A Persian Cafe, Edward Lord Weeks

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Fifteen Minutes of Mild Notoriety

On Wednesday around lunchtime, I tweeted "We care about African animals and British people, but ignore African people and British animals. #openborders #veggie." At time of writing this has 57 retweets and 28 favourites, which is not much in the grand scale of things but makes it by a significant margin my most popular tweet. More significantly, it was picked up by Tyler Cowen, who linked to it at Marginal Revolution and quite soon I saw myself being quoted elsewhere.

There have been no phone calls from the media, no reporters on my doorstep, the sky hasn't even fallen in. I've spent more than the average amount of time dancing around the house over the last couple of days, Ben Southwood and I exchanged celebratory tweets, and that's about it. Appearing on an (admittedly notable) blog doesn't make you famous, who'd have thought it?!

It was fun being slagged off in the comments section at MR. dearieme's comment was especially amusing, while bellisaurius came dangerously close to being self-aware.

The tweet itself was elegantly phrased, grossly oversimplified, but basically correct. We do ignore African people: you can look at any debate over immigration and observe that the one thing no-one in the UK talks about (aside from other Open Borders folks) is the vast, vast benefits to actual immigrants of coming here. At this very moment Immanuel Kant is spit-roasting in his grave at the way immigrants are viewed merely as a means to a functioning NHS. We don't actually ignore all British animals - see the hunting ban - but I will maintain that unless you are vegetarian, you are ridiculously hypocritical to be getting annoyed at the murder of a single animal, one which is itself responsible for a great many more animal deaths.

(Originally the tweet was going to say "We ignore animals which are far away", but this really doesn't have the same ring to it.)
(Also, I think there's a strong case to be made that the hunting ban is not really about animal rights and is in fact class warfare - albeit, somewhat unusually, aimed at the upper class).

It is oversimplified, but (a) I was on Twitter, a medium highly unsuited to nuance, and (b) I sacrificed some literal truth for the sake of elegance. If I hadn't sacrificed precision for elegance then no-one would be quoting me. Call it poetic licence.

The other thing I would like to note it what it's like to be quoted. I enjoy being quoted by high-status people, because it shows that they think my thoughts are worthwhile. But I also wish they would attribute the quote. At least one high-status person quoted me, making it clear that it was a quote but without a link either to MR or to the original tweet.

I'm not at all angry - (a) as I said, I enjoy being quoted and (b) they weren't trying to claim credit -  and it would have been a bit gauche* to actually ask for recognition. But it is a bit disappointing to miss out on status - especially given that this isn't just the result of a signalling game. In future I'll be sure to attribute quotes, at least in cases where the original person is still alive, and would encourage others to do the same.

Overall, I've enjoyed the experience. My ego has been inflated rather nicely, I've picked up a few new followers (though I'm still well below the point where I need to follow more people in order to keep my Following > Followers), and the next time I write my bio I can include "His writing has been featured in a variety of venues, including the popular economics blog Marginal Revolution". That instantly makes you sound more impressive, and technically it's even true.

*For "gauche" read "low-status"

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