The Grand Inquisition

A live look in on the morose and whiny Epsilon Theory crew. The rough idea for this note has been

Want to continue reading this and the other 1,500+ essays you won't find anywhere else?

Already a subscriber? log in here

To learn more about Epsilon Theory and be notified when we release new content sign up here. You’ll receive an email every week and your information will never be shared with anyone else.


  1. Didya know the author of “Nudge - Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness” (Cass Sunstein) just released his latest book “On Freedom”? First chapter: “What the Hell Is Water?” Pack members will recognize the allusion. Where, oh where, would we be without nudgers like this?

  2. Avatar for nick nick says:

    This is literally the first line of the Amazon product description, copy-pasted:

    “From New York Times bestselling author Cass Sunstein, a brisk, provocative book that shows what freedom really means—and requires—today.”

  3. Good Lord. That a nudger would say that in a pro-nudge book is just too painful to consider.

  4. I assume that whatever date has been targeted for my death by the Almighty or Darwinism, if there is cosmic justice, several days will be added on before I am taken to account for (1) the eight years I lived in a high-rise with an excruciatingly slow elevator and (2) all the time I took flipping back pages to keep the names (and nicknames) straight of the characters in thousand-page Russian novels.

    So putting my tiny pique at Russian novels aside, I can say you developed a great freakin’ analogy between Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor and today’s Nudging State. Building on (stealing) your smart idea helps answer a question that always pings around in my head - how can socialism, with its history of murder and misery, still be popular?

    It’s popular because it promises freedom from freedom - all the fear, anxiety, burdens and, as you so well put it, “existential anxiety” that freedom brings is removed by socialism. Worried about paying for your kid’s college - free education / worried about paying your medical bills if you or someone in your family gets sick - free healthcare / worried that you haven’t saved enough for retirement - more robust social security / worried about making enough money - minimum wages, family leave, overtime. FDR gave the game away when he included the ludicrous “Freedom from Fear” in his Four Freedoms.

    Socialism on paper frees you from everything hard about freedom, but ultimately delivers you into a dystopia of mental and physical fear and deprivation. It’s popular today with the youngest amongst us because (1) they didn’t live through/see socialism’s depredations and (2) they’ve been actively taught the opposite by a socialism-loving educational system.

    If we had three choices: (1) burden-free freedom, (2) real-life freedom with all its challenges and (3) socialism’s promises of freedom from fear, I’d probably push the pleasure button until I starved to death, but fortunately, life really only offers us a choice between the latter two (heck, we’re lucky if we even have the option of choosing the first of those two last choices) and, history has shown, that decision is an easy one. The only real challenge is educating a younger generation to the difference between the theory and the practice of the socio-economic system polls say it supports.

  5. Thumbs up! Except it’s not the educational system. It’s the negative side effect of helicopter parenting and too little free-range. (I’ve been controlled since birth, so I can either escape by taking the nirvana short cut, or I can maintain (being controlled).)

  6. Avatar for nixon nixon says:

    Wow, I just read that passage from The Brother’s Karamazov last night. Either the simulation made that a little to obvious or we are all feeling morose enough to read Russian literature. As to your thoughts on Chuck from the North Shore, for me, this path of “piercing the veil of Narrative” I’ve gone down, thanks in large part to ET, has been incredibly empowering and came with direct financial benefits, but I’m pretty sure it is also the reason my co-worker lunch invites have fallen off a cliff.

  7. Jane - great spot. Funny enough the initial lines of the parable brought to mind another part of the speech:

    “Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive”

    I think this also ties very much into Mark’s question - how is socialism still popular? I totally agree that part of it is the promise of freedom from freedom, but I think on another level, it provides an avenue for meaning - it takes on the characteristics of a religion - it’s something for people to worship.

    Jonathan Haidt argues that a good deal of our politics (on both sides) are mimic religious movements - strident dogmatism and an incessant demand to follow the established orthodoxy - at the risk of being expelled as a heretic for saying the wrong words.

    And speaking of the Nudging Oligarchy - Econ Talk had a fantastically scary episode on a possible future of AI powered nudging….

Continue the discussion at the Epsilon Theory Forum


Avatar for system Avatar for rguinn Avatar for JaneyVee Avatar for Mpm186 Avatar for Mkahn22 Avatar for nick Avatar for Victor_K Avatar for nixon

The Latest From Epsilon Theory


This commentary is being provided to you as general information only and should not be taken as investment advice. The opinions expressed in these materials represent the personal views of the author(s). It is not investment research or a research recommendation, as it does not constitute substantive research or analysis. Any action that you take as a result of information contained in this document is ultimately your responsibility. Epsilon Theory will not accept liability for any loss or damage, including without limitation to any loss of profit, which may arise directly or indirectly from use of or reliance on such information. Consult your investment advisor before making any investment decisions. It must be noted, that no one can accurately predict the future of the market with certainty or guarantee future investment performance. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

Statements in this communication are forward-looking statements. The forward-looking statements and other views expressed herein are as of the date of this publication. Actual future results or occurrences may differ significantly from those anticipated in any forward-looking statements, and there is no guarantee that any predictions will come to pass. The views expressed herein are subject to change at any time, due to numerous market and other factors. Epsilon Theory disclaims any obligation to update publicly or revise any forward-looking statements or views expressed herein. This information is neither an offer to sell nor a solicitation of any offer to buy any securities. This commentary has been prepared without regard to the individual financial circumstances and objectives of persons who receive it. Epsilon Theory recommends that investors independently evaluate particular investments and strategies, and encourages investors to seek the advice of a financial advisor. The appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor’s individual circumstances and objectives.