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Made You Think

May 22, 2023

"First, it's important to remember that merit beliefs aren't necessarily true, nor are crony beliefs necessarily false. What distinguishes the two concepts is how we're rewarded for them: via effective actions or via social impressions. The best we can say is that merit beliefs are more likely to be true."

Welcome back to another episode of Made You Think! This week, we're talking about Kevin Simler's popular Essay: Crony Beliefs. Our beliefs are essentially divided into merit beliefs and crony beliefs. We talk about the many reasons we hold our beliefs, whether it's for accuracy, showing off, or blending in.

We cover a wide range of topics including:

  • Key distinctions between Meritocracy and Cronyism
  • The different agendas that we accomplish through our belief system 
  • Autonomy and individual decision making in the US vs. other countries
  • How crony beliefs show up in the medical field, diet culture, and more
  • What does it take to overturn a belief?

And much more. Please enjoy, and make sure to follow NatNeil, and Adil on Twitter and share your thoughts on the episode.

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(0:00) According to Listen Notes, we’re in the top 1% of podcasts! We open the show by talking about podcast stats and the main challenge podcasts face that makes it hard for the show to grow. 

(4:42) Differences between podcasts put out by independent creators vs. content distribution companies.

(8:33) Today, we're discussing Crony Beliefs by Kevin Simler. He talks about using beliefs as tools or ‘employees’. You have beliefs that you believe in for true reasons, but there are also crony beliefs which you may hold for social or political benefit. 

(13:52) We have agendas that we accomplish through our beliefs as they fulfill different reward systems. With Cronyism, we're less concerned about the accuracy of our belief so long as we make the right impression on others. 

(20:37) Crony beliefs thrive in areas of ambiguity. However, it's important to note that merit beliefs aren’t always true in the same way that crony beliefs aren’t always false. The distinction comes from how we’re rewarded for our belief and why you believe in it.

(24:12) Conspicuousness and standing out so you can be visible to others. It can be hard to tell when someone is sharing something out of the human desire to share and add value, or whether it’s for self-justification purposes.

(28:24) There are collections of ideas or rules where as a whole, we feel that we all need to agree on it. We go into the example of traffic laws. Conflicts arise when some groups think an idea has to be mandated whereas some people feel that it's okay ‘as long as it’s not hurting anyone’.

(32:06) How something as simple as a traffic light can mean something different in different places in the world. Is it to be obeyed 100% or just for guidance in preventing accidents?

(40:08) The US prides itself on democracy, but the individual decision making and autonomy is lower than it is in many other cultures.

(47:03) Crony beliefs in the medical field. Many times, it feels riskier to change a belief than to keep going with the current one you have.

(49:21) From the outside, it’s difficult to discern what a crony belief is. When it comes time to challenge or change a crony belief, if often would take a large event. Small, gradual changes wouldn't push the dial enough.

(54:26) The best way to see if you believe something: Are you willing to test it? 

(58:01) The word 'crony' has a negative connotation, but they’re not always bad beliefs to have. We talk about why life wouldn’t be better if we only had meritocratic beliefs.

(1:05:24) Could there be a level between crony and merit beliefs? There are many beliefs that are aspirational and positive, but not necessarily true.

(1:09:01) We discuss the level of overlap between Kevin Simler's essay on crony beliefs and his book, The Elephant in the Brain. The book is all about the hidden motives that we have, and how we have thoughts that we don't want to acknowledge, yet they drive our behavior.

(1:16:45) Harry Potter, Fast and Furious, and Lord of the Rings. Why it's easier to gain traction from remakes and sequels than a whole new story altogether. 

(1:20:43) That wraps up this episode! Next up, we'll be reading Country Driving by Peter Hessler. Make sure to pick up a copy of the book if you want to read along with us before the next episode.

If you enjoyed this episode, let us know by leaving a review on iTunes and tell a friend. As always, let us know if you have any book recommendations! You can say hi to us on Twitter @TheRealNeilS@adilmajid@nateliason and share your thoughts on this episode.

You can now support Made You Think using the Value-for-Value feature of Podcasting 2.0. This means you can directly tip the co-hosts in BTC with minimal transaction fees. To get started, simply download a podcast app (like Fountain or Breez) that supports Value-for-Value and send some BTC to your in-app wallet. You can then use that to support shows who have opted-in, including Made You Think! We’ll be going with this direct support model moving forward, rather than ads.

Thanks for listening. See you next time!