Today, an excerpt of Chapter 6 from Everything You Believe Is Wrong. This again is only a brief excerpt from a long chapter which investigates our fascination with celebrities, ignorant children as oracles, and misplaced adoration.
You may also download a PDF of the entire first chapter (with Table of Contents).
Stars In Our Eyes
An Appealing Authority
Every kid learns what seems to be, but isn’t, the Appeal to Authority Fallacy early when he asks “Why should I?” and is told “Because I said so.” Only this isn’t a proper fallacy because kids should listen to and honor their parents, and because parents, besides having authority over their children, typically know what’s best for them, and what’s best is in the command, but unspoken. What’s best is in tacit premises behind the father’s “Because”, which turns what might be a fallacy into wisdom.
People are fooled by this simple fallacy, but they are just as easily disabused of it when it is pointed out. Because of this, there is no chapter in this book specifically devoted to the Appeal to Authority. There is another, far better, reason for skipping it, though. That is the existence of a far worse, far more pernicious, and far more destructive fallacy which is a kin to the Appeal to Authority.
This is the Appeal to Non-Authority Fallacy.
A Hole In Many
I shiver when thinking of it. No fallacy is good, of course, but not all fallacies are equal in their pestilential powers. The Ultimate Fallacy has the worst individual consequences, but the Appeal to Non-Authority is the most annoying.
Modern advertising, and, more depressingly, our entire media and governmental apparatus, relies on and seeks out this fallacy. We could even say it is worshiped.
In my Stats 101 class notes Breaking the Law of Averages (a free pdf on my website), I asked this Chapter One homework question (stick with me, here): “Stanford Financial took out a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal with a picture of golfer Vijay Singh listing his enormous number of tournament wins with the words ‘Vijay Means Victory.’ Given this evidence, what is the probability Stanford Financial won’t lose money on your investment?”
The obvious answer is that you can’t know. Singh’s golfing prowess is irrelevant, inconsequential, incidental to whether gambles (i.e. “investments”) with Stanford Financial will lose or win you money. Logically, they may as well have touted my golf scores, or yours. They may as well in their ad featured a pretty actress and printed the words “This is a pretty actress and we are Stanford Financial”. The logical content would be the same. Which is to say, it would have had none at all. Singh, God bless him, is a Non-Authority on financial matters. Listening to him, as it were, on investments because he is an authority in some sport is insane.
Beer commercials use the same ploy with beautiful girls, though everybody knows beautiful girls have nothing to do with fermented rice (some breweries still use barley) and hops. The technique works and does sell beer. Well, the Wall Street Journal is aimed at well-educated elites and golf is a rich-man’s game. Which proves that even those who think themselves sophisticated and well educated are as prone to the fallacy as unlettered beer swillers.
Actors Are Good At Lying
Our culture worships celebrity, and has done so for quite some time, at least a few generations, so that we no longer see it as odd or unsightly. It is strange, this worship, and a sure sign of decadence.
Lieutenant General Sir John Bagot Glubb, the respected founder and leader of the famed Arab Legion, wrote an essay, now remembered only by a few, entitled “The Fate of Empires” in which he discovered a common end to civilizations. “The heroes of declining nations are always the same,” he said, “the athlete, the singer or the actor. The word ‘celebrity’ today is used to designate a comedian or a football player, not a statesman, a general, or a literary genius.”
In the latter half of the Ninth Century the cultured remnant in Baghdad, Glubb said, “commented bitterly on the extraordinary influence acquired by popular singers over young people, resulting in a decline in sexual morality.” Pop singers “accompanied their erotic songs on the lute”, and “much obscene sexual language came increasingly into use”. The singers were often banned, but just as often returned.
Sound familiar? If not, then look at the lyrics of today’s most popular songs. Listen to the “music.” All of attributes discovered by Glubb are shared in our declining age.
Except it’s worse with us, because we have invented the category famous-for-being-famous. Singing and running with a ball requires at least requires talent, but being noticed requires nothing except the ability for self-promotion. Which we reward with all manner of riches—and attention. That we listen and heed these mush-minded non-entities on any matter is, I consider, sufficient proof of our impending doom.
Instead of being scorned and ridiculed, celebrity endorsements of any kind are welcomed and praised. When have you ever heard anybody laugh at a Congressman who invited, say, a football player to give testimony on a subject in which the celebrity is a Non-Authority? The celebrity himself may be teased by those on the other side of the question for his ignorance, but that he was invited in the first place seems to no one idiotic.
Actors, singers, and sports players are used by our elites to lecture us on every imaginable subject. Except the subjects of acting, singing, and playing ball. Celebrities, with vanishingly rare exceptions, which occur when celebrities become ex-celebrities and learn some new skill, are always non-authorities. They should therefore never be listened to.
They are, though. People hunger for celebrity and identify with celebrity so strongly that every time it is learned a celebrity has adopted a viewpoint similar to one’s own, there is a (forgive the word) celebration. It makes us happy to learn a celebrity, a vapid nothing and Non-Authority, has agreed with us. We also don’t want to disappoint our celebrities, and so we are willing to be persuaded by their non-authoritative arguments. This is pathetic.
Our Children Are Our Future
Everywhere children are employed to “raise awareness” on those subjects most interesting to our leaders. The explanation why this is done is simple. Children are innocent, they are pure. Their morals have not yet been corrupted. If they are concerned about a thing, because they are pure, the thing itself must be pure. And if things it must be that the thing should be investigated. This chain of reasoning is almost too obviously fallacious to bear mentioning. That we have to mention it is proof of how far gone we are.
If these wee brats are anxious and exercised to great degree, if their passions run hot, if they weep for “the cause”, because we love them we take them seriously. Even though in cases like global warming they should be spanked and sent to bed without dessert. Rather, it is their parents and authorities that need spanking. It was they who put the kids up to this, knowing the kids were unschooled and would be used as political pawns.
[Much much cutting…]
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