Sunday, August 13, 2006

seriously?

More from that evil idiot Charles Murray:
Q. You found that per capita levels of accomplishment tended to decline from 1850 to 1950. Would you care to speculate on post-1950 trends?

A. I think that the number of novels, songs, and paintings done since 1950 that anyone will still care about 200 years from now is somewhere in the vicinity of zero. Not exactly zero, but close. I find a good way to make this point is to ask anyone who disagrees with me to name a work that will survive -- and then ask, "Seriously?" Very few works indeed can defend themselves against the "Seriously?" question.
Julian Baggini used to write a column pointing out bad, but often persuasive, argumentative techniques. One of these columns is titled "Bold Assertion", if you say something confidently enough you can often get away with it. I'd guess Murray will get away with this most of the time, especially since most people reading what he has to say would be relatively well educated and probably agree with him anyway. There are a few reasons why I think his argument is bad. He not only asserts his view as obvious, he pre-emptively ridicules those who might disagree with him, "you can't be serious?!" maybe with a scornful laugh thrown in. Since Murray is quite an imposing intellectual and many educated people would agree with him, I would guess that people who disagree with his conclusion are easily bullied into silence.

The main problem with his test though is that it just measures how strongly people feel about the topic. I can imagine some people passing the "seriously?" test claiming that Britney is the greatest musician of all time and some thoughtful person failing it when asked to defend her choice of Bob Dylan.

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