Intro. [Recording date: September 11, 2017.]
Russ Roberts: Today we're going to be discussing Internet shaming--the power of groups and related topics, based on a piece that Megan McArdle wrote for Bloomberg View that we'll put a link up to.... As you point out at the beginning of your piece, people have always said and done embarrassing things that live on. And hurt their reputation. The Internet seems to make a difference, though. How?
Megan McArdle: Well, it's the scale. Right? You see this in business all the time, the scaling problem. So, things that work very well at a small level don't work so well when you try to make them bigger. And the example I always give is trying to agree on where to have lunch. Right? Let's say you want to have lunch with three friends. You get an email thread, maybe it takes a little bit of time; but eventually you are going to find somewhere that you agree to meet for lunch--pick a time--and that's going to be easy. Well, if you have 200 friends, that's not a very good way to do it. Once you get a certain number of people, you need someone to pick when the lunch is and arrange it. You don't just say, 'Hey, guys, where are would you like to eat? And when would be good?' because you will never get that problem solved. Internet shaming is a lot like community shaming. Right? It's a lot like--it's a little bit like a small bound. My mother, who grew up in a small town, said, 'You know, you always felt that you could go behind a window, close the shades, and sneeze; and the next day someone would ask you how your cold was.' And, there's always been a lot of prying. There have been people whose lives were wracked because they did something embarrassing in their small town and everyone knew about it, and no one ever forgets. I still remember being with my grandmother, at church with my grandmother, and hearing two women say something like, 'Well, did you see Lillian last night?' and the other one said, 'Well, yeah. We know how her people are. You remember when her grandmother used to-- Right?' So, there's always been these long memories. There's always been these punishments that are handed out to people who kind of defy community norms. But the difference is that, look: If you got a big trouble in your local town or city, at the last resort, you could move. You could go to another city. You could start over. And people did. I mean, you know--it's an old joke in novels is the only thing you could do is change your name, move away, and hope to live it down. But people actually did that. That was a way of getting away of the mistakes of your past. And if you look at the Internet now, first of all, just the number--and also, I should say, the ease. It's not just scale. It's also the kind of transaction cost of shaming and punishing someone. Right? It is really cheap on Twitter, to get on Twitter and say someone should be fired. It takes you 3 seconds of time. It's enjoyable; you show the right moral character for all of your friends who are watching you. And then you go on with your day. Even in a small town, to gossip about someone required standing around and talking to your friends; and then you took the risk that there would be retaliation because those people knew who you were and could get back at you. You knew that there was a risk that it could happen to you. You were kind of embedded in a social network. On the scale that we have now, there's one Internet. There's nowhere to move away from it. You know, where does Justine Sacco, who was the person who tweeted a tasteless joke about AIDS but was obviously the kind of thing that people say in an off moment with friends--they make tasteless jokes. Their friends roll their eyes and give them a look. And they're like, 'Sorry, just kidding.' But, she unfortunately made it on Twitter. Somehow, it escaped--it was a relatively small-follower Twitter account. It went viral. And, she was on a plane when she made it; and so, by the time she landed, she had been fired. Right? She was on a long flight to South Africa, I believe. Where does James Damore, who wrote the Google memo--where does he go to get away? This is going to follow him every time he goes to get a job: employer's going to google him and this is going to come up. Every time he goes on a date, his date is going to google him and this is going to come up. You can't escape it. And it's forever. Right? People used to say, if the New York Times wrote something about you, that maybe it turned out not to be true. The New York Times made a mistake; they identified you as some sort of terrible person. Well, 10 years later, 20 years later, who was going to remember that? Well, now, thanks to Google, everyone remembers it. And so, you have this immense power to wreck lives that didn't exist 20 years ago. Partly because, if you look at the Damore memo, in particular, 20 years ago if you had even wanted to get that story out there in the first place, who was going to write a story about a non-managerial guy at a tech company--
Russ Roberts: Not famous--
Megan McArdle: [?] big company, where he's not famous, had no power over HR [human resources]; he's just a normal engineer. Say, you had gone to a reporter. The reporter would have been like, 'Sorry; I don't really understand what the story is.' Like, [?] 'You seem very mad at him. But, I can't spend the money to print that on paper.' Well, in the Internet era, the cost of printing things is cheap. You have all of these online outlets who have gotten rid of their expensive reporting. They've gotten rid of their expensive layers of editing. And so you have enormous numbers of people who are just desperate for any copies. And someone comes to them and says, 'Look at this thing that is going on, on Google,' there is an economy on the supply side of people just looking for people for being to outraged. I see it. Everyone sees it. Right? It seems to me that in a lot of ways the primary reason to go onto news media or social media right now is to find a reason to be mad. And, so, of course they took it. Of course, they ran with it. The actually cost to them of putting that up there is very little. They got a ton of clicks out of it. They sold out against those clicks. And so, you have this economy that has replicated that small town. But, first of all, without the mercy that those small towns have. Because, yes, they did wreck people's lives. Yes, it could be stultifying. And all the rest of it. But, they also took care of people when they were sick. They also felt bad about seeing the wreckage of someone's life, and would say, 'Yeah, maybe it's time to forgive him.' There's none of that on the Internet. It's all of the bad things we hated about small-town life, and none of the good things that made small town life rewarding. It's a really bad equilibrium, and I really think we need to look at: What do we do about this? Because, no one likes it. Even the people who are in it at the moment, even the people who are calling people out. You know, as the Stalinists found out with the purges: You could be the next person purged. Everyone is afraid. Everyone's worried about the call-out culture, even as they participate in it. And it just seems like it's a really bad and unhealthy way for us to be living; and we need to think about: How do we rein this is? Because, no one likes it. And it's quite destructive.
Russ Roberts: So, I'm very sympathetic to the basic point. And listeners have heard me talk about Twitter. As you say--both you and I are active on it. Anyway. Although, I--
Megan McArdle: I follow you.
Russ Roberts: What?
Megan McArdle: I follow you.
Russ Roberts: And I follow you. So, one could argue: The way to deal with this is the way I deal with it occasionally--I've mentioned--I took Twitter off my phone. Doesn't always last, but I took it off my phone. That's really more for mindless, just sort of scrolling instead of thinking about something more seriously or engaging with human beings. But, some of it is also--I think of it as the corrosive aspect on my soul--or my person, however you want to think about it. Some of the attitudes aren't so good for us. Or, I don't like what they do to me or the way they make me feel. And, you've really got--speaking as the economist of the conversation, you said, 'Outrage is really cheap.' Or you said something like that. I think that's the right way to think about it. But it raises a question--before we get into your essay--it raises the question: 'Why cheaply-expressed outrage has such power?' I hadn't really thought about this. Certainly many of the people we are talking about--there are so many examples, I almost feel like we shouldn't mention them exactly, because they don't need any more publicity than they already have. But, like, EconTalk is going to push the numbers over the top, right? Really make it bad for these people. But, some of these people, they had a hard time. The question one could ask is: Why? Maybe the problem is not so much the Internet as it is that a company would fire someone for making a bad joke. A company would fire someone for a memo that--when I read it, I was shocked at how thoughtful it was. It's not what I expected to be the kind of memo at Google that would get somebody fired. I've talked to some friends of mine at Google. And, they actually described--and I want to bring this up; maybe we'll get back; I think we will get back to this later. But, James Damore has appeared often, sometimes--I don't know how often--but he wears a shirt that says 'Goolag' on the front--G-o-o-l-a-g [evident pun on Gulag--Econlib Ed.] in Google's font and colors. And, in a way there's something obscene about that. To compare Google to a Soviet labor camp where people died regularly just from not having good enough clothing for the weather they were in, or enough food to keep them alive; plus, there was actual murder. So, something obscene about that. And at the same time--and I've never spoken to him directly. But, other Google people have told me that it's like a Soviet re-education system. That there's an intolerance and an authoritarianism, a--and, of course, they won't say this publicly, because they don't want to have the shaming and they don't want to be fired. But, it's an incredible thing, that that's the case. And it raised the question: How did that happen? How is it that--I think of it as just a variation on political correctness--how is it that the perception that something that has been said or written that's inappropriate lead to being fired? As opposed to real malfeasance? Right? Harming other people? Destroying company property? Letting secrets out into the world--being careless with confidential information? Those are the things that used to get you fired. Right? Not doing your job well. Now, expressing an opinion gets you fired? And of course I think that's also a part of the [?] for the Internet. So, why don't you react to that.
Megan McArdle: Well, let me see if I can mount the defense. One of the things that I love about you is that you are always charitable of the other side and try to make an intellectually honest--the case for the people you disagree with. And, let me try to do that with Google: Is, first of all, look: Angering your fellow employees has always been a firing offense.
Russ Roberts: Yup.
Megan McArdle: It's always been raised--you know, companies, they are not there to make a big statement about free speech and the values. They are there to do a job. And, if you are making it difficult--if you have angered enough of your fellow employees and made it difficult for them to work with you--well, then, you are probably not going to be working in that company for a long time. And that's fair. Right? That's just--
Russ Roberts: Those are the rules of the game.
Megan McArdle: Those are the rules of the game.
Russ Roberts: That's understood.
Megan McArdle: Right. But, it's also that it doesn't make sense for companies that are--you know, we have universities that are supposed to be the places for free inquiry. Now, we can ask--
Russ Roberts: I like the phrase, 'Supposed to be' in there.
Megan McArdle: We can ask about how they are doing, these days. But that's--that is part of their institutional makeup. It's not Google's institutional makeup, is to just fearless inquiry into the state of the universe. They do a specific thing. They have a specific culture. Add, on top of that, look: Google is under pressure from regulators because they don't employ that many women. And that--and, you know, if there are lawsuits, which I believe there are--that memo was going to be brought up in a lawsuit.
Russ Roberts: Yeah.
Megan McArdle: Right. And if you knew anything about it, that was going to put them in a weak position with regulators. And, again, Google, first fundamentally has to make sure the company is still running. And, so, yeah: They fired him. But I think that--and so, in making those defenses, they have a right to. You and I are both free market people; and companies can fire you because they don't like the way you cut your hair. I think that would be kind of dumb for a company to do. But, it's within their rights. That said, I think that begs the question a little bit. Right? Which is, that, 'Well, he created a situation where Google had to fire him.' And I think that that's true. But let's look at the environment in which that situation required firing. Right? And that is what I think we are both talking about. Is that, it's not so much that they fired him because they created a problem for them. It's that: Why was he a problem for them? And that, I think is the million-dollar question: How did we get to the point--and I wrote in the essay--you know, you talk about the Googl-lag [Goolag] and the Soviets. I don't want to morally equate this kind of shaming and fear to what happened in Soviet Russia. Because, in Soviet Russia people were actually in fear for their lives, often.
Russ Roberts: Rightfully so.
Megan McArdle: Rightfully so. Maybe. Well, let me take that back. I do not think that the Soviet government was right in making them fear for their lives.
Russ Roberts: Yeah. No, no, no. I didn't take it that way.
Megan McArdle: They were correctly in fear for their lives, let us say.
Russ Roberts: Their perception was accurate.
Megan McArdle: Yes. Um, I'm having more and more conversations that sound like conversations that I have had with people from former Soviet countries. And, from my readings, I've been reading more about life in the Soviet Union. Where, people say, start by saying, 'Well, of course I would never say this in public.' And, like, you know, 20 years ago, I would never say this in public with maybe, 'I loved The Bell Curve'--Charles Murray's book on IQ [Intelligence Quotients], right?
Russ Roberts: Can't say it.
Megan McArdle: There have always been things that you can't say in public, for whatever reason. Fifty years ago, it was, 'Hey, we should let homosexuals get married,' right?
Russ Roberts: Yep.
Megan McArdle: That was something you couldn't say in public. We changed that. Which is great. But, the number of topics seems to be exploding, on which I hear this. Right? And a lot of them don't seem to be that--you know, it's discussion of abortion; it's discussion of trans-rights; it's discussion of all sorts of things that 5 or 10 years ago you could talk about.
Russ Roberts: Well, it's more, it's so much more than that. I mean, it's discussion of men's and women's roles--differences, if any. I mean, the Google example is a perfect example of that. Of course, Larry Summers was fired for a similar, inappropriate remark.
Megan McArdle: When I was in college. Right? People on the Left, we felt like we had to argue and go do battle and fight all the time. And there's now this feeling that, like, you don't fight. You just say this person is a racist. Or they are a misogynist. Or they are a bigot of some kind. And then the conversation is over and that person's life is ruined--should be ruined. Right? And the ease with which students are now calling for professors to get fired--I mean, I get that they are, like 20, and they don't understand that when you are 50, that calling for someone to get fired is just calling to--how big a thing they are asking. I think that they don't understand that, when they routinely ask for people to get sacked from their jobs. But, at the same time, there is the sense of like, instead of focusing on grievances and how to repair those grievances, a lot of these grievances have to do with the people instead of things that you should do. Or they have to do with destroying the bad person. And, again, I think that is a thing you see a lot in small towns, a lot in certain small, band communities. But again, people in the small band communities, there's also a human connection that kind of mitigates how far they are willing to go to destroy someone. And we've pulled that part of it out. And so I think it is a cultural shift. But, I think that that cultural shift is combined with a, with a technology; and that both of those two things are kind of heterodyning each other into something that feels unhealthy for everyone.
Russ Roberts: Yeah--the part that I find deeply disturbing--and I'm trying to write an essay on this at Medium; and I'll put a link up to it--this story of, I remember--and if I finish the essay. But I feel like--and, again, I'm not sure this is an Internet phenomenon. I think the Internet amplifies it. There's a--people have always been intolerant. People disdain--can be a very attractive emotion, seductive emotion--hate can be, tragically, a seductive emotion. And, the willingness to categorize people who don't see the world the way I do as not just disagreeing with me but worthy of contempt, dishonor, and exile--which is really in a way what we are talking about here. Right? Firing someone is like saying, 'This person belongs in the wilderness. They are not worthy'--it's not just that they are not worthy of a second chance, when someone makes an offhand remark that gets, say, misinterpreted or was a mistake. 'Their worldview is dangerous. And therefore, I am justified in vilifying them and wanting to push them into exile.' And that is what I find--it's not really--it's not the point of your essay, but it's a very related point, for me. It's the ease with which people are willing to dismiss other human beings as unworthy. And that is, I think, really strikes at the fabric of civilization. It certainly strikes at our common, our day-to-day interactions, culturally and socially. And, we have--we are in a moment in American history where there aren't a lot of feedback loops that tamp that down rather than there's a bunch that expand it. And the Internet is one of those, right? Where you can safely gang up on someone as being unworthy.
Megan McArdle: Yeah. You said two words that I think are important, one of which I will tweak and one of which I will just enthusiastically agree with. And the first is, you said 'unworthy.' And I think, actually, the word I would have used is 'worthless.'
Russ Roberts: Yeah, even better--
Megan McArdle: Is that these people have no worth at all. That anything can be done to them. This is how people used to talk about criminals. And, thankfully, I think conversation has shifted a little bit. Even conservatives are starting to talk about rehabilitation and the fact that this is a human being, and who may have done something terrible, but who we would not like--every life is a universe. Right? When someone dies, a universe ends. And that, when you--it doesn't matter what that person has done: we should care about the fact that there is a universe between that person's head and we should save that universe if we can for as long as we can. Right? But we've shifted it now, to our political opponents, where there's this sense that, you know, that if they disagree with me on big, fundamental issues, they should just be destroyed.
Russ Roberts: It's not just big ones.
Megan McArdle: Yeah.
Russ Roberts: It's any small ones. I'm serious. It's really--because they all go together, right? You've got this idea that, you know, 'Well, if you don't feel this way about this, then obviously you are going to feel this way about that.' And of course sometimes that's true. 'And therefore, I don't even need to explore the rest of your worldview. You're one of them.' And I think that's despicable. It's a sad, sad thing. And that goes with the other word you said, which is 'exile.' And this is really, I think, where things have shifted. Where there is no longer simply this sense that--now, again, we've always used 'exile' for--journalism has always used 'exile' for example for plagiarists. If you--even plagiarists have gotten away with it. There are still some people, plagiarists, working. The one thing you absolutely never, ever, ever could do was make up a story.
Russ Roberts: Yup.
Megan McArdle: That was it. You would never work in journalism again. If you, you know, you can get details wrong. We've all, unfortunately, done that. Or you misspell someone's name. But if there was any evidence that it was malfeasant, that you had just fabricated something--it's over. Right? Every community has these thing. Lawyers have their canon. You cross that line and you're out. But, those offences used to be like a small number of things. And they are growing to be a large number of things.
Russ Roberts: They are also well-delineated. Everybody knows what it means to make up a story. To be a sexist or racist, the expansion of those categories is what I find alarming. And, I don't know why exactly it's happening. Obviously, it's not so interesting to speculate.
Russ Roberts: I want to talk for a minute, though, about how you and I, who write publicly, or talk publicly, as we're doing now, might respond to this. So, one of the things I already learned from our conversation today is the number--it may be right--we realize how many times I say to someone, 'You're the only person I can say this to.' It's--I mean, usually, other than my life. What I mean is, 'in public.' Right? I have a couple of friends who I know will not vilify me, if I concede, I believe, x, y, or z. But, it's weird that I have to say that. And I mean it, too. There are a lot of things that can't be said. So, one reaction to this, which is not my first thought, but it's an interesting one, perhaps, is to say, 'I'm not going to let the Internet shaming mob cow me. I am not going to be--I'm going to bear the price. I'm going to face the consequences'--knowing that they're there, of saying things that are politically incorrect or socially unacceptable if indeed I think they might be true. And I might qualify them. Knowing that of course qualification doesn't help. You know, saying, 'I'm not sure, but,' doesn't really help. You are still going to get attacked. So, that's one response. You recently wrote, for example--I don't know where you wrote it; I saw this on Twitter. You had the temerity and the gall and the courage to say that there might be benefits from climate change, even though it's maybe the case that the costs will massively outweigh and overwhelm the benefits. But, that there could be benefits. Talk about the reaction to that and what you think of this idea of just sort of speaking truth as you see it, even though you are going to bear a cost. Because, you bore a cost for that.
Megan McArdle: I did. Actually, I tweeted this a long time ago, but it's something I've often thought--is, that you need stories on climate change and it's inevitably just a litany of all of the horrific things that are going to happen. Right? And I should put my cards on the table: I believe in anthropogenic global warming; I think that because there are feedback loops that are poorly understood, I don't want to mess with the only climate we have. I don't want to run a one-way experiment we can't take back on a single system that I need to survive. And because of that, I have some sympathy with people like Matt Ridley who are lukewarmists--they call themselves--they think it's happening; they think it's no big deal. There aren't that many kind of true, 'This just isn't happening; this is all a big lie.' In the skeptic community, they are mostly lukewarmists at this point. I have sympathy for them, and I read them. But I also think, I want an insurance policy. And so, I think we should have a carbon tax; I think we should be funding at the government level hog wild research into renewable sources of power and low-carbon sources of power. I feel pretty strongly about this. That said, I'm also kind of not in the full climate camp and I get a lot of pushback from them because I don't simply say, 'Well, therefore I'm just going to do the litany of horrors.' But I do this with [?] the minimum wage, right? Now, I don't think the minimum wage should be $15 an hour. When I read about it, I have to acknowledge there are some people who are getting more money because of this. Maybe they are not the people we are trying to target. Maybe they are affluent teenagers or retirees who are pretty skilled who went back into the workforce because they enjoy getting out of the house. But, that said, those people are going to benefit. And, you don't write a piece about the minimum wage and just say it's all cost, no benefit. I think there's a disemployment effect: I think there are people who lose jobs and those people are usually the most vulnerable, people that we want to help. But that said, there are costs and there are benefits and you kind of have to acknowledge both sides of the ledger. And you don't see that on climate change right now. You just very rarely do. It's in the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] Report--you can see they do--it's not that scientists don't try to do the net. It's the way it gets reported is this kind of litany of just terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible. And so, I said I would like to see a good climate, environmental journalist just do a piece on, or mention, even, in another piece: What are the actual net upsides? Which places are going to benefit from this? Because I presume some of them will. Which is not to say we shouldn't do something about climate change any more than it is to say that when I say some people benefit from minimum wage--now I want a $20 minimum wage. I don't; but I acknowledge tradeoffs. And, the reaction to this was just a bunch of people tweeting, 'Haha. Now maybe we should do articles on people drinking bleach. Maybe we should do articles on how great the Holocaust was.' And, like, you know--
Russ Roberts: Yeah. 'The Nazis made the trains run on time and that was good for, whatever. People learned about timetables, about how to run a train system.'
Megan McArdle: Yeah. The Holocaust and global warming are kind of morally not in the same category.
Russ Roberts: Not to me and you. But to some people it is. That's what we're talking about.
Megan McArdle: But everything seems to be in that category. Right?
Russ Roberts: Yep. Correct.
Megan McArdle: So, that's the--there's an increasing number of things where the first go-to is, 'Why don't you talk about how great the Holocaust was, if you are going to say this?' Well, the Holocaust was really a kind of uniquely terrible--it wasn't as large as the Communists' death toll. But it was worse in a lot of ways because it was so organized, and it was organized against a particular group of people. We don't have to get into why the Holocaust was bad. I think we all agree it was. We can take that as written. But it's really like a unique moral horror in the history of humanity. And, to equate everything to that--well, if everything is the Holocaust, we now just don't have any moral language to talk about anything lesser. And also, people don't actually--it worst against your cause in the end. I really do think this.
Russ Roberts: Well, that's the other part of it. It infuriates people and causes them to resent being called Nazis, for example. Or being presumed to be the equivalent of a Nazi. And that pushes those people--not Megan McArdle perhaps, thank goodness--but some people to then say, 'Well, I need to respond with as much vehemence, vitriol, and vituperation as you accused me.
Russ Roberts: But I want to come back to the point of: Did you do that with some trepidation? Or, was that fun for you? And do you think we should do more of that, to try to open some of these topics up for conversation?
Megan McArdle: Yeah. I think 15 years ago when I started doing this, I enjoyed getting a rise out of people more. And now it just makes me tired.
Russ Roberts: Yeah. The thrill is gone.
Megan McArdle: In part because it's gotten quite predictable. And I should say it like--that wasn't a dangerous thing for me to say. I never thought, like, 'I can get fired if I write this.' This is not--
Russ Roberts: You could have--
Megan McArdle: You're making fun of me. Which is true. But well, Bloomberg is not going to fire me because I suggested that climate change might occasionally have some upsides and we should know what they are. Bloomberg's a pretty good place about opening query and looking into--this is fundamentally like we do a lot of technocratic stuff, and that's a technocratic question--is, what are the tradeoffs here and what are the policy tradeoffs of doing stuff? I write about that all the time. But, now, it's not fun to engage with people who are so angry. I think about this with my trolls all the time, because I have people who are quite dedicated to trolling me. Mostly I meet them on Twitter.
Russ Roberts: Yep. Me, too.
Megan McArdle: I don't even block them, because blocking them is an engagement where then they know they've been blocked and they get angry. It's like, they're still talking to me; I just don't respond. But, you know, I'm not that interesting. Like, this kind of personal rage at me, this kind of personal hatred for me--you know, you should have something better in your life than that. And I think that a lot, about a lot of things: because you should have something better in your life than hating another human being--
Russ Roberts: Well, who you don't know.
Megan McArdle: Who you don't know; I'm down on hatred in general. I don't think I hate anyone that I've ever known. And, because, you know: we have, what? 70, 80 years? I'm in middle age now, and it's such a pitifully short period of time. And to waste any of it--you know, anger is different. Anger is a natural response to things that are often outrageous. But hate--this wishing someone ill, wishing terrible things for another human being--it's destructive. It plays no good role. And it is chewing up precious seconds of your life that can be better dedicated just for you: forget the person you are hating. Right? Just for you, it can be better dedicated to something else. And I think that that is kind of the other cultural thing, thread, that we are talking here is that we seem to be extraordinarily angry all the time. We seem to hate a whole lot of stuff. And I think about the Trump election, right? And I was pretty critical of Trump--I was pretty critical of Hilary Clinton, too, for what I think were good and sound reasons. And I said--at one point, I got in this debate with my readers, many of whom were Trump voters; and they said all of these things about bad things that they thought the other side had done to them. And I was like, 'Well, look, you know, I agree with a lot of this. There were people--elites kind of abuse their power in a lot of ways. They've been contemptuous of you. All of those things.' That said, here is not a good argument. Right? 'Well, my new fiance steals from me and she's a drug addict and she hates my kids and sometimes she hits me. But, boy, my ex-wife hates her.' Like, that's not a good reason to get married. Right?
Russ Roberts: Yeah. Or--or--I think the simpler point--and I'm up on a really fragile soapbox here, but I think the idea of responding to contempt with contempt is not a healthy thing. And I think--it's a human thing. I get the desire for it. So, I want to force you back to this topic of, this question: What you should do about it? I agree with you that it's no fun to get hate mail that wishes you ill, or death. And that's really unpleasant. And I think those of us who are[?]--I'm not very much in the public eye, but to the extent I am, I get those and I try not to let them get to me. They usually don't. But they still--sometimes they do. Should I fight back against that urge to hide and say what I feel, even when I know it's going to generate a lot of antagonism and possibly lead to people--becoming a pariah? Which is a phrase you use in the piece; and it's really the right phrase. It's a word that hardly ever gets--you know, it's almost gone out of fashion, to be a pariah. I mean, socially unacceptable. It means, again, unworthy; or worthless. Even a little bit dangerous, perhaps. Or perhaps someone who has to be pushed out of the camp. Do you think we should just be ourselves?
Megan McArdle: I think there are a number of questions there. First is obviously you're kind of--I'm not going to tell anyone they are going to have to stand up and immolate their career for the sake of ending this. I will admire people who do. But, realistically, people have mortgages to pay, and so forth. So, like, I'm fighting against it as best I know how. Which is trying to do it somewhat kindly. And, there's this great quote from a rabbi whose name now escapes me--because I'm in middle age. He said, 'When I was young, I admired people who were clever; and now that I'm old, I admire people who are kind.'
Russ Roberts: Yeah.
Megan McArdle: And I think that that's really true. Clever is easy. Kind is hard. And kind is, I think more effective. I'm teaching a class at Duke this semester on persuasive writing. And, the thing that I am--more than anything I am trying to drum into my students' heads is that the minute you are clever and mean and outrageous, you've lost someone. That's it. They will never listen to you. The minute you are sarcastic to them. And like, it's fun. I get it.
Russ Roberts: It's so fun.
Megan McArdle: I love being sarcastic. Because, I'm good at it. And we all love things we are good at.
Russ Roberts: Yup.
Megan McArdle: And I've basically stopped that. I don't always stop. I have the occasional column where I kind of let it all hang out. But I try to really minimize those columns. Because, they are fun to write; and they are fun to read if you already agree with me. And anyone who doesn't just turns off and doesn't listen to a darn thing I say. And, so, I think, you know, the kind of, 'Well, I'm just going to go out and say whatever I think and just shock people, and I'm not going to pay attention to those people'--I think it's understandable because, again, when the categories shift not just to so many but so rapidly--like things that everyone, a majority of the population believed 5 years ago are now things that brand you just a moral horror--
Russ Roberts: Like, being a football fan--is on the verge of that--I have a feeling. Right?
Megan McArdle: Yeah. And, I actually, like, I actually, like, I am one of the people who thinks--I don't have kids, but if I did, I wouldn't let a boy play football [because of the controversy surrounding concussions--Econlib Ed.]. And I think there is something--I enjoy watching it, but I also understand like what's happening inside those guys' brains. Like, they're consenting adults, but I don't have to watch everything consenting adults choose to do to themselves for money. Or for the love of victory or for any other reason. And, I can't watch it. Because it's tragic.
Russ Roberts: So, I'm uneasy about it, now. I'm not sure that the scientific evidence is open and shut. But there is some, clearly. But I'm just raising the question: Things that appear to be totally normal, in short order may turn out to be socially unacceptable soon--
Megan McArdle: Yeah--
Russ Roberts: Which is weird.
Megan McArdle: Yeah. And I think that's not possible to maintain. And again--you know, I talked about the Soviet--that's what it felt like. And not in the early kind of purge-days, although there is a lot of that. I remember having a weird debate with a Russian office mate at a summer internship when I was in business school. And he was--first of all, like, all the Russians I knew in the United States prior to that--I'd known a lot, but they were all Jews. Because they were in this huge exodus of Jewish people from the Soviet Union. Here's the first ethnic Russian that--and it was interesting to me because he had very different attitudes from the previous Russians I'd known. And he said to me--and he was basically defending the idea that we should be able to say, make, racist and sexist jokes. And I was very upset by this. It was late in the night. And he said, 'Look, you've got the wrong idea about the Soviet Union. Under Brezhnev, the risk wasn't that you weren't going to get sent to a camp. The risk was you would lose your job and your apartment. And then no one would go on and talk to you, because they knew it was dangerous to talk to you because they might lose their job and their apartment.' And again, I don't want to draw too much moral equivalence. And I also want to actually stand firm. You should not tell racist jokes. And if people do tell racist jokes, you should tell them that's not okay.
Russ Roberts: And don't laugh at them.
Megan McArdle: And you definitely shouldn't laugh at them. But you should also, just like, there is a good social stigma on racist jokes. And we should maintain that social stigma. I haven't changed my mind about that. But that has stuck with me, as something that I hadn't understood before. And I think that this is the kind of soft fear--right? That--and you said, his example was you told a joke about Brezhnev that--you wouldn't get shot, but you might lose your apartment. And as things, as these categories widened, were pulling in more and more stuff that there's no social consensus that should be banned. Right? And so, it's very similar to that. Is that, there's people who are now feeling afraid because they might way something that isn't just telling a terrible racist joke but suggesting that maybe women and men have different interests, and are not going to be equally represented at tech companies. And that even some of interests might be genetic. And this is something that--I am a woman. I'm in a pretty mel[?]field. I've always done pretty mel[?] jobs. And, it doesn't in any way offend me. If it's true, it's true. The universe isn't going to please me. Right? And--as you pull those things in, you create this climate of everyone feeling like they have to lie, in public. And, what's interesting about reading the Soviet, those Soviet era things, is how many people--Orwell talks about this, lots of [?] talks about this. It's the feeling that making you tell a lie is the point. That, there's no, like, greater point of what you are saying except that they have undermined your character by forcing you to lie for the regime. Is that, they are making you weaker. And that people, under Soviet regimes, really do seem to feel that that is true. I don't know that it is true. But they do seem to feel that that is the case. So, to go, but to go back to--to go back to outraging people--there's a reason that the people who do that are people like Milo. Right? And you get--I don't want to outrage anyone--
Russ Roberts: That's not what I mean. That's not what I meant--
Megan McArdle: No, no, but there's a real thing of that. And that's one of the things that restrains people. Even if you were--you are worried about this and you want to just have a non-confrontational, non-outrageous, non-nasty public conversation about things that matter. Right? It matters whether women have different interests in that there's a genetic component. Because that's going to tell us our company is discriminating. That's how you assess whether a company is discriminating. Right? Is, you can see what the end result is. Well, if there is a plausible end result that isn't discrimination, you've got to take that into a fact, and into account--
Russ Roberts: Well, I--
Megan McArdle: A suspect.
Russ Roberts: I think there is a much more important reason to take that seriously. And that's how we raise our children. And--really, it's ironic. Because, we've been talking about the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was based on an ideology part of which was about the fact that human beings are infinitely malleable, and we just need to make them whatever we want them to be. And I think that's the road to the Gulag--the real Gulag. And I see us taking steps down that road, in mistaking--potentially; I'm open to the possibility that maybe men and women really are the same--I don't think they are--we know they are not physically the same but whether anything beyond that is important, is a legitimate scientific question. And, if it's off the table to treat it as a legitimate scientific question, we will do a bad job raising our children. We will do a bad job creating, making our choices.
Megan McArdle: We'll do a bad job creating a society in which both groups of people will be happy--
Russ Roberts: flourish. Can flourish. That's the issue, for me. And I don't--I think it's hugely important.
Russ Roberts: Before we go on, I want to challenge one thing at the root of your concerns; and then I want to talk about some of what I think we can do about it. And then you can suggest whether you agree or what your own ideas are. But, the thing I want to raise is: Some would argue, perhaps legitimately--I don't agree, but I'm not sure how I feel about this, actually--that shaming is good. That, all of this stuff that you are worried about--yes, people are scared about what they say: Well, they should be scared, goes this argument. Because, words can hurt people. Words are important. And, it's a glorious thing that we have made people sensitized about the harmful effects of their words. And, the things that you are decrying, Megan, are actually good. One extreme version of this would be--and this drives me crazy, but I'll put it forward anyway: 'Well, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing--if you don't say anything bad--there's nothing--you are not going to get hurt.' All this shaming is to punish people who tell disgusting jokes, write grotesque memos that say things at the water cooler that intimidate and harm people. And those people should be shamed.
Megan McArdle: So, I think that that is actually true up to a point. I've made this point before. In fact, the first column I ever wrote on online shaming, which was based on Jon Ronson's excellent book on the topic, which [?] and in which I coined the term 'shame-storming,' which sadly failed to catch on, denying--
Russ Roberts: surprising--I'm surprised. It's a great name--
Megan McArdle: Internet meme, denying immortality. Yeah. Somehow, I try to coin these things periodically, as all writers do. And mine never catch on. Julian Sanchez, on the other hand, like, just tosses them offhand and they are always amazing, you know, apt and meaty. But, yeah. Look. When people tell racist jokes, and their friends turn around and say, 'That's not funny and you shouldn't say that,' right? That's useful. Completely useful.
Russ Roberts: It's how society evolves. Those are the norms--
Megan McArdle: How society has to happen. There is no society--
Russ Roberts: Those are the Smithian norms of judgment. And people's desire to be lovely, and to be respected by their friends. And it constrains behavior. It is great.
Megan McArdle: There is no society that gets along without that. That's not what we're doing at this point, though. Right? We're not just--look, I have been on the Internet 15 years. I have said some things I should not have said, and gotten people screeching at me. Justifiably. And then sometimes not justifiably. I have had pictures of my house even mailed to me with a gun-sight over the house. I have had death threats. I have had all this stuff. You shouldn't send death threats to people; you should not make even photographic even kind of pseudo-death threats. But I get--'I hope you and your family die'; 'I hope etc., etc.' I get that all the time. And, some of it is productive. Some of it is not. But, that's all, to me, kind of all in the game. And it's terrible--I feel terrible for this, that girl at Yale who got filmed saying some really intemperate and unwise things to her professor--screaming profanity at her professor--
Russ Roberts: In a moment of emotion--
Megan McArdle: in a moment when--she should not have screamed profanity at her professor; I will say that. But I will also say that the Internet definitely should not have deluged her with horrible, ugly messages. Right? And I've been through it; and I know, like, the first 10 or 20 times it happens to you it's really terrible. Now, it just rolls off my back. I can't even--this is, [?]--
Russ Roberts: [?] That's because that comes with the territory. And it shouldn't come with being an 18-year-old in college as a freshman, or a junior, or a senior and having to deal with it out of the blue, unexpectedly. It's not right.
Megan McArdle: But, it's also a different thing. However terrible it is, you move on. You kind of huddle for a few days. You feel bad; you tell all your friends how bad you feel. And then, a year later--yeah, it was bad, but you've gotten over it. Right? The difference now is--there's a couple of things. One of them has to go to that tweet that you talked about--the global warming tweet. It's like a year old. And periodically it just comes back to life. And how it comes back to life? Someone finds it; someone retweets it; there's a whole new level of people screaming at you. And again, for me, this is my job. It's all in the game. You want to scream at me, go right ahead. But, that happens to these people who get Internet shamed. But, more than that, there's a lot of economic consequences here. You look at someone like Memories Pizza, the pizza place in Indiana that told people they wouldn't do, cater gay weddings. Like, what are the odds that a pizza place in a small town in Indiana was actually ever going to be asked to cater gay weddings? You--kind of--[?]. But, the Internet went crazy. And these people were just deluged with horrible messages. The ultimately had to close down. Then they got a lot of donations. So, there's two camps; and there can be counter-benefits as well. But, when you are talking about depriving someone of their livelihood--and this goes back to Brezhnev, right? If someone told the Brezhnev joke and all of your friends said, 'That's not funny, and you should not question our fearless leader,' you know, that would be creepy. Maybe you would want to get new friends. But, it would be within the kind of bounds of normal, human, social reaction. The problem is when you are actually afraid they are going to take away the means by which I make my living. That is an enormous amount of power. And that is ultimately what I ended up talking about in this article--is that, classical liberals, and libertarians, of which I think you and I are both one--we normally have two categories: Private power, which is fine, because it's bounded; because there's exit. And then there's Public power, which has guns behind it, and it's not bounded; and is a different animal; and that's the animal that we focus on. Right? And there can be some cases of companies that kind of get so much monopoly power that they start acting like governments. But it's actually pretty rare. This is a third creature, that seems to be in between those two things. Right? Because it's not one company. Someone Google--this guy just got fired from Google. Well, you go work for another company that's--maybe doesn't care so much. Where you haven't made your co-workers angry, or whatever. All companies are probably going to be afraid to hire this guy.
Russ Roberts: I think small companies might take a chance on it, if his skills are such.
Megan McArdle: Sure, but he's never going to get a [?] gig--
Russ Roberts: He's damaged--
Megan McArdle: He's damaged. In a way that was not true 10 years ago when it was just, you said something bad on the Internet and then people screamed at you and felt bad. And sometimes you said, 'Yes, I shouldn't have said that.' And sometimes you earned[?] it back. But either way, it was bounded. When you threaten someone's economic livelihood, you are threatening pretty close to killing them. Right? If you can't make money to survive, then--it's not the same as threatening to kill them, but it's probably the next worst thing a government can do, is after bodily harm and threat or death, what can the state threaten you with? They can take away all of your money. They can take, freeze your bank accounts. They can make it impossible for you to live in society. And that is a thing that this power is starting to approach. And when we talking about freezing[?] [?metcounts?], a Southern Poverty Law Center designated a small, kind of religious values institute--they are quite conservative; the head of the institute seems to be Catholic and quite traditional Catholic. They were rented[?rated?] a hate group and their payment provider cut them off. So, they couldn't take donations. Those kinds of powers, when they are ubiquitous--when it isn't just, this happens and then like it was just, you know, 'My bank didn't want to deal with me because of my views, so I went and got another bank'. Right? That is a fundamentally different thing from 'Now, all the banks don't want to touch me.'
Russ Roberts: So, let me put it in a different framework. Because, I think--this is what I was trying to get at earlier, and I think will help us organize our thinking about it. And I want to come back to your point about whether this is something different that we have to deal with--and this is really the point of your piece, by the way, which I haven't really focused on yet. Which is that: This is a form of coercion. And since, as classical liberals, we should be worried about coercion, we should be worried about this. So, I just want to--I want to rephrase some of the, pull together some of the things we've been saying. So, I think there is a temptation in life to punish things we don't like. And that leads to a--that's not a bad idea, on the surface. The bad idea is to say, 'The bigger the punishment, the better, because then there'll be less of the thing I don't like.' And that forgets the fact that, that will lead to other behavior--and this, to me, is a very Coasean--this is one of the things I have learned from the Coase Theorem, and Coase's article, I should say, on social cost, because I think it's just--this insight is very deep and very unappreciated and very unintuitive. Which is: If you raise the cost of something, you do get less of it. And if it's something you don't like, you'd say, 'Well, that's good.' But you forget the fact that that sets a whole 'nother set of incentives in motion. Which is really, I think, what Coase's point was in externalities and how, if we punish them, we don't just get less of the externality. You get less of other incentives for behavior. And if you do punish the externality, you get different, you get incentives for behavior. And you want to look at the whole picture. And that, I think, is the deepest insight of that article. And I'll take the opportunity here just to mention that it can--the Coase Theorem is not usually what people say it is. Listen to my EconTalk interview with Ronald Coase and his frustration with that. We'll put a link up to it. But, my point is this: If you don't think it's a good thing for airlines to lose bags, lose your luggage--which everybody agrees that's a bad thing--you don't want a fine of a million dollars for a lost bag. Because, what that means is the airline--maybe they'll just stop flying, for starters. But it certainly means they are going to spend a lot more resources to not lose your bag. And you might think, 'Well, that's great!' You forget the fact that someone has to pay for those. That's usually--not usually; it's almost always the customer. And so the customer is now being told, 'I'm not going to lose your bag, but it's going to cost you now the equivalent of an extra $500, say, or $300, or $200 dollars to fly.' In which case, you'd say, 'I think I'd rather take a chance' now that you'll lose the bag and not have to pay a higher price. And when we mandate a million-dollar fine, we are basically saying to the company, 'You have to be at one end of this tradeoff.' And that, I think, is the problem of what we're talking about. The shaming is generally a shaming because, as you said, it's a huge part of civilization. Disapproval, the raised eyebrow, the ending a friendship over, perhaps tragic but may be justified over some horrible misbehavior. That might be the right thing to do in certain situations. But, if the punishment for thinking a bad thought and uttering it is exile--joblessness, no longer part of socially acceptable society--what you get is--what we came talking about before is: 'I better not say much.' And you talk about this in your essay: 'I'll just stick to the weather.' And what that does--and you could say, 'Well, that's okay. That way nobody's feelings get hurt.' And, 'Nothing offensive is said.' But what it means is: Nothing creative is said. Nothing innovative is said. It's better to keep your mouth shut. And you end up with a culture and a society that is--a bunch of sheep. A bunch of people with their nose to the--they are trying to stay under the radar all the time--from these phenomena. So, that, I think, is the true cost of this. It destroys thoughtful discourse. And thoughtful discourse is what makes civilization.
Megan McArdle: I think that's absolutely right. And I think there's also another cost. Scott Alexander, who runs a great blog, Slate Star Codex--
Russ Roberts: Amazing--
Megan McArdle: He had a great post a while back on something called 'motte and bailey' arguments. It's [?] is, the motte is your tower--it is your easily defensible tower--and the bailey is the broad land around it, which is completely indefensible. And so what people would do back in the medieval era is when enemies shows up, they'd all get into the motte; and then as soon as they went away, they'd go back to the bailey and do their farming and so forth. And the idea of this is, you say--and the example he gives is something like privilege--is that you have a kind of bland and unobjectionable definition that no one can disagree with; and then you have a really, really hard-to-defend definition that's more useful. So, think about something like misogyny. If we say, 'Everyone's a little bit sexist'--which I think is true, right? Like, everyone--we grew up in the culture we were in; we have attitudes that we have inherited; human beings tend to stereotype people based on their personal experience. That's how our minds work. Something happens; you categorize all of the categories that were associated with that action and you associate whatever happened with those categories. It's just how we learn--
Russ Roberts: And you leave out a lot of data that makes your narrative too complicated.
Megan McArdle: So, unfortunately, we learn some wrong things that way. So, you have a definition of sexism like, 'Everyone's a little bit sexist. There are persistent attitudes toward women in society that hurt women's advancement.' Okay; yes. I think most people could believe that that is true, at least in some. Then, you get to definitions like, 'Merely saying that women and men might be different is misogyny.' That's really hard to defend. So, what you do is you use these two things interchangeably. Whenever you are challenged, you go back to the motte. And whenever you are not challenged you use the term as if it meant this much broader definition that a lot of people would contest. And so the cost of that is that eventually people notice. And then, one thing I've written about in a variety of contexts is that if you make a punishment for anything too severe, people don't want to apply it. So, if you say, 'Being a sexist is really, really bad and that sort of person needs to be exiled'--okay, we can agree that there are people who should not be managers because there is sexism. Right? If you walk in and you look at a woman and you think, 'That woman couldn't possibly be bright enough to do any job more advanced than typing,' well, you probably shouldn't be a manager. You are going to make bad hiring decisions, and you are not going to be very good with your female subordinates. But there are a lot of those people around. But, if you want to apply the punishment for that--which is, 'No, you can't be a manager in a modern company,' we don't[?] apply the punishment for that to everyone who maybe thinks that there's some differences between men and women, on average, not individual cases. Well, people are going to balk. And so, if you say that sexism is so bad that people who practice it need to be exiled, then people are going to be very, very narrow about the definition they are going to use about what sexism is. And that actually excludes a lot of things that kind of arguably are sexist. Right? It makes it hard to talk about things like structural sexism. Family leave policy. And those sorts of things. Precisely because you've established that the penalty for this is social death. Well, I need a pretty high burden of proof for me to impose social death on someone. And so, David Frum talked in a podcast recently about his son going off to college a liberal, coming back a conservative, because he was so sick of all the PC [Politically Correct] stuff. And him having to say to his son, like, 'No. You shouldn't say those things.' Right? There are some things that shouldn't be said. And the problem is, right, that if you make everything into something that shouldn't be said, people lose the ability to distinguish the things that they shouldn't say. The things that they really shouldn't say. When you over-broaden it, you actually lose support for fighting racism, for fighting sexism, for fighting all sorts of bigotry. Because, you've made it so broad and you've made the penalty so high that people just throw up their hands and say, 'Look, I cannot shun 2/3rds of the population for one thing or the other. I have to--', you know. And that is where I think we are heading. It's this--not just this thing where people are afraid; not just where we are losing a creative, open, expressive society where we can freely discuss ideas, but also that the very goals that the people who are doing this I think genuinely are trying to advance. They are genuinely trying to improve the world. They are actually going to hurt those goals, because they are going to make it harder to convince people. The most effective thing I have ever written, in my personal mind, was a piece that I did comparing academic bias against conservatives to structural racism. And, the academics, as you can imagine, got very upset about this. But what was actually great about that piece was I got a bunch of conservatives who wrote me and said, 'You know what? I always thought this structural racism stuff was nonsense; and now I understand what they were talking about.' Right? And that warms my heart every time I think of it, because I believe structural racism exists. And I believe that it's something that you need attention, and you really need to be thinking about fighting because it will otherwise operate the way human groups do. And the reason that I was effective was precisely because I didn't say, 'Letting these things happen makes you the worst person on the planet.' And, 'If you don't care about this exactly as much as I do, you deserve social death.' I said, 'Look, guys. Here's something you care about. And here's why this thing is like that. And you can see they both operate in the same way. They are not morally the same, but they operate by the same mechanism.' And, put those two things together and you can see how this happens. And suddenly, by talking respectfully to people, by giving them examples that they empathized with--and this goes back to a question you asked me earlier: What do I do? What I try to do, honestly, is be as respectful as I can. Is say, 'Guys, we are all good people who want good things for society. And we shouldn't hate each other. But, here's some stuff we are doing that I think isn't working.' And maybe that's not effective. I don't know. But, that is my best guess at it: What works is not outraging people, but just pointing out all of the ways that this is bad for everyone. Not just bad for the people who get shamed. Bad for the rest of us.
Russ Roberts: Yeah. I'm going to give you my solution. Obviously--I'm putting it in quotes. I'm going to say it differently. I'm going to give you what I'm trying to do personally to try to keep this from spiraling out of control. And, of course, I'm only one person. But, each of us, I think, if we take on these norms, will reduce the odds of it by some amount. And I really don't care, actually, what the--I hope it works. I hope it makes a difference. But, I think even just for one's own sanity and wellbeing, I think this is, I'm hoping this is good advice. So, my strategy--I take your point that there is a--social pressure can be very powerful, and near coercion. I do want to keep it separate from government coercion. In terms, somehow, I think--
Megan McArdle: I do, as well.
Russ Roberts: I think about it. So, I want to start, at least, with some social things we might do as individuals that could become, eventually, more widely viewed as the right thing to do. So, I'm going to suggest two things. And, by the way, before I forget--I'm really glad you mentioned Scott Alexander and Slate Star Codex, because I think he's writing some of the most interesting things on this topic. And I think Jordan Peterson is also influenced by thinking on this, because he's suggested that this isn't just unattractive, but maybe threatening to the fabric of civilization. And, I've sort of just been alarmed by it until recently; but reading him made me a little more scared than I've been before. And I think that's probably a good thing. It helps me understand why I don't like to read the newspaper or go to news sites these days. I just find it very depressing. And I don't want to be just depressed. I think it's important to--if it's really alarming, abdication from these issues is not acceptable. So, the two things that--EconTalk listeners will not be surprised--the two things I think we ought to be focusing on are--but I got derailed. I think Scott Alexander's essay on the in-group and the out-group and our ability to, what we can tolerate, is extremely important. It's one of the best essays I've read in a long time. We'll put a link up to it; and we'll also do the one you'd mentioned, motte and bailey. But, what I was going to say, the two things I would recommend are, 1). Humility. I think it's incredibly important in today's world to imagine the possibility that you might not be right. You can think that you are right. You can believe that you are right. You can act as if you are right. But you should, in your heart and in your head realize the possibility that you might not be right. And, the more you think that, the less you are to dehumanize the people who disagree with you. And I think that's the deepest threat to our daily life right now. The second thing I would recommend is not responding in kind to people who troll you, who send you ugly emails, etc. It took me a long, long time. I may have mentioned this before, but I've found it--it's really exhilarating to not come back with that snarky, sarcastic response to the person who says something hateful or negative to you. And when you respond, not in kind but respond kindly, and with compassion, and say, 'Well--' and maybe you just re-state your opinion calmly and make it clear that you feel the way you do--I think that's the right response. And I think it may be naive to think that Twitter culture can be changed. But there could be another Twitter. Someone could start a Twitter that is more civilized. That is maybe curated. Filtered. Maybe it's not a free-for-all. Maybe it's a place where you have to have membership. Where you have to behave by explicit rules, not just the norms that emerge on Twitter that are so--I think not so attractive. And I think--I also want to add--I've gotten an immense amount from Twitter that is incredibly valuable. So, I continue to use it. I continue to go there. You can find me there at EconTalker--E-C-O-N-T-A-L-K-E-R. And you can find Megan there at, I think, Asymmetric Info. Correct?
Megan McArdle: That's correct.
Russ Roberts: And I think it's a wonderful source of information. But, I think the norms that are there, I think I want to urge humility, patience, and kindness. And I know that's [?] and idealistic. But I think every single one of us has control over those things. We don't have to wait for a new President, a new government, a new world order; a policy, a law. Everybody has control over those things, and I encourage everyone to behave that way. Your turn.
Megan McArdle: Uh, yeah. I mean, No. We--I think--kindness, overrated. I think that all of those like--I slip, I am sarcastic; I sometimes respond in kind. But I also have my moments in which I think of myself as the troll-whisperer. Where I try to say--and it sort of depends on the troll. But frequently if someone seems like they are open to argument, I'll say, like, 'Look, I think you misunderstood me. That wasn't quite what I was trying to say. I think we actually have a lot of common ground here; because we do, guys. We agree with each other about more stuff than we don't. We're all basically nice people. I know--this makes me sad, and again, Pollyanna.
Russ Roberts: But, your turn--
Megan McArdle: And again, I think people are basically nice, decent people who want the world to be a better place. And they have all sorts of other, human, less lovely attributes. They can be callous. They can--I can, I admit, this in myself include this in myself--I have all the same flaws as everyone else, right? We can be callous towards others, who would use others are can differ. But it was the Adam Smith line that an earthquake in China interests us less than like a cut we got on our little finger. That, we can be unkind. We get angry. We say things we don't mean. We don't want to hurt people. Those are all normal human things. We enjoy watching other people get hurt--other people, if those other people we perceive as our enemies. Whether those people are opposing football teams or whether those people are on Twitter who are getting dressed down by someone on your side. Those are normal human things. But the fact is, a better life--an actual better life--a better life for you comes from embracing the positive side and not the dark side. And, in fact, also, a better society comes out of that--is that we get a lot farther, yes. The debate should be rigorous. I'm not against the sly joke and all the rest of it. Debate should be absolutely rigorous and vigorous--which was the word I had meant to use; again I plead middle age. But in the end--I wrote a column about the fact that America is like a marriage. It's like a marriage in a country with no divorce. You cannot win a marriage. You can only win something that ends before you do. And so, you can't just beat the other 50% of the population. They are here. You've got to figure out a way to live with them. If we want, we can have a bad marriage. There were lots of them around before divorce was legal. There are still some around now. We can have a terrible marriage where we scream at each other and we are bitter; we say nasty things to each other all the time. But you don't win that. You lose that. You lose that. Because, now you are in a miserable marriage. And the other person has just as much power to hurt you as you have to hurt them. And that is, I think, in a lot of ways the lesson of Trump--is that people--and you know, you can also say the lesson of gay marriage, where social conservatives turned around and said, 'Why is everyone beating me up?' and, like, 'Well, these people felt like you were beating them up for a long time, that's why.'
Russ Roberts: That's the problem--
Megan McArdle: And, we have to recognize that there is--the other population is not going away. And that if you want to live with them without them constantly hurting you, you have to not look to constantly hurt them. No matter how--in a marriage, any marriage, no matter how good, has grievances--[?]. Everyone who has been married before has been in that fight, 'Remember 6 years ago when you--?'
Russ Roberts: You're the only one, Megan.
Guest: I have a good marriage. I love my husband. But, with your siblings, right? Remember when you were 6 and Mom did x? It's not that you don't have real grievances. You do. But, if the grievances dominate everything that you think about the other side, you are making yourself unhappy. Every time you hit them, you are insuring that they will hit back. And that you will be more unhappy. We've got to get beyond this. We never did perfectly. But we lived together more civilly 20 years ago, or 50 years ago. It was not a perfect society. There were many people who were oppressed. I don't want to go back to that period. But, I don't actually--and again, maybe this is Pollyanna--I don't think we have to go back to Jim Crow to go back to a period in which people could recognize that most of their neighbors were decent people regardless of what their politics were, who deserved respect regardless of what their politics were. I don't think that we need to go back--that we need to have all of the bad things of the 1950s to have a certain amount of national unity and national comity.
Russ Roberts: C-o-m-i-t-y. I heard that. I just have to say one thing--that was beautifully said. I just have to say one thing, being the representative of Adam Smith at EconTalk. And it's interesting: you gave this example of the earthquake and the finger: he says--he actually talks about surgery on your finger: If you are going to lose your little finger, you are going to sleep badly; whereas, if you hear that a million people are killed in an earthquake in China, you are going to be--you might be a little bit upset but you are still going to sleep that night. And I think that's true even today with the Internet. The tragedies we are in right now of Hurricane Harvey and Irma, horrible, horrible things happening to human beings, even if you watch them on TV or on the Internet, you probably care more about your own personal wellbeing, because that's the way we're wired. What Smith went on to say--and this is, I think, a nice way to end our conversation--what Smith went on to say is that: So, why is it then, that if you have a chance to save your finger by killing a million people, you wouldn't think about doing that for a second? No one could be that monstrous. Because, you've already revealed that you care more about your little finger in some fundamental sense than you do about the lives of strangers. And yet we don't behave that way. His answer, of course, was that social norms develop that prevent us from being monsters, even though in our heart we have some darkness; we have a minimal--we don't have as much benevolence as we'd like us, perhaps, to have. It just isn't the way the world is. So, while people may be basically nice, benevolence is a higher standard. Somehow, we act, frequently, benevolently, even though our natural impulse is to look out for our finger. And we see this right now--it's a very inspiring thing--that people who have freely chosen, voluntarily, to go save lives, spend money, and help other human beings when they don't have to is one of the glorious things about being a human being. So, I like to think we can develop those social norms at the right level. But, we're struggling right now.
Megan McArdle: Yep. I'm not going to try to top Adam Smith. That's exactly right. Human beings can be monstrous. But we can also be glorious. And, we can choose--we have done--if you look at society, there's stuff wrong with it. But there's a lot right about it. And we have chosen those right things. We have chosen to be decent to each other. We can choose to be decent to each other more often, to assume ignorance rather than malice. And, to assume decency and respect for every person in society, not just the people who you happen to think of as your tribe.