Plenty of water, plenty of revolutions, and plenty of illegitimate criticism
Thanks to everyone who came out to the Denver Happy Hour earlier this week! I’ve had fun doing these and hope to keep scheduling more as travel happens.
Luke Christofferson: What's the most valid criticism you've received recently? And how do you filter out unhelpful (for whatever reason that might be) criticism while still being open to evolution stemming from the valid criticism?
Let’s be real — there are no valid criticisms of me and I am perfect in every way.
More seriously, my experience of being someone who is often criticized is that critics tend to pick one of two registers. There’s a register where the critic acts like they expect their criticism to be persuasive because the target of the critique is a smart, open-minded, honest person who is open to new evidence, new arguments and new ideas. This mode of criticism is often effective at either persuading me that I am wrong about something or at a minimum persuading me that my prior writing was flawed in some important way. Then there’s a register where the critic is simply venting, talking about how I’m a bad person, an idiot, a bad-faith operator, etc. Those kinds of criticisms are almost never persuasive in large part because they’re not written with the intention of persuading.
So I think as the recipient of criticism it’s important to be open-minded and calm, but I also wish that more people who like to argue about things on the internet would generate a larger fraction of their time to attempting to persuade rather than venting.
Matt Hagy: Are you familiar with Jonathan Haidt’s book, “The Righteous Mind”? If so, what are your thoughts on his theory that much of our moral and political values follow from intuitive (i.e., subconscious or emotional) thought and that reasoned arguments are post hoc constructions to justify these intuitions? Particularly, if reasoned arguments and empirical facts can rarely persuade people to change their political values, but instead only confirm their prior beliefs, should we all put less time, effort, and money into such endeavors?
I like that book a lot, but my main takeaway from it is less that it’s a waste of time to persuade people than actually that it’s very worthwhile to persuade people about specific policy ideas.
You can think of One Billion Americans as a fully Haidt-pilled book in which I’m trying to take concepts that are near and dear to conservatives — patriotism, national greatness, family — seriously and put on the table ideas that I mostly learned in progressive wonk circles that I believe can advance those values.
Or coming from the other direction, Mitt Romney just put together a proposal to reform federal family benefits in a way that’s simpler and more pro-marriage. A good number of progressives I know say it’s a plan with real merit and I expect Democrats will engage with him in a serious way. That’s because Romney here is taking seriously things that progressives say are important to us. So he’s crafted a plan that will advance a conservative value (marriage promotion) in a way that seems clearly beneficial on net to poor kids even if you don’t put a ton of weight on the marriage issue per se. Where politics goes awry is when people neglect Haidt’s point about the durability of these values and start to think something like “if we just give everyone a copy of Atlas Shrugged they’ll see the welfare state is bad” or “one more column about how all of conservative politics is white supremacy will definitely convince them.”
Tim Flemming: Now that it’s wrapping up, what’s the best ‘season’ of Mike Duncan’s Revolutions? Personally, the Haitian Revolution takes the prize just due to how little I knew about it going in.
My personal favorite is the one about South America, which I genuinely knew nothing at all about. But my kid agrees that Haiti is best.
Mostly, though, I’m sad that the show is wrapping up. I’d love to listen to Cuban Revolution and Iranian Revolution episodes.
Doug Orleans: Do we have enough water for one billion Americans? Are there other solutions besides desalination?
To quote the book: “But America turns out to have 8,800 cubic meters of fresh water per person. If our population tripled, we would have 2,900 — quite a bit less. Yet Spain gets by with 2,400; the UK has 2,200; Germany has 1,300; and the Netherlands has 650. Qata, an admittedly extreme case, gets by with fewer than 25 cubic meters. For the United States to make itself as parched as Qatar seems inadvisable, but we’d need a population of 112 billion, which is obviously a bit extreme.”
The reality is that because people don’t like rain, the trajectory over the past two generations has been for population growth to occur in the most arid parts of the country. That is not ideal and arguably reflects some policy failures in terms of how water is priced in the United States. But the country as a whole is very wet.
Rory Hester: Some say that a taco by definition requires a corn tortilla. If it comes in a flour tortilla it’s really just a unwrapped burrito. Do you agree?
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