Russ Roberts: But I want to come back to the point of: Did you do that with some trepidation? Or, was that fun for you? And do you think we should do more of that, to try to open some of these topics up for conversation? Megan McArdle: Yeah. I think 15 years ago when I started doing this, I enjoyed getting a rise out of people more. And now it just makes me tired. Russ Roberts: Yeah. The thrill is gone. Megan McArdle: In part because it’s gotten quite predictable. And I should say it like—that wasn’t a dangerous thing for me to say. I never thought, like, ‘I can get fired if I write this.’ This is not— Russ Roberts: You could have— Megan McArdle: You’re making fun of me. Which is true. But well, Bloomberg is not going to fire me because I suggested that climate change might occasionally have some upsides and we should know what they are. Bloomberg’s a pretty good place about opening query and looking into—this is fundamentally like we do a lot of technocratic stuff, and that’s a technocratic question—is, what are the tradeoffs here and what are the policy tradeoffs of doing stuff? I write about that all the time. But, now, it’s not fun to engage with people who are so angry. I think about this with my trolls all the time, because I have people who are quite dedicated to trolling me. Mostly I meet them on Twitter. Russ Roberts: Yep. Me, too. Megan McArdle: I don’t even block them, because blocking them is an engagement where then they know they’ve been blocked and they get angry. It’s like, they’re still talking to me; I just don’t respond. But, you know, I’m not that interesting. Like, this kind of personal rage at me, this kind of personal hatred for me—you know,
you should have something better in your life than that. And I think that a lot, about a lot of things: because you should have something better in your life than hating another human being— Russ Roberts: Well, who you don’t know. Megan McArdle: Who you don’t know; I’m down on hatred in general. I don’t think I hate anyone that I’ve ever known. And, because, you know: we have, what? 70, 80 years? I’m in middle age now, and it’s such a pitifully short period of time. And to waste any of it—you know, anger is
different. Anger is a natural response to things that are often outrageous. But hate—this wishing someone ill, wishing terrible things for another human being—it’s destructive. It plays no good role. And it is chewing up precious seconds of your life that can be better dedicated just for you: forget the person you are hating. Right? Just for you, it can be better dedicated to something else. And I think that that is kind of the other cultural thing, thread, that we are talking here is that we seem to be extraordinarily angry all the time. We seem to hate a whole lot of stuff. And I think about the Trump election, right? And I was pretty critical of Trump—I was pretty critical of Hilary Clinton, too, for what I think were good and sound reasons. And I said—at one point, I got in this debate with my readers, many of whom were Trump voters; and they said all of these things about bad things that they thought the other side had done to them. And I was like, ‘Well, look, you know, I agree with a lot of this. There were people—elites kind of abuse their power in a lot of ways. They’ve been contemptuous of you. All of those things.’ That said, here is not a good argument. Right? ‘Well, my new fiance steals from me and she’s a drug addict and she hates my kids and sometimes she hits me. But, boy, my ex-wife hates her.’ Like, that’s not a good reason to get married. Right? Russ Roberts: Yeah. Or—or—I think the simpler point—and I’m up on a really fragile soapbox here, but I think the idea of responding to contempt with contempt is not a healthy thing. And I think—it’s a human thing. I get the desire for it. So, I want to force you back to this topic of, this question: What you should do about it? I agree with you that it’s no fun to get hate mail that wishes you ill, or death. And that’s really unpleasant. And I think those of us who are[?]—I’m not very much in the public eye, but to the extent I am, I get those and I try not to let them get to me. They usually don’t. But they still—sometimes they do. Should I fight back against that urge to hide and say what I feel, even when I know it’s going to generate a lot of antagonism and possibly lead to people—becoming a pariah? Which is a phrase you use in the piece; and it’s really the right phrase. It’s a word that hardly ever gets—you know, it’s almost gone out of fashion, to be a pariah. I mean, socially unacceptable. It means, again, unworthy; or worthless. Even a little bit dangerous, perhaps. Or perhaps someone who has to be pushed out of the camp. Do you think we should just be ourselves? Megan McArdle: I think there are a number of questions there. First is obviously you’re kind of—I’m not going to tell anyone they are going to have to stand up and immolate their career for the sake of ending this. I will admire people who do. But, realistically, people have mortgages to pay, and so forth. So, like, I’m fighting against it as best I know how. Which is trying to do it somewhat kindly. And, there’s this great quote from a rabbi whose name now escapes me—because I’m in middle age. He said, ‘When I was young, I admired people who were clever; and now that I’m old, I admire people who are kind.’ Russ Roberts: Yeah. Megan McArdle: And I think that that’s really true. Clever is easy. Kind is hard. And kind is, I think more effective. I’m teaching a class at Duke this semester on persuasive writing. And, the thing that I am—more than anything I am trying to drum into my students’ heads is that the minute you are clever and mean and outrageous, you’ve lost someone. That’s it. They will never listen to you. The minute you are sarcastic to them. And like, it’s fun. I get it. Russ Roberts: It’s so fun. Megan McArdle: I love being sarcastic. Because, I’m good at it. And we all love things we are good at. Russ Roberts: Yup. Megan McArdle: And I’ve basically stopped that. I don’t always stop. I have the occasional column where I kind of let it all hang out. But I try to really minimize those columns. Because, they are fun to write; and they are fun to read if you already agree with me. And anyone who doesn’t just turns off and doesn’t listen to a darn thing I say. And, so, I think, you know, the kind of, ‘Well, I’m just going to go out and say whatever I think and just shock people, and I’m not going to pay attention to those people’—I think it’s understandable because, again, when the categories shift not just to so many but so rapidly—like things that everyone, a majority of the population believed 5 years ago are now things that brand you just a moral horror— Russ Roberts: Like, being a football fan—is on the verge of that—I have a feeling. Right? Megan McArdle: Yeah. And, I actually, like, I actually, like, I am one of the people who thinks—I don’t have kids, but if I did, I wouldn’t let a boy play football [because of the controversy surrounding concussions—Econlib Ed.]. And I think there is something—I enjoy watching it, but I also understand like what’s happening inside those guys’ brains. Like, they’re consenting adults, but I don’t have to watch everything consenting adults choose to do to themselves for money. Or for the love of victory or for any other reason. And, I can’t watch it. Because it’s tragic. Russ Roberts: So, I’m uneasy about it, now. I’m not sure that the scientific evidence is open and shut. But there is some, clearly. But I’m just raising the question: Things that appear to be totally normal, in short order may turn out to be socially unacceptable soon— Megan McArdle: Yeah— Russ Roberts: Which is weird. Megan McArdle: Yeah. And I think that’s not possible to maintain. And again—you know, I talked about the Soviet—that’s what it felt like. And not in the early kind of purge-days, although there is a lot of that. I remember having a weird debate with a Russian office mate at a summer internship when I was in business school. And he was—first of all, like, all the Russians I knew in the United States prior to that—I’d known a lot, but they were all Jews. Because they were in this huge exodus of Jewish people from the Soviet Union. Here’s the first ethnic Russian that—and it was interesting to me because he had very different attitudes from the previous Russians I’d known. And he said to me—and he was basically defending the idea that we should be able to say, make, racist and sexist jokes. And I was very upset by this. It was late in the night. And he said, ‘Look, you’ve got the wrong idea about the Soviet Union. Under Brezhnev, the risk wasn’t that you weren’t going to get sent to a camp. The risk was you would lose your job and your apartment. And then no one would go on and talk to you, because they knew it was dangerous to talk to you because they might lose their job and their apartment.’ And again, I don’t want to draw too much moral equivalence. And I also want to actually stand firm. You should not tell racist jokes. And if people do tell racist jokes, you should tell them that’s not okay. Russ Roberts: And don’t laugh at them. Megan McArdle: And you definitely shouldn’t laugh at them. But you should also, just like, there is a good social stigma on racist jokes. And we should maintain that social stigma. I haven’t changed my mind about that. But that has stuck with me, as something that I hadn’t understood before. And I think that this is the kind of soft fear—right? That—and you said, his example was you told a joke about Brezhnev that—you wouldn’t get shot, but you might lose your apartment. And as things, as these categories widened, were pulling in more and more stuff that there’s no social consensus that should be banned. Right? And so, it’s very similar to that. Is that, there’s people who are now feeling afraid because they might way something that isn’t just telling a terrible racist joke but suggesting that maybe women and men have different interests, and are not going to be equally represented at tech companies. And that even some of interests might be genetic. And this is something that—I am a woman. I’m in a pretty mel[?]field. I’ve always done pretty mel[?] jobs. And, it doesn’t in any way offend me. If it’s true, it’s true. The universe isn’t going to please me. Right? And—as you pull those things in, you create this climate of everyone feeling like they have to lie, in public. And, what’s interesting about reading the Soviet, those Soviet era things, is how many people—Orwell talks about this, lots of [?] talks about this. It’s the feeling that making you tell a lie is the point. That, there’s no, like, greater point of what you are saying except that they have undermined your character by forcing you to lie for the regime. Is that, they are making you weaker. And that people, under Soviet regimes, really do seem to feel that that is true. I don’t know that it is true. But they do seem to feel that that is the case. So, to go, but to go back to—to go back to outraging people—there’s a reason that the people who do that are people like Milo. Right? And you get—I don’t want to outrage anyone— Russ Roberts: That’s not what I mean. That’s not what I meant— Megan McArdle: No, no, but there’s a real thing of that. And that’s one of the things that restrains people. Even if you were—you are worried about this and you want to just have a non-confrontational, non-outrageous, non-nasty public conversation about things that matter. Right? It matters whether women have different interests in that there’s a genetic component. Because that’s going to tell us our company is discriminating. That’s how you assess whether a company is discriminating. Right? Is, you can see what the end result is. Well, if there is a plausible end result that isn’t discrimination, you’ve got to take that into a fact, and into account— Russ Roberts: Well, I— Megan McArdle: A suspect.