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Gladwell
November 11, 2008, 1:27 pm
Filed under: Culture, Philosophy

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It is actually pretty weird that I’m not a big Malcolm Gladwell guy.  He grew up just outside of where I live, and he’s known for his popular level books dealing with intuition and the rationality of split second decision making.  Intuition and the irreducible role of inarticulate personal judgement in rationality are among my major philosophical interests.

For a while Gladwell was a must read for anybody who fancied themselves to be a thoughtful person.  Think of Freakonomics.  This is the stuff you had to talk about at parties in order demonstrate your piety to all the other ‘thoughtful’ white folks.  But the inevitable backlash is now building up steam.  I’m sure most people in my department would smirk at me if I brought him up.  That’s probably why I’ve never read him.  I’m such a contrarian that the thought of walking up to a bookstore checkout with one of his books in hand strikes me as embarrassingly cliche.  But now that the backlash is building, I can go ahead with it.  Few things please me more than participating in a backlash against a backlash.  Yes, this is the very face of pretense.  I need help.

BTW – On Boston Legal last night they mentioned an argument in favour of abortion found in Freakonomics.  It is a Utilitarian argument so embarrassingly unthoughtful and implausible that it’s hard to imagine why anyone gives it the time of day.  Apparently there is some evidence that America’s crime rate has gone down since the seventies.  It is at least somewhat plausible that abortion is responsible for this drop.  For unwanted children, and children born to very poor parents, are more likely to lead a life of crime, right?  But if they are aborted they won’t grow up to be criminals, right?  So abortion is justified by its beneficial consequences: less crime.

But wouldn’t our crime rate go down if we systematically killed off ethnic minorities?  It is well known that our prisons are disproportionately filled with ethnic minorities, right?  If we just went ahead and killed them all before they got a chance to commit crimes, our crime rates would go down, right?  If lowering our crime rate justifies abortion, why doesn’t it justify genocide?

(I shouldn’t need to say this, but please notice that I’m not advocating this policy.  My point is that it would be horrible and that lowering our crime rate wouldn’t justify it.)

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