Nov 10 2020
By Bryan Caplan
I’ve always been weird, but at this point in my life I feel like I understand non-weird people quite well. If you’re still baffled, my weird friends, one simple principle captures most of what you need to know.
The Principle of Normality: A normal person says what others say, but does what others do.
Notice that this principle captures two distinct features of normality.
First, conformism. People dislike expressing views or taking actions unless other people express the same views and take the same actions.
Second, the chasm between words and actions. Normal people lack integrity. They feel little need to bring their actions in harmony with their words – or their words in harmony with their actions.
Example: A normal person will say, "We should do everything possible to fight global warming" – yet donate zero to environmental charities. How can they cope with the cognitive dissonance? Because this psychological experience is alien to them. They speak environmentalist words to echo the environmentalist words they hear other people say. They donate zero to environmental charities because to mimic what they see other people do. What is this "dissonance" of which you speak, weird one?
For normal people, Social Desirability Bias is far more than a bias; it is their way of life.
Once you understand the Principle of Normality, my weird friends, you are also ready to look in the mirror and understand weirdness in all its manifestations. While some weird people exhibit multiple manifestations, most weird people strongly emphasize just one. (I think).
Manifestation #1: Saying unconventional things. Some weird people like speaking about odd, off-putting, or socially disapproved topics, despite strong social pressure. Picture the comic book nerd, the gaming nerd, the literary nerd, or the anti-religious nerd. They still live much like other people; they just say weird things.
Manifestation #2: Doing unconventional actions. Other weird people focus on doing odd, off-putting, or socially disapproved things, again despite strong social pressure. Picture the polyamorist, the punker, the Hare Krishna (in Western societies), or the junkie. They still speak much like other people; they just do weird things.
Manifestation #3: The integrity of good. A third variety of weird person starts with plausible, even popular verbal premises. Then they stun the rest of the world by striving to bring their behavior into strict conformity with these premises. Picture the Effective Altruist, the vegan, the abolitionist, or the proponent of radical honesty.
Manifestation #4: The integrity of evil. The last variety of weird person starts with bizarre verbal premises that seem absurd unless you’re thoroughly brainwashed. Then they horrify the rest of the world by striving to bring their behavior into strict conformity with these premises. Picture the Islamic fundamentalist, the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary, or the theonomist.
To point out the obvious: Manifestation #4 is responsible for almost all of the political horrors of the last three centuries. Most weird people are not violent fanatics, but all violent fanatics are weird. So while I’m personally high on Manifestations 1, 2, and especially 3, I can understand why weird people tend to frighten normal people. In defense of the weird, however, I have to point out that most moral progress comes from Manifestation #3 – the abolition of slavery being the greatest example. Normal people rarely initiate awful crimes on their own, but once violent fanatics make awful crimes normal, normal people will support them by word and deed.
Typo in 3rd sentence of "Manifestation #4" paragraph: "They they horrify…" should be "They then horrify…".
Feel free to delete this comment.
Nov 10 2020 at 12:12pm
Example: A normal person will say, "We should do everything possible to fight global warming" – yet donate zero to environmental charities.
Why does the commonly given reason, "I will not anti up until everyone does", not work for this?
It’s also the reason that people give for being for the helping the lowest income USAers through Government while giving little to charities that already are helping the lowest income folks among us.
I don’t think the difference between 3/4 is so black and white:
Any religion you are immersed in is obviously Good and True in the same way that a vegan’s pro animal values are obviously Good and True to them
To give a slightly different formulation, it seems like there may be a better explanatory variable: intensity or passion or whatever. The most energetic folks I know are extremely weird. I’m a public defender; I work with a lot of different socially deviant folks. Some of the less weird, mellow clients only say weird things (manifestation #1), but many have energy & passion that can’t be released in socially acceptable ways. Had they lived 1000 years ago, they may have been a warrior, bashing skulls in. Now, they may try to go to the gym and lift weights, or maybe they play full contact sports, but it isn’t enough. Its not that they are necessarily manifestation #3 or #4, they just feel so pent up, they express it by acting on radicalism & zealotry.
Point being, when presented with a very passionate person, its important that they have good role models around them to direct them into healthier methods of releasing their energy, avoiding the nastier ways intensity can be expressed.
"The Principle of Normality: A normal person says what others say, but does what others do."
Shouldn’t those two clauses be joined with an and instead of a but?
It does seem weird to put "but" in there, but "and" isn’t quite right either.
It would have made a lot more sense if Bryan prefaced that sentence with his later points (i.e., "A normal person will say, "We should do everything possible to fight global warming" – yet donate zero to environmental charities").
The "but" is required to make the main point of the setence since it tryes to underline the contradiction (the "cognitive disonance") between what normal people say and what normal people do.
The implication is that the "do" and the "say" are not the same things at all
What he’s trying to say an average person says a lot of nice platitudes like "we have to save the whales," BUT that average person seldom contribute his time, energy, or money to actually save the whales. Hence a normal person says a lot of things that are agreeable. but does not put money where his mouth is.
Nov 10 2020 at 4:54pm
This is one of your best.
Even a normal person can have a passing fit of weirdness, perhaps by coming under the influence of a charismatic leader of a religious cult. He then abandons (important parts of) his normal life to try to live in accordance with the cultish precepts. Usually, after a while, he slides back into normality; but this sort of episode is not so very unusual.
"Example: A normal person will say, "We should do everything possible to fight global warming" – yet donate zero to environmental charities."
Normal people often do make token donations to environmental charities. Better example would be "A normal person will say, "We should do everything possible to fight global warming" – yet live in a big house and think nothing of jumping on an airplane for a vacation."
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