Thursday, January 20, 2022

My Life of Appeasement

By Bryan Caplan

Morally speaking, I think taxation is theft.  The government has a lot of bad excuses for taking my money without my consent, but no really good reasons.  Still, every year, I pay my taxes. 

Why don’t I stand up for my rights?  The obvious reason: If I stood up for my rights by refusing to pay and attacking anyone who tried to make me, I would end up dead or in jail.  That’s the way the government deals with tax resistors. 

Given this bleak forecast, I never openly defy the government.  Instead, I practice the opposite strategy: appeasement.  I find out what the government demands, I comply, and I resume living my rich, fulfilling life.  Yes, my rights have been violated.  But I’d rather live on my knees than die on my feet.  Indeed, I would consider dying on my feet to be not only foolish, but wicked.  Life is a gift, even if the government insists on tarnishing it.

Didn’t the Munich Agreement prove for all time that appeasement doesn’t work?  Hardly.  Despite its well-hyped failures, appeasement is an incredibly effective social strategy for dealing with the unreasonable and the unjust… also known as 90% of mankind.  Whenever someone makes bizarre demands upon me, my default is not to argue.  Instead, I weigh the cost of compliance.  If that cost is small – and it usually is – I let the babies have their way.  If you bump into me in the grocery store, I say “Sorry.” 

Doesn’t that open the floodgates to additional demands?  Not in my experience.  One symbolic gesture is enough to placate most of the unpleasant characters I encounter.  After my concession, we usually go our separate ways.  And even when I repeatedly interact with the same unreasonable, unjust person, at least my appeasement makes it hard for them to imagine that they have to get back at me for my past wrongs.

Despite their scorn, almost everyone knows that appeasement works.  How do I know this?  Because everyone appeases to cope with social realities.  Recall your day.  Did you experience some unreasonable, unjust treatment?  Probably.  If so, did you escalate the conflict until reason and justice prevailed?  Probably not.  Why not?  Because it would be a Pyrrhic victory, likely to leave you unemployed and alone.

Once people retract the absurd claim that “appeasement doesn’t work,” they finally unveil their real objection: They have too much pride to appease.  “Why should I apologize when she’s the one who stepped on my foot?”  When people express such attitudes, I usually just appease them and get on with my life.  But what I’m silently thinking is: “If you’re truly awesome, you shouldn’t care what unreasonable, unjust people think.”

Does this mean that you should never stand up for what is right?  Of course not.  But you should pick your battles very carefully.  While fighting is far more impulsively satisfying than submitting, you should restrain your impulses in favor of calm reflection.  You might be in the wrong.  You might be making a mountain out of a molehill.  And even if right and proportion are on your side, the real world is not an action movie.  You could easily fail – and you have a lot to lose.

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Reprinted by permission of the Liberty Fund.  The Liberty Fund is a private educational foundation dedicated to increased knowledge of a society of free and responsible individuals.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Make Your Own Bubble in Ten Easy Steps

Photo by Dilan NaGi on Unsplash

By Bryan Caplan 

Someone on Twitter asked for advice on how to create a Beautiful Bubble.  Perhaps he was teasing me, but it’s a good question.  Here’s my 10 Step Program:

1. Amicably divorce your society.  Don’t get angry at the strangers who surround you, just accept the fact that you’re not right for each other.

2. Stop paying attention to things that aggravate you unless (a) they concretely affect your life AND (b) you can realistically do something about them.  Start by ceasing to follow national and world news.

3. Pay less frequent attention to things that aggravate you even if they do concretely affect your life and you can realistically do something about them.  For example, if you check your email twenty times a day and find the experience frustrating, try cutting back to two or three times a day.  If you need to know about world politics, read history books, not newspaper articles.

4. Emotionally distance yourself from people you personally know who aggravate you.  Don’t purge anyone – that causes more trouble than it saves.  Just accept the fact that you aren’t going to change them.

5. Abandon your First World Problems mentality.  Consciously compare your income to Haitian poverty, your health status to Locked-In Syndrome, your sorrow to that of parent who has lost a child.  As Tsunami Bomb tells us, “Be grateful that you have a brain for thinking/

And legs to take you places.”  For guidance, repeatedly read Epicurus’ Letter to Menoeceus and Julian Simon’s Good Mood.

6. Now that you have emptied your life of frustration, you are ready to fill it with joy.  Start doing things that make you happy even – nay, especially – if most people in your ex-society disrespect them.  Spend $1 a day to filter out annoying advertising and intrusion.

7. Actively try to make more friends with people who share your likes.  In the Internet age, this is shockingly easy.  Don’t try to make more friends who share your dislikes.  You should build friendship on common passions, not joint contempt.

8. Find a career you really enjoy.  Ask yourself, “Will I take daily pride in this work?” and “Are the kind of people I want to befriend statistically over-represented in this line of work?”  If you have to signal for years to get this job, sigh, signal, and see Step 5.

9. If you’re single, stop dating outside of your sub-sub-culture.  Happy relationships are based on shared values and mutual admiration so intense that outsiders laugh.  Let them laugh.

10. Now that your own life is in order, you are emotionally ready to quixotically visit your ex-society.  Maybe you want to publicly argue for open borders, abolition of the minimum wage, or pacifism.  Go for it.  Bend over backwards to be friendly.  Take pride in your quixotic quest.  Then go home to your Beautiful Bubble and relax.

Coda: Many perpetually aggravated people tell me they “just can’t” adopt my advice.  Perhaps they’re right to think that they can’t follow my advice 100%.  But so what?  Anyone can adopt my advice at the margin.  Why not spend one extra hour a day in your Bubble and see what happens?

Check out Bryan Caplan's new blog. 

More Bryan Caplan blog posts.

Follow Bryan Caplan on Twitter. 

Reprinted by permission of the Liberty Fund.  The Liberty Fund is a private educational foundation dedicated to increased knowledge of a society of free and responsible individuals.

Two Tips For Making Decisions

Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash By Bryan Caplan When we see people making bad decisions – whether as consumers or voters – we often...