Why You Should Distrust Anything Popular

Only in the West would we call this a "lady."

For as long as I can remember, I have been extremely skeptical of popular things. For every Lady Gaga, there is a Kevin Gilbert writing beautiful magnum opuses no one will hear; for every WalMart there’s a mom and pop store treating their employees right and providing competitive prices; for every Transformers there’s an underrated 25th Hour; so on and so forth. At first it was just an unbridled elitism that led me towards alternative tastes, but disconnecting from the hive mind has been good for me for much of my life. Moreover, these sorts of choices you may view as meaningless (spending your dollars on the next iMbetterthanu rather than a technically superior alternative) have real world impacts – sometimes quite grave and ugly.

Our modern age is rife with the fallacy known as argumentum ad populum; the idea that because something is popular that is proof enough that it is good. Success in the West has typically been associated with a disgusting infatuation with value – value defined not by intrinsic quality, but by how much money something can generate. “Good” music is not necessarily well composed, performed, or emotionally stirring – “good” music is that which generates a lot of sales. Good writing is not necessarily perceptive, striking, or insightful – good writing generates sales (or hits). Public discourse over the value of things often boils down to this line of reasoning; Transformers 2 is superior to 25th Hour because Transformers 2 outperformed 25th Hour at the box office.

Our age is totally fucked. People take their philosophical advice and metaphysical insight from comedians. People write their senators about the “right” for anyone to serve in the military at the behest of a manufactured corporate shill whose only claim to bravery is to support a popular agenda at a convenient time. People buy their clothes and gadgets in a futile attempt to belong to a culture robbed of them by their very own consumerism.

Interesting though it is, I don’t have my ducks in a row to write an expose on the effects of buying from Apple or WalMart or all those other popular large companies, and the kind of evil that is wrought by it. I figure most of In Mala Fide’s readership is already savvy on those details anyway. There’s something a little more sinister at work, however, that may not have been considered.

Is it any surprise that feminism – one of several ideologies responsible for our decline – is the sworn enemy of logic? The argumentum ad populum was known long ago as total bullshit – things are not good merely because they are popular. The masses do not dictate quality (thank God). Appealing to pathos (yet another fallacy), feminist academics likened knowledge unto rape and even went so far as to suggest that Newton’s Principles of Mechanics could more aptly be called Newton’s Rape Manual. And feminism is propped up by something almost unquestionably sacred in the West – the most sacred right of “liberty” and freedom and our hallowed “democratic” institutions; the power of individual adults to vote.

Plato rated democracy as the second worst form of social organization next to tyranny, in part because democracy merely substitutes the tyranny of one for the tyranny of the many. And the many are fucking stupid. Some might nit pick and say “but J. Durden, we don’t live in a direct democracy, we live in a republic!” which is technically true. Just imagine how much worse off we’d be if we were living in a direct democracy! My favorite thing to listen to from the talking heads in the mainstream media is the “intentions of the founding fathers.” This is especially true if the talking head is a poor, non-white non-male. The founding fathers didn’t intend for you to have shit if you weren’t rich, white, and land-owning. Sorry!

But they may have been on to something. I could quibble with their criteria but a massive restriction to voting rights is in order. Corruption in our political system can be traced all the way back to the popular election of Andrew Jackson following the revolutionary and unprecedented expansion of voting rights via “universal white male suffrage.” This trend continued until everyone with a pulse who reached the age of 18 could cast their ballot to select who should be making our laws. Why should my vote – a misanthropic, nihilistic, apathetic, high-school-drop-out 22 year old troll – count the same as, say, a Ph.D holder (ignoring for a second the red herring about how the public credentialing institution is bankrupt and also without merit)? What the fuck kind of governance is that?

Laura Grace Robins had a great post which touches on how more voters doesn’t translate into anything good. John Lott has done a lot to track the growth of government and the welfare state in America and tie it to women’s suffrage. John Bagot Glubb pointed out the pattern of decline amongst all empires or large nation states is incredibly similar and generally involves both feminism and the welfare state. Yet the average person rarely questions the value and utility of universal suffrage, that most popular of ad populums.

I’m sure you’ve heard “everyone is entitled to an opinion and you should respect that,” or worse, some tripe about how everything is just a matter of opinion. This is the mantra of the loser always whining about his best (meanwhile the winner goes home and fucks the prom queen – hat tip to John Patrick Mason). Given two different ideas, one must necessarily be better than the other; this is inescapable unless comparing identical propositions. Burying your head in the sand and abandoning every metric for evaluating merit only makes the world a worse place, not a better one. Sure, you can have the right to voice your ignorance, but having the right to voice it does not confer upon you the right to be heard, considered or respected.

Truth always rests with the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion — and who, therefore, in the next instant (when it is evident that the minority is the stronger) assume its opinion… while truth again reverts to a new minority. – Soren Kierkegaard

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25 thoughts on “Why You Should Distrust Anything Popular

  1. How about a functional meritocracy? The manual for such a society hasn’t been written yet. Plato’s “Republic” may be the closest thing that we have.

  2. I have one minor objection and one major objection.

    Given two different ideas, one must necessarily be better than the other; this is inescapable unless comparing identical propositions. Burying your head in the sand and abandoning every metric for evaluating merit only makes the world a worse place, not a better one. Sure, you can have the right to voice your ignorance, but having the right to voice it does not confer upon you the right to be heard, considered or respected.

    Truth always rests with the minority,

    You’re close the self-contradiction here. If you re-write this, you could clarify your meaning at the end.

    What I think you mean is:
    1. Some things are popular but not good.
    2. Only fools say that everything is a matter of opinion.
    3. Do not hesitate to identify which one of any two ideas is better, even if your identification makes you unpopular.

    Your text could easily be misread as self-contradictory, as follows:
    1. Some things are popular but not good.
    2. If you whine about opinions, you’ll be unpopular.
    3. Just because you’re unpopular, you’re bad.

    That’s a mis-reading, but I think you could neaten up the wording so that no one falls into that mis-reading.

    [J. DURDEN: Perhaps.]

    Also, I do have a much more important disagreement: You claim that given any two ideas, one must be better than another.

    A logician would probably word it as follows: Given two distinct ideas i1 and i2 such that i1 is not the same idea as i2, then either i1 is better than i2 or else i2 is better than i1 according to some criterion C.

    Well, sure. Shooting with a .308 rifle is better than shooting with a silenced .22 pistol if you’re half a mile away from the target. In that case your criterion is accuracy at a distance. But suppose you’re in a crowd of strangers on a subway platform and your target is less than a metre away from you. In that event shooting with a silenced .22 is better than shooting with a .308 rifle.

    So while one idea must be better, it is only better according to some specific criterion. There may be multiple criteria available.

    [J. DURDEN: Congratulations on agreeing with me and saying what I have already said; I didn’t feel like it was necessary to elaborate that, yes, sometimes there are multiple criteria. This does not change the fact that “given two different ideas, one must necessarily be better than the other; this is inescapable unless comparing identical propositions.”]

  3. I really think that everyone should have to pass a test regarding government, history, politics, economics and ecology before they are allowed to vote. If you can’t pass the test, you’re too stupid to vote. It would be similar to the meritocracy that China once flourished under.

  4. the idea that because something is popular that is proof enough that it is good

    I haaaaate that. It’s unbelievable that people can be dumb enough to believe this. And this:

    “everyone is entitled to an opinion and you should respect that,” or worse, some tripe about how everything is just a matter of opinion

    Fuck that too. Why should I “respect” every idiotic opinion? Don’t people want to exchange error for truth anymore? Oh, but there is no error anymore, only different perspectives and moral relativism. You’re right though; this age is buggered.

    Reminds me indirectly of one of my favourite little quotations:

    The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error. ~John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859

  5. Only decades after we gave women the vote, we men have started down the road to our own disenfranchisement. Men have lost many of our basic rights in criminal and family law courts. Mainstream politicians cow-tow to women.
    We just have to make it official.

  6. Well said, Durden.

    Our modern age is rife with the fallacy known as argumentum ad populum; the idea that because something is popular that is proof enough that it is good.

    “Any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one.” — Henry David Thoreau

    In regards to the “we’re not a democracy, we’re a republic” thing… this nation was created as a republic, deliberately and consciously, but it’s been sliding down the road closer and closer to direct democracy ever since, and picking up all the ills of such along the way.

    [J. DURDEN: Excellent clarification/point.]

  7. “Truth always rests with the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion — and who, therefore, in the next instant (when it is evident that the minority is the stronger) assume its opinion… while truth again reverts to a new minority.” – Soren Kierkegaard

    Kierkegaard’s argument dissected would also then support the argument that Blacks, Homosexuals, Latino’s, Amer-Asians, Lady Gagme fans ( a minority), left-wing socialists, neoconservative rightists, etc. are possessors of the “Truth.” That concept is of course, insanity. The truth lies and always has only in the “Universals”, which admittedly are believed in and held dear by a distinct minority. Let the semantic battle begin.

  8. On a trip to Cairo last week, I actually heard something for the first time. An America teacher bragged that he had an average I.Q.

  9. This article is spot on.
    I always had issues with me (or others) being able to go vote without so much as an ounce of preparation.

    In fact, at one point I had one of those “volunteers” call me up to get me to register to vote for an election. I told them I did not want to. They asked me why, and I said because I did not study the issues and was not prepared to make a choice. To which the person pretty much told me that I sound like a smart man and therefore my voting decisions would be good even if I did not study up on them.

    I hope that at some point in the future there will be a required test for EVERY election. One that tests the voter’s intelligence and preparation. I am sure taht it would not be difficult to implement with electronic voting.

  10. I hope that at some point in the future there will be a required test for EVERY election. One that tests the voter’s intelligence and preparation.

    It’s not so much measurable intelligence (like IQ) as knowing one’s arse from a hole in the ground that seems to matter. Intelligence is no guarantee against stupidity – just look at academia!

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  12. It’s not so much measurable intelligence (like IQ) as knowing one’s arse from a hole in the ground that seems to matter. Intelligence is no guarantee against stupidity – just look at academia!

    Having enough intelligence to see cause and effect is what matters. And having enough intelligence to know what is the important issue at hand is what matters.
    An idiot jumps at the idea of tax cuts, then complains when the schools are poor and the roads are broken. An idiot will vote for a guy because he is anti abortion when the reality is that guy is powerless to change that.

    Additionally, I stress the need to test the voter’s sufficient preparation. Such as some questions about the law/person they are about to vote for.

  13. I didn’t feel like it was necessary to elaborate that, yes, sometimes there are multiple criteria.

    I think it’s not just sometimes. I think there are always multiple criteria, and the strong, decisive elitist following what looks like the best course of action from his viewpoint often screws up and steps on a landmine.

    If you want to be the leader riding up on the white horse to lead the peasants, you need to be aware what criteria the peasants will use to evaluate the “best idea.” Reform movements that are not clear on their various criteria often implode with spectacular force.

  14. I’ve been considering a voting-test, and I’ve now discarded the idea because women and liberals would probably test well. It makes more sense to restrict who can vote upon some overriding criteria, than through a test. Restricting gender is the obvious one. Age, citizenship, etc. But if we overdo it, we’ll just end up with an effective oligarchy.

    Not that we don’t effectively have an oligarchy now, but it would be more blatant.

  15. An idiot jumps at the idea of tax cuts, then complains when the schools are poor and the roads are broken. An idiot will vote for a guy because he is anti abortion when the reality is that guy is powerless to change that.

    Yes, that is what I mean. Nearly everyone in the whole country is an idiot, and those who aren’t idiots are considered kooks. The test would be worthless.

  16. An idiot jumps at the idea of tax cuts, then complains when the schools are poor and the roads are broken. An idiot will vote for a guy because he is anti abortion when the reality is that guy is powerless to change that.

    We are also stuck with idiots who think taxes are the only way to do some of these things. I would have to find the data, but somehere around less than 50% of working people pay any federal income tax yet they are allowed to vote. There was a reason why voting was restricted to landed property owners, but now property includes a car, stocks, bonds, even if you do not own a square inch of land.

  17. This was one of your best articles.
    You are absolutely correct about the extension of voting rights, it’s ridiculous that people who do not pay taxes, who do not know anything about the person they are voting for, who do not understand how the government runs or anything about the economy or SS or Medicare or national defense feel entitled to vote.
    And women are basically responsible for most of the BS that has gone on in the last 50yrs, and they are the most sheep like in voting of any group, almost as much as blacks who vote almost entirely upon race lines or to the person who panders most to them, not on the actual issues.
    I am a female and it’s pretty funny to see people sputter in shock and outrage when I say that women should not be allowed to vote and only tax paying males (who are subject to the draft if it ever comes back) over the age of 25 should be allowed to vote.

  18. women should not be allowed to vote and only tax paying males (who are subject to the draft if it ever comes back) over the age of 25 should be allowed to vote.

    It would certainly be interesting to see what would happen if this were the case, because things sure aren’t working well at the moment.

  19. The idea of a voting ‘test’ is foolish. The problem isn’t just that people en masse aren’t qualified to vote, but to be qualified to do so they would have to have an in depth knowledge of what their representatives, officials et al do. They would have to be capable of doing the job themselves effectively to be able to judge various individuals on their merits. Traditionally society has had ‘experts’ of some variety, like priests, consuls, et cetera that were near infallible

    Utlimately I don’t think adjudicating competency is a huge issue. There have been tons of society with even more arbitrary methods of selecting who has power than ours that have been more functional. We are ideologically, spiritually, culturally, even racially balkanized to the extent that there is no cohesion and social trust. It wouldn’t matter if Barak Obama were totally, completely incompetent. If nearly everyone believed what he said and did what he told them to do he’d be enormously successful regardless of being a fuckwit, saboteur, et cetera. No one believes him though; not even people ostensibly in his camp. He doesn’t want to step out front on issues and no one could blame him. Who would?

    How about a functional meritocracy? The manual for such a society hasn’t been written yet. Plato’s “Republic” may be the closest thing that we have.

    Plato’s idea was basically a hereditary caste system where people would only be permitted knowlege that was approved of by the State. That’s hardly very meritocratic.

    For the record, the Democracy of Athens wasn’t a direct democracy and that wasn’t what Plato was critical of. Athens basically selected State authorities by lot, from among a restricted citizenry. There was a lot of chaos to their system that probably grated with the more intellectual Athenians like Plato. A lot of energy and thought went into this idea of ‘stability’ as well that simply isn’t relevant to modern political discourse. Plato et al were overwhelmingly concerned with having enough food to not starve to death and not getting pillaged by their neighboring City-States, which is no longer the sole criteria by which we judge a functional society.

    The issue with this modern conception of meritocracy is how tied up with liberal notions of ‘freedom’ it is. There is no consistent method of rewarding people with power that have competence and a sense of Noblesse Oblige. Even those people we reward with power by installing with legal authority for the purposes of actually working toward our collective good will do not have an appropriate sense of Noblesse Oblige.

    People bound up in the idea of meritocracy often see what they have ‘earned’ on their own and don’t think that they ‘owe’ anything to anyone. A ‘pure’ meritocracy doesn’t result in a functional society because our selected-by-merit oligarchs have no incentive to actually maintain the society that spawned them. Apres moi le deluge, and such.

    Not that we don’t effectively have an oligarchy now, but it would be more blatant.

    More blatant for the better probably. At least we’d have something substantial to focus our impotent rage at. This current regime of rule by deception isn’t preferrable.

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  21. The Founding Fathers of America (the FFofA) created a new form of government, somewhat a psuedo-republic. The term ‘republic’ was changed during the Renaissance. The ‘intellectuals’, thinkers kept the name, but gave a NEW definition. What we practice in America is a faux republic or democratic republicanism. Please see Eric Nelson’s, “The Hebrew Republic”; Jewish sources and the transformation of European politics. For an understanding of a true republic see http://www.wikinfo.org/index.php/Classical_definition_of_republic

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