Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Argumentum ad populum fallacy, or How to Not Be Cool at Parties.

                Among the most regularly appealed to and obnoxious fallacies used in popular culture today when evaluating or discussing practically anything at all is the “argumentum ad populum” fallacy, better known as the Appeal to Popularity Fallacy. For the sake of this essay, let’s define this particular logical fallacy as follows: any argument that concludes that a proposition is true because many, most or perhaps even all people believe it to be true.
                Perhaps in today’s countercultural zeitgeist (the term “hipster” alone has metamorphosed from churlish, teasing pejorative to a loving term of endearment, happily employed by anyone who’s even momentarily glanced at The Smith’s VEVO page) affecting especially the college demographic (i.e., everyone part of this blog!), maybe the notion that “things are good because lots of people like them” seems a bit less legitimate. But trust me: it’s a pervasive and toxic mindset that continues to weasel its way into every day discourse.
                Take, for example, the $200 million dollar blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy, an utterly tiring space opera/comic book mash-up that none the less smashed box-office records to pieces and topped many critics “best junk food movies of the year.” Pretty much every single conversation that begins, “Gosh, I can’t really say Guardians of the Galaxy struck me as a particularly good film…” will almost instantly be struck down with the argumentum ad populum fallacy.
But thankfully, now that you’ve read this you’ll be better prepared to sling back, “That, good madame/sir, is a popularity fallacy! The notion that something has inherent worth based purely on the fact others—however many—like it is a wholly fallacious one!” I mean, sure, you’re probably not going to score any cool points or top any ‘deepest thinkers of the year’ list just for complaining about whatever popcorn flick is invading Hollywood War of the Worlds-style at the moment, but at least you’ll have your guns and you’ll be sticking to them. And if Hollywood is to impel you to believe anything at all, isn’t it that it’s always good to have your guns handy? I mean, just look at Guardians of the Galaxy...

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