Endearing Sincerity

Honestly demands I admit that soon after penning that sincerity is overrated, and that fiction typically distracts from reality, I fell in love with a fictional movie celebrating sincerity:  Once, depicting people who really love music, more than money or sex or anything.  It resonated with my cherished memories of being a teen religious cultist (~’74), and a young adult in an idealistic tech community exploring the web, nanotech, and more (’84-93).  People feel tied especially tied to others with whom they share a deep love of an unpopular or unrewarded hobby.  When other rewards loom larger, such as money, fame, sex, etc., we are less sure of our associates’ motives.

I’m lucky to be a professor, but alas since this job pays money and prestige, most of the people I deal with seem to primarily seek such rewards.  Gordon Tullock (office next to mine) in 1966:

An investigator wholly motivated by induced curiosity is different in many ways from one motivated by either curiosity or a desire to make practical application of new knowledge.  … If he could establish and maintain his reputation, and hence his job, by reporting completely fictional discoveries, this would accomplish his end.  … Those administering a system of induced research …  must make certain that [such] investigators are induced to pay attention to the real world.  As we have seen, the actual system used by administrators in our present setup is simply to count the number of papers published by a man in journals of various degrees of reputation.  The reputation of the journals, again as we have seen, is determined by their readers.  … A self-perpetuating process might be set in motion in which a journal read only by people motivated by induced curiosity gradually slipped away from reality in the direction of superficially impressive but actually easy research projects.  In most sciences this does not happen. … One symptom of the existence of this condition is the development of very complex methods of treating subject which can be readily handled by simple methods (pp56-57).

It is worse that Tullock thought.  Few academic topics are dominated by topic lovers; intellectual progress is largely a side effect of prestige seeking.  And even "sincere" topic love is directed by our ancient evolved coding designed to gain us more basic rewards.  But even so, I miss being part of a community primarily tied by a common love of a topic or activity, vs. wider prestige or money.  Not sure how consistent this is with anything else I’ve written.

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