Monday, March 21, 2011


Once again, a long time since I bothered to do a post here. My wireless router at home broke, and since then my VPN at home doesn't work. I got up early this morning, and I'm now at Starbucks sipping a cup of tea, so here I am.

My reading lately has been pointing my thinking increasingly toward a convergence of various ideas- Nassim Taleb, Richard Rorty, Seth Roberts and the various writers of paleo diet related blogs. It's all been getting me to think about the relationship between dynamism, coping with limited knowledge, the open society, and living well.

It's exciting to see the emergence of a strain of thought that seems to me so necessary for "our times". Let me try to lay out what I see going on here:

A distrust of theorizing, and an embracing of epistemological openness and tinkering
Both Rorty and Taleb offer convincing arguments against any theory as the final arbiter of Truth. Taleb suggests tinkering as a better paradigm. The smartest paleo writers seem to get this idea. Scientific evidence matters, but individuals need to be able to tinker around, see what works, and make new discoveries.

Embracing social dynamism
This follows to some extent from the latter. The smartest paleo writers understand that society flourishes when it allows a bottom-up discovery process to be the driver of social progress. It's refreshing to see more and more libertarians also fully embrace the implications of Hayek- there is never perfect knowledge, competition- indeed, perfect ANYTHING. The reason to embrace markets is because they allow for discovery, and keep the many failures that will occur along the way small. Government tends to push for one-size-fits-all solutions, and failures are massively damaging. But the smart libertarians understand that big business is often completely dependent on big government; social orders are dependent on each other.

Imperfect knowledge
The Chicago version of libertarianism is misleading. You don't need to believe in perfect competition, or perfect rationality, to support a greater role for markets. Indeed, the concept of the market, broadly understood, is just another way of saying something like 'a decentralized, bottom-up process of discovery'. We should also include in this what one might call 'the marketplace of ideas', and indeed most human interaction. We lack a good word for all of this. Ideas are just as important as production, even in 'the market' more narrowly construed.
The human body, like society, is a complex system, and we understand it very poorly. Overarching theories are very likely to miss something. We should proceed cautiously. Avoid the most clearly damaging things, and go with what works- don't worry too much about why. The convergence of evolutionary logic and scientific evidence can point us in the right direction, but don't wed yourself to any conclusion.

Never completely trust large institutions
The American government and it's corporate clients are not in the business of guarding the common good. I don't think there is deliberate intention to harm, but the net effect often is to harm the mass of people.
In the case of health, they continue to forward a hypothesis that appears weaker than ever. They have helped to destroy the knowledge embedded in traditional foodways- how many Americans know how to render lard?- and pushed deeply damaging alternatives.
The internet is empowering people to create social networks to help rebuild this knowledge. It's going to take some time, but many have already rebuilt their health.

This is all very scattered. If I ever get around to it, I'll try to better organize it and elaborate on some of these ideas.

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