Tyler Cowen: what kind of stories should we be suspicious of?

It’s the stories, very often, that you like the most, that you find the most rewarding, the most inspiring. The stories that don’t focus on opportunity cost, or the complex, unintended consequences of human action, because that very often does not make for a good story.

So often a story is a story of triumph, a story of struggle; there are opposing forces, which are either evil or ignorant; there is a person on a quest, someone making a voyage, and a stranger coming to town. And those are your categories, but don’t let them make you too happy. (Laughter)

As an alternative, at the margin - again, no burning of Tolstoy - but just be a little more messy. If I actually had to live those journeys, and quests, and battles, that would be so oppressive to me! It’s like, my goodness, can’t I just have my life in its messy, ordinary - I hesitate to use the word - glory but, like, it’s fun for me. Do I really have to follow some kind of narrative? Can’t I just live?

So be more comfortable with messy. Be more comfortable with agnostic, and I mean this about the things that make you feel good. It’s so easy to pick out a few areas to be agnostic in, and then feel good about it, like, I am agnostic about religion, or politics.” It’s a kind of portfolio move you make to be more dogmatic elsewhere, right?

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking because you’re agnostic on some things, that you’re being fundamentally reasonable about your self-deception, your stories, and your open-mindedness. (Laughter)

[Think about] this idea of hovering, of epistemological hovering, and messiness, and incompleteness, [and how] not everything ties up into a neat bow, and you’re really not on a journey here. You’re here for some messy reason or reasons, and maybe you don’t know what it is, and maybe I don’t know what it is, but anyway, I’m happy to be invited, and thank you all for listening.


October 14, 2021