Intellectual influences, part 1

(Arnold Kling)

Merle Kling was a professor of political science at Washington University. Our personalities were such that our relationship was a bit more like professor-student than father-son.

1. “Sometimes it’s this way, and sometimes it’s that way.” The most important idea that Merle Kling gave me was one he never wrote down.

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2. Identifying nonsense. My father and his colleagues had a game that they would play when encountering high-sounding phrases (think of a self-help book or a speech at a political convention. Or think of a business book filled with buzzwords like “empowerment” and “synergy.”) Take all of the fancy words out of a paragraph and put them back in a completely different order. If changing the order of the fancy words does not change the meaning, then the paragraph in fact does not have any meaning. It is just using words in order to make listeners or readers feel like they are getting some profound insight.

Source: My intellectual influences, part 1: My father