Wisdom Worth Giving Up Bananas For

Michael Giberson

In response to a reader’s question, Tyler Cowen declines to offer support for any of the current candidates for president in ’08. Cowen offers these comments instead:

As biological creatures we are programmed to respond to faces, voices, names, and identities. We praise them, follow them, condemn them, figure out what side they are on, just like good ol’ East African Plains Apes. Who is not excited to see a President of the United States attending a Wizards game in a nearby box? I know I was, and I didn’t even vote for him. Chimps will give up bananas, just to be able to gaze at photos of high-status other chimps.

Cowen added that he hoped his blog would serve as “one small space where these necessary but ignoble human tendencies toward personalization are resisted and sometimes even criticized.”

A laudable goal, though it strikes me as a regular consumer of Cowen’s blogging that he certainly puts out a lot of personalization along with the ideas. (He reads Entertainment Weekly! He listens to all kinds of music! He played pretty good chess as a teenager in New Jersey!) Any regular reader will develop a mental model of him as a person, and then tend to associate the ideas with the (imagined) person, and may like or dislike the ideas because of the image of the person associated with the ideas.

…Interesting… I came here to praise the post, not bury it. I wonder if Cowen recognizes how his blog embodies this tension between reliance on personalization — is it necessary to maintain readership? — while professing to resist and even criticize personalization in the realm of ideas. Actually, I’m sure he does. (At least, my mental model of Cowen does, and almost by definition my mental model of Cowen is as smart as the actual Cowen, at least as I imagine him to be.)


2 thoughts on “Wisdom Worth Giving Up Bananas For

  1. “almost by definition my mental model of Cowen is as smart as the actual Cowen, at least as I imagine him to be”

    Could you equal Tyler’s chess performance by using your mental model to predict the move he would make?

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