Saturday, December 14, 2019

Artists Vs Engineers

Scott Adams, in  his book Loserthink contrasts the thinking of artists versus economists.  He uses both as a stand-in for a type of thinking.  I think he would have done better to choose engineers over economists for that, but I take the point.  He also identifies that thinking like a psychologist is a third way of thinking, though he talks about that less.  He is attempting to pare very large ideas down to an overgeneralisation, but one that provides some value.  An economist/engineer, when asking if something is a good idea, knows that the idea must be compared to some other state of affairs.  Is it a good trade deal?  Compared to what?  The current state of affairs?  What the other party is proposing?  What other countries get?

An artist has a different goal, that of expressing an idea with impact.  They are judged less whether their reasoning is true than whether they expressed an idea dramatically, or cleverly, or persuasively.

Adams plays a game of reading a tweet and asking himself whether it was written by an artist or an economist.  He claims that doing this, and understanding their different goals, helps one to understand them and comment on what they said - either back to them directly or to a general audience.  It's kind of fun.

When you know this, it also helps us see that politicians are a lot more like artists than economists.  They have to have some of both, but they trend in the direction of being artists. For all her railing about the science of climate change, Greta Thunberg is more like an artist, and as an artist, she is doing quite well.  She is the child of artists, so that's not surprising.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, despite her degree in a branch of economics (and this reveals one of the reasons why I think engineers are a better choice) is also essentially an artist, searching for impact.  Being proved wrong doesn't especially matter.

While Democrats and liberals generally make their appeals as artists - even those who say they are wonky and have detailed plans, which is just a role to play - some Republicans do it as well.  I think it describes Trump's approach, which may be why he is especially hated.  Democrats have over the years increasingly tailored their appeal to the artist-thinkers, but in doing so it kept narrowing a bit at every cycle on the carousel.  Trump came along and brought an artist appeal to the audience they had gradually sloughed off over the years.  They thought those people had nowhere else to go. Reagan had both, but more artist than economist. (By training he was both.)  George W Bush had very little artist in him, though the earnestness of politicians is something of an artistry of its own, even when it is sincere.

It's just another way to look at what is happening in front of you.  It is not an infallible guide to anything, but I think it provides some insight.


james said...

I think the politicians, and quite a few of the artists, are trying to provide "impact" to compete with others of their ilk.

GraniteDad said...

Engineer makes a lot more sense to me, as well. Economists are a very odd hodge-posted lot and I don’t think they work as well for the example.

Linda Fox said...

The belief that AOC has a degree in Economics is erroneous. Her degree is in International Relations; that major has only two actual Econ courses. All of the others are PC-Social Justice courses.

I wrote about this here.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Ah, I actually knew that but pushed it in the back of my mind shortly after learning it. Thank you.

In discussions with people more liberal than I, I found that getting into that discussion was needlessly infuriating to them. They treated it as an insult that I was not giving her credit for a real accomplishment, or in another case, one more rejection of "elites with their fancy degrees." What I really need is a good artistic impact statement instead - and then remembering it, eh? Perhaps "She had only two econ courses" would be best.