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. Continue reading