VoiceFromTheWilderness

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Science Doesn't Trust Your Rationality

Echoing Hal Finney...

It seems like you (Robin Hanson) are arguing that Libertarianism (small or big L) is some kind of alternative to rule making, or as I would say it 'believing in your theory'. But my impression -- not extravagantly well informed theoretically, but fairly informed by looking at actual, self styled libertarians -- is that Libertarianism is precisely an anti-theory theory. Terrified of the failures of other rules/models/belief systems, they create a new rule which says that all rules are wrong. The obvious tail chasing is well, what about your rule? They don't like that game.

Unfortunately, in practice it turns out that trying to decide ahead of time what rules are going to be valid and what rules aren't, is just as hard a problem, if not harder, than just deciding rules on a case by case basis. So the decision to once and for all make up a minimal rule set, and then disallow all future data and all future questions of rule making, turns out to fail just as badly, if not worse, than making bad rules to begin with. Thus for example, we see free market fundamentalists trying to prove that what has really gone wrong in the american housing market is too much government intervention, even though anybody willing to allow new data (new relative to their decision about how the world works that is) recognizes that the last 7-20 years (depending on how hard core you are) have been all about 'letting the market decide'.

In other words, libertarianism is just as much a religion as communism, and appeals to exactly the same psychology -- the need for easy answers, and the urge to push others around when your easy answers don't work. One of it's biggest problems is that it does not handle incremental acceptance well -- you have to drink the kool aid, or stay out of the party, no two ways about it. In the real world this requirement effectively kills the theory.

the fact that I have a visceral agreement with Scott Aaronson's claim that there is something similar about science and libertarianism says something about how down on science I am these days. The fact that I agree for exactly opposite reasons, says something about the relationship between outputs (objects) and processes (rules). Less opaquely: I agree there is something similar about Libertarianism and Science (big S) -- and it is not good at all if you are a fan of science (little s)