One promising approach to institutional reform is to try to acknowledge people’s need to show off, but to divert their efforts away from wasteful activities and toward those with bigger benefits and positive externalities. For example, as long as students must show off by learning something at school, we’d rather they learned something useful (like how to handle personal finances) instead of something less useful (like Latin). As long as scholars have a need to impress people with their expertise on some topic, engineering is a more practical domain than the history of poetry. And scholars who show off via intellectual innovation seem more useful than scholars who show off via their command of some static intellectual tradition.
Kevin Simler & Robin Hanson, The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life, Oxford, 2018, p. 312
The line between cynicism and misanthropy—between thinking ill of human motives and thinking ill of humans—is often blurry. So we want readers to understand that although we may often be skeptical of human motives, we love human beings. (indeed, many of our best friends are human!)
Kevin Simler & Robin Hanson, The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life, Oxford, 2018, p. 13
Shortly after his 23rd birthday, Kevin was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. For a while he was extremely reluctant to talk about it (except among family and close friends), a reluctance he rationalized by telling himself that he’s simply a “private person” who doesn’t like sharing private medical details with the world. Later he started following a very strict diet to treat his disease—a diet that eliminated processed foods and refined carbohydrates. Eating so healthy quickly became a point of pride, and suddenly Kevin found himself perfectly happy to share his diagnosis, since it also gave him an opportunity to brag about his diet. Being a “private person” about medical details went right out of the window—and now, look, here he is sharing his diagnosis (and diet!) with perfect strangers in this book.
Kevin Simler & Robin Hanson, The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life, Oxford, 2018, p. 104