Abominable person theory

I am not a fan of the of history, but I’ll give some credence to what I’m going to call abominable person theory, as explained wonderfully at Mahalanobis:

[I]nfluential mistakes create something neither anticipated nor inevitable, while right ideas are somewhat inevitable. Thus good ideas are not so dependent on “great men” because there are lots of smart people and they eventually find the truth (witness the simultaneous discovery of things like evolution by Wallace and Darwin, calculus by Newton and Leibniz, or marginal analysis in economics by Menger, Jevons, and Walras). Bad ideas, in contrast, are infinite in number, and require a special magnetism and impenetrable self-assurance by their champions in order to become influential. Freud is a perfect example, a charlatan who befuddled two generations via his implacable self-esteem. Marx was similar, and Ayn Rand was cut from the same cloth but fortunately her radical ideas against empiricism never had as deleteriously wide an impact as Marx or Freud.

The pièce de résistance:

So for an individual to have great impact, it is probably in some wrong-headed idea about something not obviously falsifiable.

(Not just idea people; nearly anyone remembered as “the Great” was an abominable person.)

That’s most of the post, but read it again, it’ll be fun: The Most Influential Individuals are Generally Bad.

13 Responses

  1. […] (Anaximenes of Miletus was a pupil or contemporary of Thales and has a cooler sounding name. As a kid I’d dedicate donations to Alexander the Great, but I now know better.) […]

  2. […] Aaron Swartz has a provocative post on creating a legacy. I think it almost impossible to leave a real (by Swartz’s test — leaving the world in a different state than if you had not acted) and good legacy. […]

  3. […] Send the abominable person to prison! […]

  4. […] This via Byran Caplan’s timely post Columbus: The Far Left is Dead Right, which includes an always timely plea to dishonor ‘great men.’ […]

  5. […] Yes, because it is only possible to be “great” through doing great harm. Time: But look at 2006 through a different lens and you’ll see another story, one that isn’t about conflict or great men. It’s a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It’s about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people’s network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It’s about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes. […]

  6. […] Note that identity entrepreneurship is part of the shtick of many abominable people, especially the worst of them. […]

  7. […] “strong leadership” and lack of “morality”. In other words, voters want an abominable person as their temporary dictator. If I could only ratchet down my cynicism, I would be disappointed and […]

  8. […] much as I love to see an abominable person destroyed, Spitzer’s fall is unwelcome due to how it came about: privacy is dead. And of […]

  9. […] I took a more sanguine view of the U.S. presidency I would demand only elite candidates. The most abominable, I mean powerful, person in the world had better be the smartest and wisest possible person […]

  10. […] to that 2005 blog post, scroll down to the comments, and you’ll see a listing of fresher posts affiliated to that […]

  11. […] more abominable people drop out, making this even less […]

  12. […] counter to Columbus Day, but that puts too much emphasis on Columbus as a singular actor/great man/abominable person with respect to all pre-1492 western hemisphere populations. Had Columbus never been born, or his […]

Leave a Reply