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What is mood affiliation?

Mood affiliation was a concept I first coined to refer to people who judge arguments by the mood of the argument. So there are some writers… they’re optimistic. So if an argument is optimistic, they think the argument is more likely to be correct… [My advice is to] be a very strict Bayesian, just because the mood feels comfortable [don’t go along with it].

A lot of very contemporary partisan debate is really about moods. If you feel if something is not condemning something with the right mood you’ll reject the attached substantive claim. So a lot of the exercise I do on the blog [Marginal Revolution] is trying to teach myself how to detach and how to unbundle things, and kind of intertemporally substitute moods, and contain, like, bundles of optimistic, pessimistic, condemning, approving, tolerant, intolerant, whatever moods at multiple levels, at the same time in some way…

Tyler Cowen – Interviewed by Patrick Collison on Conversations with Tyler #21

(The original post mentioning the idea on Marginal Revolution is here, with some decent followup discussion on Econlib here, pointing out that the examples in the original post aren’t that helpful.)


  1. In general, I’m a bit of a sucker for mood affiliation – perhaps especially with regard to political and theological arguments, and within my organisation, towards arguments for how I should handle people. I affiliate strongly towards arguments that feel generous / gracious / inclusive / hopefull (all of these are good things), which causes me to evaluate them less critically as arguments. The reverse is true for the opposite modes.
  2. This is slightly undone by my tendency to play devil’s advocate… but that throws me into some sort of reverse-mood affiliation trap, which isn’t good either.

Double yikes! This was going to be a short, neat thought about a helpful concept, but I realise that I’m not confident that understand what “intertemporally” substituting moods means (I think it means “mix things up: write in a variety of moods over time”?). Tyler Cowen pitches this as a strategy for correcting one’s own thinking – but it could also be a strategy for catching the interest of a wider range of people by affiliating with a wide range of moods, a bit like Tim Ferriss’ strategy of interviewing guests from a wide range of (sometimes-esoteric) backgrounds.

I also don’t really understand Bayesian thinking – to me it means something like “think probabilistically, but do it well.” I’m flagging this for further research.

The video below seems to be a decent introduction…

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...