and Satanism really just is a kind of like inverted Christianity. There's a sense in which in which libertarianism, mid century libertarianism is kind of inverted socialism. So anything and and and in the identification of social justice with socialism, just I think that that's kind of motivated this rejection of the very idea that if you bought into the idea of social justice at all, you were buying into the idea that the distribution of economic resources was something that was legitimate to evaluate.
And basically just just sort of the anti the sort of right's anti social justice stance is kind of a nuclear option in terms of of of economic distribution. It's basically saying that it's not even legitimate to think about.
The justification of the distribution of economic resources, all you can think about is that there's a kind of equality and rights that you can think about that's has to do with the with with property rights, the assignment and the protection of property rights. But as long as property rights are well protected, there's no other question of justice that really comes up. Right. So it doesn't matter if some people get super super rich and other people suffer because there's no basis you don't you don't want to, you know, want to even suggest that it might be legitimate to do some kind of some remedial redistribution.
So so I'm sorry I didn't really answer your question, which is what what's the what is the notion that that the right could have taken? Right. Well, their emphasis has always been to defend capitalism against socialism. And I think it's pretty easy to defend capitalism and socialism. People are better off under capitalist institutions. And in fact, in the essay I wrote about this on on on social justice and the great enrichment, the daedra mcclosky, the great economic historian, calls the sort of the era of modern economic growth, the great enrichment and the and the and the fact there is that for almost all of human history.
Human beings have lived at basically subsistence and then, you know, around 1500 or so there started to be like a sort of positive levels of economic growth that were cumulative. And then by the mid 80s, hundreds that just kind of took off. And the reason we were as rich as we are now and the reason that we can talk over, you know, Skype and the microphones looking at our computers is just completely crazy. Technological advances that I couldn't even have imagined when I was a kid is is that we learned how to arrange institutions in a way that created huge amounts of wealth.
And, you know, in the 20th century is is seen a huge decline in in poverty rates globally. We've seen rising standards of living and people live longer. People are healthier. People are more likely to get an education and more likely to get literate. And there's a really clear sense in which all of that is due to markets. But you can articulate what it is that markets are doing in a. In a way that sounds like social justice, right, that markets are institutions for social cooperation.
The reason people trade is because it's a positive sum game and that everybody is better off and that when people get better at economic cooperation, they get richer. And it's hard to sustain cooperative norms. And cooperative norms are sustained by things like equality of rights. But treating people with respect to honoring people's right to choose their profession, honoring their rights to keep the fruits of their labor and so on and so forth. So all of the things that make markets work are the ingredients of social justice.
And and it would be easy to have created a conception of social justice that was basically a defense of capitalism on moral grounds that that wasn't so dogmatic.
So is this is this actually a different set of policies or norms than, say, libertarians have been or classical liberals have been advocating for? Or is it the same set of norms and policies but just rebranded as actually about social justice? Not to put too fine a point on it? No, I think it's a little bit of both. So on the one hand, the I think it's just the same. Right. So so if you set aside dogmatic libertarians and if you just kind of like look at in a classical liberal thinkers from the 20th century, almost all of them have endorsed some idea of a social safety net.
So Hayek himself, in a semi famously and slightly incoherently argued for. The just you know, he thought he thought some kind of minimum income. That was guaranteed by the state was justified in libertarian terms, but he didn't think of that as requiring redistribution in the way that he was critical of Milton Friedman was in favor of a negative income tax as a way of replacing the the redistributive institutions of the standard welfare state rather than, you know, cutting people checks.
You can just make tax rates responsive to how much people make in a given year. And if they don't, you don't make enough. Instead of writing a check to the government, the government writes a check to you, and that makes sure that nobody falls below a certain threshold. It's so interesting how the the politics have kind of ossified around certain positions in this debate in recent years when you go back and realize that it did not used to be that way, even though it feels just like the politics feel inherent to the positions now.
But they haven't been. This is actually pretty recent. Yeah, yeah. It is really recent. And the idea that any kind of redistribution is inherently unjust is a very recent and sort of strange, dogmatic libertarian position that is very, very difficult to justify, which is why the the heroes in the pantheon of libertarians like Hayek and Milton Friedman didn't attempt to ever justify a kind of outright categorical ban on any kind of redistribution. Now, no, I think once you focus and so I think there is a difference in the sense that.
We now have, I think, a clearer sense of the mechanisms that underlie economic growth. There are big debates in social science about whether it's institutions, whether it's changes in norms, whether it's technological innovation. And the correct answer is that it's all of these and all the debates are about, you know, kind of which comes first. But but our understanding of just the idea of a positive sum game about the nature of sort of collective action problems and how hard it is to get sort of pro social norms off the ground and stuff like that.
I think we understand that at a deeper level now than we used to. And and that understanding the way in which the kind of positive some games that leave everybody better off, understanding how that works and the kind of ethos of reciprocity and in it togetherness, you need, I think, points to the fact that it's a really good idea, like it's just a positively good idea to have some kind of social minimum that ensures that everybody in a given society is definitely benefiting from the institutions that create rising prosperity.
And it's a good idea. Just on. Grounds of, you know, it just seems fair that everybody in a rich society should get enough, but that's kind of a static way of thinking. The dynamic way of thinking is that that in order to sustain these institutions that create enormous wealth and that that that encourage innovation, that encourage the increasing capacity of human beings to realize their potential. Right. Like like that need you need by it. Right.
And and the systems that are the best systems, the systems that in which people flourish the most are a certain kind of liberal democracy. And in liberal democratic systems, you're depending on a kind of popular buy in to keep the institutions going and a kind of rule that assures every single person in that society that they're going to benefit from the system is just a critical part of ensuring that you have the the extent of Social Buy-In that you need to keep those institutions churning along to keep them healthy, to make sure that the norms that underpin them are norms that people, you know, remain committed to.
Can we probe a little bit more into the parallel between the economic notion of social justice and the sort of respect or or rights or dignity based notion? Because I I guess the parallel seems. Murky to me in particular, that, like, I really like the argument about about some kind of justice being necessary to even grow the pie that we're all sharing economically and that it's not, therefore, just a zero sum question about how do we distribute this pie that haven't handed down to us.
I'm just not sure how much that argument carries over to the sort of Newar of the moment, conception of social social justice. That's about respect, because like you can certainly say, you know, on some level you can say, well, we just want to give everyone the same sort of basic rights and dignity and that that makes sense. But in practice, you know, I think we are talking about sort of status and relative respect. And those are in some sense, Zero-Sum, like a lot of the fights over social justice concepts recently have been about like transferring some of this status away from the groups that have traditionally held it not to status, but like influence and and respect and decision making power and stuff like that, transferring that to groups that have historically been more marginalized.
And you could certainly argue, you know, you could give some very good arguments for why that redistribution is fair, but it still seems somewhat Zero-Sum to me. So I'm not sure if the same arguments would apply. What do you think? That's a that's a great question. Let me approach it by talking about a couple of my favorite sort of institutionalised political economist, so so Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson like their argument for what creates growth, is a certain kind of institution.
So they think that places that have what they call inclusive institutions do a lot better than people that places that have extractive institutions. Now, now, now, throughout most of history, societies are defined with there's a kind of ruling elite and then there's everybody else. And the ruling elite basically gets everybody else to do stuff for them. And then they just extract resources. And and that's definitely like a Zero-Sum game. Like so so their explanation for why growth usually doesn't get off the ground is that the.
So so here's the interesting puzzle. So when you give. More rights to more people. They will be motivated by that, right, like so so like if you if you extend property rights to people who didn't have them, they're going to be motivated to work because they can keep what they've earned. But then you've allowed a bunch of people to accumulate wealth, which is, you know, maybe translated into political power. And so you may have just opened the door to to a challenge from a kind of new money elite who's going to, you know, sort of like fight against your authority.
And so every time economies open up at a certain point, they tend to create challenges from, you know, kind of a new prosperous middle class. And that gets shut down by the status quo elites who don't want to give up any of their power and that forces the economy back into a sort of lower growth or no growth equilibrium. And so and so it's partly because they're modeling it as a negative sum game that if they extend rights and dignity and respect and status to everyone, then they're going to lose what they've got.
And I think a lot of the question you asked is a lot like that. Like so in the you know, in the current election, the Trump supporters are primarily older white men. That's his most devoted constituency. And I think you're right. These are people who are seeing the relative status decline and they're mad about it. People get mad about losses in relative status and relative power, and they tend to retaliate. But when they retaliate, when they try it, when they try to hold on to their relative status in power, it tends to screw everything up, like the reason that they start you start losing like so, you know, I'm a 40 something white guy.
So this is me, right? So so so the reason that I'm losing relative status is because we've made huge gains in equality of rights for women, for people of color. We have had a big demographic transition over the last several decades that have increased the population of non-white people. More and more of those people are coming into positions of power and status. And so a lot of older white guys feel this kind of downwardly mobile in the kind of respect that they are accorded the culture.
And and that's definitely a certain kind of Zero-Sum game. But it's a toxic kind of game that like getting into getting into the path of growth that I'm saying that is about social justice is about getting yourself out of that Zero-Sum frame. And so and realizing that extending rights and dignity and respect to everyone equally is a way to make everyone better off, including in some sense, the sort of incumbent elites. Right. So so they're getting better off in an absolute sense, just not a relative sense.
But maybe we reframe the goal to reframe is get them to focus on the absolute sense and not the relative one. Yeah, yeah. That's a great way of putting it. But it's also worth and this is one of my problems with the current social justice discourse is I think there is not due sensitivity to and I completely understand why not. But I think a little bit of recognition of the very real loss to certain kinds of older white guys in terms of status and in terms of what they feel in terms of the respect that they feel that they're losing, just being cognizant of that and realizing that any kind of change in relative power in a society always requires a certain kind of reconciliation is, I think, important that that the whole reason the apartheid regime in South Africa was able to let go was basically because of Nelson Mandela's moral genius.
He he. Got black and colored South Africans to buy into the idea that they wouldn't seek vengeance against the white elites who. Had run the incredibly oppressive apartheid regime, right, and you needed to give those people that assurance or else they were wouldn't be willing to let go. Right. Like if you thought that if we give up power, everybody is just going to hang us by the lampposts, then we're going to hang on like our lives depend on it because they do.
And so that's that's you know, that's a kind of a limiting case of this kind of dynamic. But if but if you're trying to move toward equality, if you're trying to move towards social justice in the sense of. Equality of respect and dignity and status, you have to. Extend some kind of assurance to the people who are losing that. They're still going to be OK and that we understand that they're suffering a loss and that the loss that they're suffering is payment enough.
Right, like we're not going to ask anything else for you. And that's hard because if you've been oppressed, if you've been on the on, you know, if you've been on the wrong side of the boot on the neck. Right. It's really that takes a certain kind of magnanimity and generosity that's very, very difficult. And I think, you know, there's something especially about Twitter in the Internet where when people don't have to look each other in the eye, it's really easy to have a heated rhetoric that sounds almost vengeful.
But I think that elicits a kind of resistance that's unhealthy and kind of Donald Trump is part of that right now.
Absolutely. And the other way in which the the current format of discourse, especially on social media, seems to make this hard is well, I guess it seems like a coordination problem to me, where if you have multiple sort of nodes or leaders of a certain cause, even if many of them are taking that kind of Nelson Mandela magnanimous approach. You know, the the kind of vengeful or like or righteous approach is just so much more tempting and appealing in a lot of ways.
And I could see, you know, the incentives are such that like. The leader who's going to take that approach is going to get a ton of followers and and even if he still is only like a minority of the total conversation on the side of the social justice cause, still that's going to be the one that the other side is going to respond to and feel threatened by. And it just seems like not at all a robust system or like very fragile.
That's what I'm trying to say.
I think it's really hard to hit the right. I actually think there's a kind of generational division of labor. But so, like. Younger people. So to the ethos of reconciliation that I that that I'm praising requires a certain sort of maturity, that it's it's that that I just don't think you can expect from. You know, college kids or, you know, 20 somethings. That's just your 40 privilege talking. Well, my is that the really shocking but I think younger people who are are more likely to spot the injustices that have yet to be.
Addressed and rectified, and that their indignation and often their kind of rash indignation or their their intemperate indignation is exactly what calls attention to problems that really do need to be addressed. And I think we're getting into a weird situation today, partly because, like, the way media is has changed the way I haven't thought deeply about this. But it's but it's very, very easy for the people, say, who are losing relative status to fixate on. The very, very heated rhetoric of younger social justice warriors who are pointing out the latest injustice and and just say, look, it's never going to end, there's nothing we can do.
There's no way we can ever satisfy these people. Right. Like, I think that's that's what you hear from the kind of anti peaceful. And they tend not to hear the sort of more moderate, mature institutional reformers who are really trying to do something in a politically viable way that balances everybody's interest because those people just aren't making a ruckus in the same sort of way.
And so so so the way the new sort of new media allows sort of younger people to have a more direct voice, I think creates the sense that that that that there's more of this, you know, sort of sort of a moderate demand for immediate rectifications of injustices that then there really is.
I'm not sure that it's changed a lot anyway. My thoughts on this aren't aren't aren't clear at all. But but I think you're right that that that it's hard for, you know, people on the pro social justice side to coordinate on a single set of attitudes, partly because of life experience and partly because, you know, like you can build a big constituency in new media by. Being indignant and you see that on both the right and the left, I just thought of a potential counterexample to my own to my previous point, and I don't know if this is technically true, but at least the common wisdom about the civil rights movement in the 60s in the US is that it was actually really helpful to have Martin Luther King Jr.
and Malcolm X playing their respective roles of kind of not horribly simplified, but good cop, bad cop in that like. Well, I guess the the narrative is that Martin Luther King Jr. just seemed like so much more palatable alternative because he had this foil of Malcolm X, you know, with much more fiery rhetoric and demands. And so, I mean, that story is in conflict with the story that I was telling about the kind of race to the bottom.
So I'm wondering if you like, do you think that is actually the right, like a historically accurate story? And if so, why wouldn't that apply today? Well, I mean.
I think it's complicated. I think Malcolm X did make Martin Luther King seem more reasonable at one level, but it also made a lot of. White folks. I think that Malcolm X or that sorry, that Martin Luther King was just. You know, the thin edge of the wedge that he that that he was a stalking horse for the Malcolm X View, and the thing that's important on on that particular question is that, you know, just Malcolm X was just right as a matter as a matter of justice.
Yeah. That if you've been violently oppressed. You've been, you know, lynched, you know, denied the rights and respect of ordinary, you completely have a right of rebellion under any reasonable theory of justice like the United States of America is based on, you know, is based on a much less serious level of abuse. And if anybody would have been justified in taking up arms and forcefully overthrowing the standing elites, it would have been African-Americans in the South.
I mean, I think he's completely justified in like saying like, you know, just let's all get guns and just settle this. Right. And but that's terrifying. Right. And and and and that attitude, like, obviously elicits the worst in the people who have the most to lose from that. Right. And and and so and so being right about justice isn't the same thing as being right about strategy. How to get it. Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
And that's, that's, that's the I think that's the important point is that is that the path to social justice is very, very difficult and it requires a lot more than being right.
That's a great place to end. And we're just about out of time. So we'll wrap up the section of the podcast and move on to the rationally speaking picked.
Welcome back. Every episode, we invite our rationally speaking guests to introduce the pick of the episode that's a book or blog or movie that has influenced their worldview in some way. And Will, since you are as I mentioned at the very beginning of this episode, you teach creative writing at the University of Iowa, which I'll add one more aside, in case our listeners aren't aware, the University of Iowa, I should say that that I don't know. OK, sorry.
You have recently taught creative writing at University of Iowa, which is for those listeners who are not aware of famously prestigious creative writing programs. So that's no small potatoes. So I was wondering if for your pick you could cite a work of fiction that has influenced your worldview in some way. Is that doable? Yeah, that's doable. There are there are a number that I can mention the easy one is, is is Atlas Shrugged, which got me into being a libertarian.
But that's boring. And and and and I named my son. His middle name is Melville, because I love Moby Dick. And there's a lot to talk about in that book. But but but I think if I go deeper back into my past, the book I was obsessed with as a teenager was was Dune by Frank Herbert. And and all of the you know, all of the all of the sequels to that. I was obsessed with the world of Dune.
It's such a beautiful work of of of just richly, richly imagined. Alternate reality has its own sort of weird physics. And, you know, like they they weren't like like like the navigator's guild. They they like they travel at greater than light speeds because they take a freakin drug that allows them to, like, see the future so that they know how to run and not run into. I mean, you're right. But but the but the but the story of of like Paulla treaties and the idea of this sort of prophecy of what what, what is it called the the I don't even know how to pronounce it.
The quiz that's and the the male, you know, been a Jesuit priest or whatever, whatever he is. I mean that that inspired in me this idea that that that that one might have some kind of like profound untapped potential and that you might have some kind of like, great power that you weren't aware of. And I found that completely intoxicating. And and I think I think it's probably not that different to how, you know, kids of a later generation.
You know, read Harry Potter or the, you know, kind of the Mockingjay books or whatever, where where, you know, some kid, like, discovers that they're really the chosen one, that and that everything so.
So but I like the idea that that may be like, you know, you know, could it be that I'm the chosen one, which sounds ridiculous and vain, but that's what you are when you're 12.
But but but you know, but this idea that that that that that maybe maybe I have powers that I didn't know about, which in some sense I did. And like, you know, I didn't know that I was good at things that I was good at. And and and so that I think inspired me to try to figure out, like, you know, what capacities that I did have.
And it was disappointing to me when, you know, when I when I when I became older and learned that that that you can't just, you know, like take a dose of some spice or something and activate this latent superpower and that and that any remarkable capacities that you do have are only going to be realized through just completely mind numbing, repetitive, that that's a huge disappointment, I think, for a lot of people.
And I think there are a lot of incredibly talented people who are so put off by the fact that developing their gifts is such a slog that they just don't do it. And and the temptation to not do it is is immense because it sucks. Like actually actually developing skills is is awful and exercising them is also awful, even if it's, you know, super gratifying. Yeah. I mean, even even in the fiction that portrays the hard work that goes into, you know, some achievement or developing a gift, it's usually portrayed through a montage in the montage is so catchy and fun and quick that, you know, I still don't come away with a true understanding of how much hard work it's going to take me.
Yeah, maybe you just need a montage and then you're going to be able to, like, you know, beat the big boss at the top of the mountain. Yeah, yeah. Now I know it's nuts, but Dooen just like it was, there's something so exotic about it. And it also it also like it's also I think what are the sources of my interest in politics? It's a really interesting political work. It's a work about economic redistribution or distribution, like it's about who controls this space that's incredibly valuable.
And and and it's really a book about the resource curse, you know, about how conflict over valuable resources can lead to. Really sort of pathological social equilibria, so I am not sure that's how Frank, but we're seeing it. He did definitely did see it as a work of ecology. And so it's super interesting thinking about it now in light of, you know, in light of global warming. And Howar, I like how we relate to our environment.
So it's a really rich work that that I think is planted a lot of seeds in me that that that. That I'm still I don't think I have a good grasp on the effect it had on me, but it was a big effect because it got to me really early in a really formative period. So interesting. I hadn't heard that framing of Dune before. And I also it reminds me of another thing that I want to talk to you about some time, about the the effect that fiction can have on the accuracy or lack thereof of our world view, because it seems like, you know, the the vision of sort of discovering an inner superpower that it gave you that that can that can either help or harm someone from, you know, in their quest to actually become great.
So we should bookmark that and talk about the the relationship between fiction and truth at some other point. I would love to talk about that. Cool. Well, we'll thank you so much for joining me. It's been a pleasure having you on the show and thanks for listening to me yammer on any time.
This concludes another episode of rationally speaking. Join us next time for more explorations on the borderlands between reason and nonsense.
The rationally speaking podcast is presented by New York City skeptics for program notes, links, and to get involved in an online conversation about this and other episodes, please visit rationally speaking podcast Dog. This podcast is produced by Benny Carlin and recorded in the heart of Greenwich Village, New York. Our theme, Truth by Todd Rundgren, is used by permission. Thank you for listening.