And that’s the problem. Smith’s overly precious desire not to be identified with what’s trendy (or trending) but with what’s ornamental gets in the way of his writing a book that most of us can find illuminating.
I fail to see the point of reviews which say little more than, “I wish the author had written a different book.” Selinger drums his fingers impatiently throughout his review of Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason, waiting for Smith to get down to the serious business of illuminating current events and providing solutions to “the issues of our time.” He starts off by wondering why the behavioral sciences and cognitive biases are largely ignored here, and later complains that “Smith simply isn’t interested in concretely sullying his hands, as it were, by trying, for instance, to improve legal or corporate policies, or enhance educational curricula, pivot politics, or resolve interpersonal conflict. Nor is he interested in redressing thought distortions that make for dangerous-for-us-all decisions.” I couldn’t help but be reminded of one of the most stupidly, proudly philistine things I’d ever read on the web, where one of the LessWrong rationalists suggested that we replace philosophy classes — a “diseased tradition” focused on “old dead guys who didn’t know the slightest bit of 20th century science” — with the study of mathematical logic, heuristics and biases, probability theory, and Bayesian rationality. (As it happens, Smith did briefly address that species of delusion in the book, suggesting that the rationalist community would have done better to read Plutarch and Cicero.) I’m not sure where the dividing line is between a healthy desire to avoid the trendy and trending and an “overly precious” one, but I suppose I’m prepared to err on the side of being a hothouse flower.
Sometimes, when writing a post, a subject’s name triggers a faint memory, and I’ll go looking through my archives to see where it comes from. In Selinger’s case, it was precisely six years ago that I found him jumping to strange conclusions after seeing a Facebook ad. I suggested that perhaps David Hume, along with a wider perspective, could have helped him avoid such logical pratfalls. I think I see a theme developing here!