Friday, May 30, 2003

The Temperance Oath

I’m reluctant to recommend serious books to people who don’t read much, especially if they have the native intelligence to understand them. Accustomed to the pabulum of the popular press, self-help books, and the Management Secrets of Attila the Hun, they are very likely to get upset when the first time they go beyond formula. Real books present real arguments, and real arguments actually can persuade, the more so when the listener has no experience of arguments and no context in which to place them. For most people the uncertainty and sustained effort involved in thinking are painful and unfamiliar. They wrap both arms around the first notion they comprehend, hoping that it will turn out to be the key the universe. In a college kid, the resulting enthusiasm and conviction can be charming because it is likely to be temporary. In adults it can and has had significant consequences. Think of all those earnest workers who, having puzzled out the bit about surplus value in the first book of Capital, decided that Marxism was as indisputable as arithmetic just as a later generation would be mesmerized by the Laffer curve—economics seems particularly prone to generating the fetishism of the concept.

No comments: