Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Quote of the Day: On mistaking mush for wise minds

“There are always a host of people who will hold firmly that the more qualified and
tentative the judgement, the more well-balanced and sound it must therefore be.
Mushiness of mind, especially in an eminent man, is all too often mistaken for wisdom.”

- Murray Rothbard, from the chapter ‘Henry Thornton: anti-bullionist in sheep's clothing,’
in his book An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought


  1. You know...to an "r selected" species that really is wisdom though? An analog of 'sound' and 'well-balanced' and 'wisdom' anyhow since these are not values held by this host of people.

    Rules like the gold standard, and deferral of gratification go with the host of people who appreciate the well-balanced and the sound.

    The other sort of people really like mushiness as it is essential to the environment in which they feel safe and can multiply.

  2. True enough. But there's also another host of people, in my experience more common, who pretend to know things with certainty but in reality know f*** all. They come to conclusions based on the scantiest of evidence and often by misconstruing facts. Instead of expressing certainty, they should instead be expressing tentative conclusions, and open to changing their position based on the facts presented to them.

    Whilst it may appear at first glance that these people are the opposite of what Rothbard describes, in reality they are the other side of the same coin. People don't know what they know (or how to know it), so they either express doubt about everything, or try to project certainty when they have no real basis for it.

  3. @Mark I think I've got this...

    Among those of us who depart from 'mushiness of mind' and do accept the value of certainty and wisdom there is a further division to be made. What you are describing is the Dunning-Kruger effect. It predicts a particular bias within the 'certainty and wisdom' host to over-rate their powers of reason and over-emphasise how sound and sure they are.

    The fact that, in your experience, this subset of The Certainty Appreciation Club is more common only tells me that you have been successful in isolating yourself in your hill fortress from the vast majority of wishy-washy sheep!

  4. No Rick. As I see it, the people I describe are also exponents of the "mushiness of the mind". One says they know nothing, the other claims to know everything. Both are guilty of departing from reality and not understanding "how we know what's really true" (the subtitle of Richard Dawkins new book).

  5. Rothbardian mushiness is qualified and tentative. It's weaselly, ambivalent, bifurcated, double-thinking, media trained, horoscopes and weatherman talk.

    You're not describing that but rather the Dunning-Kruger type. The type who often end sentences with "full stop" or "period." Blame their tools or others for their errors. There was a brilliant caricature character of this in 'Better Call Saul' this year if you saw it? Wore army camo pants and carried a variety of hidden weapons he bragged about.

    Anyway, I agree you're right that the final result is the same.


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