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Just a Thought Experiment

Thought experiments use our imagination to investigate the nature of things. They are carefully arranged so that our minds only extract a very particular insight or intuition. Often they sound strange and alien to us, some of them are obnoxious. Philosophers love them. Today, this one crossed my mind:

Gretchen is not the most popular girl in school. In fact, the popular girls, the posh girls, hate her. Gretchen does not drive a fancy convertible like them, she prefers Thomas Pynchon to the Kardashians, and she is a vegan. Occasionally, she tweets about and lectures the posh girls about their fur coats, their plastic water bottles, their consumerism, their weekend trips to Cancun, and all their meaningless and superficial relationships. The posh girls are mean to a lot of other girls. Slowly, these other girls start to think that veganism, ecocentrism, and postmodernism are actually plausible. Gretchen feels rising support. So, she decides to run for the student council and wins. The posh girls are angry about this and start a campaign of false allegations, dirt-throwing, ridiculing and worse. They attack Gretchen’s boyfriend, family, grandparents, and intimidate all people supporting her. After several weeks of constant exposure to this harsh campaign, Gretchen is found dead in her room. Next to her a note that the pressure was just too much.

I assume most people condemn the campaign by the posh girls. Some might even say they are somehow responsible for Gretchen’s suicide. That they are blameworthy. In fact, I think that this might actually the most plausible view. However, what would that say about our treatment of the incoming US President Donald Trump? After the US elections, people that I formerly held in high regard revealed that they are no (or at least very little) different from the posh girls. Ever since November the 8th, I have encountered an unparalleled number of gross and dehumanizing cartoons, ridiculous accusations, crazy conspiracy theories, and very much hate. One might imagine that the persona Trump is just a tiny bit different from his public character, a little more human maybe. How much can such a person take? (How much could you take?) Is suicide unthinkable? Does any decent society want to take that risk? Is it worth it? For politics?

Suppose Donald Trump takes a shiny golden colt out of his desktop drawer tonight and decides to end his life. Next to him a note that the pressure was just too much. How would that reflect on the moral character of many of us? Some might say that this is what Trump was doing himself, he was basically asking for it. And that Trump is not like Gretchen. I hope that these people see that this is not a very good argument—if it is an argument at all.

Edouard Manet - Le Suicidé

Edouard Manet – Le Suicidé

Letter to an Outraged Twitter Feed

Dear twitter feed,

I have to admit, that I do not care much about the U.S. elections. In fact, I am vastly ignorant about this subject matter. I know that there is a wall, and E-Mails, and lots of exchange of vulgarities. That’s about it. Admittedly, I think anything related to the Supreme Court is important. But I do not know enough about American politics to have an informed judgment about this either. Unlike you. You know that you have the right theory of the world. I admire this. You know that Trump supporters were racists, fascist, sexist, dumb, and uninformed bigots. This is obvious, you always knew that. Yet, it seems like Trump got more support from minorities than the Republican candidates before, he won by a large margin in the category of white female voter against a white woman, and he won the group of college-educated white voters. Seems like he lost support amongst the rich population and gained grounds with lower income classes.  Apparently, most people cared about the state of the economy; rather than about immigration, foreign policy, progressive values or whatever. And, there, in the realm of economics and science, most people are blatantly ignorant—across all camps. Actually, there is a good chance that you are part of this group. I mean, after all, it is a widespread phenomenon. Thinking otherwise would be either overconfidence bias or wishful thinking, both also widespread phenomena.  The NYT is not the best way to evaluate facts (or even getting their facts straight) and despite its promising name, The Economist is a very bad substitute for an introductory textbook for economics (rather pick up this one).

So, probably a bit more modesty would be helpful. Probably, you will be as wrong about your predictions about the apocalyptic nature of Trump’s presidency as you have been about the actual election results—and as you are about markets, trade, and technological progress. Democratic elections, especially such polarized ones, are a test of moral character, of virtue. And you failed badly.  Yet, it makes it easier to understand the other side—because they are human beings, very different from you indeed, but very similar in their flaws.

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