Top Twenty Lessons I’ve Learned in 2020
Individual moral courage is the society’s most precious treasure, as rare as it is powerful
This year has been a shock. Here is an early sketch of what I think I’ve learned.
- Governments are fully capable of doing the unthinkable, and doing so suddenly with no exit plan, little consideration of cost, and a callous disregard for individual rights.
- The US Constitution and Bill of Rights are largely irrelevant when governments declare an emergency.
- The business lobby is far less powerful than I had previously assumed.
- Many politicians care more about their personal power than public opinion.
- People in general are less committed to their freedoms than I had previously believed.
- Economic understanding is rare.
- There is no such thing as settled science; scientists disagree, sometimes radically, and many times for political reasons.
- The structure of law and the regime are fully capable of dramatic and even overnight change.
- Influence is mysterious: the media report what fits their preferred narrative and ignore everyone with a different view.
- Professional credentials are useful but not decisive for any argument: in a crisis they are weaponized.
- People under duress, in the shock of lockdown, are capable of stunning lies and cruelty.
- Most people haven’t the slightest clue about how to think about statistics and hard science; for many people, data are mere abstractions.
- Hardly any political lobby or interest group genuinely cares about the poor, working classes, or marginalized groups, at least not enough to put their interests above a political agenda.
- Very often people’s proclaimed “principles” are nothing but social signalling devices.
- The propagation of truth is burdened by disadvantages relative to error and lies.
- Known science is fully capable of vanishing in one generation.
- No matter how seemingly intelligent and impressive are our institutions, they are neither created nor managed by equally intelligent people.
- Markets are adaptive beyond anything I ever imagined possible.
- Psychological health for most people is bound up with possessing rights and freedoms.
- Individual moral courage is the society’s most precious treasure, as rare as it is powerful.