On Contrarianism

Some decent thoughts from John Quiggin on the general subject of “contrarianism.”

I think from a standpoint of pure rhetoric the key issue here is that you need to correctly identify the status quo. If your position is that we should allow people polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses to continue doing so unchecked, then you’re reenforcing the status quo. That’s fine. Sometimes the status quo is right. Sometimes all the money and political expediency and the overwhelming biases of the political system are on the right side. But still, if you take up the side of the status quo and join forces with the politically and economically powerful, you don’t get to don the mask of the bold truth-teller willing to speak out against ingrained prejudice. And you see this kind of thing a lot—people who want to both argue that gender inequality is the result of innate, ineradicable biological differences and who also want to pretend that they’re being incredibly brave for taking a bold stand in favor of existing inequities.

At any rate, Felix Salmon notes an instance of sloppy work for the purpose of slamming environmentalists from back in the original Freakonomics. It just wasn’t on a particularly high-profile subject of public debate.