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Faux Outrage

Literally the most important blog in the universe since 2010.

Catholic Church-goers are often reminded of the Seven Deadly Sins, while parishioners of the Church of Baseball wax poetic about written (and especially unwritten) rules.  Even our neighborhood pools come equipped with strong suggestions about our equestrian tendencies (no horseplay!) and mental instabilities (jump off the deep end!).

We are surrounded by rules.

There is no escape.

And yet, the realization that there are too many dos, don’ts, oughts, shalls, and shan’ts has not prevented me from coming up with my own list of life recommendations.  I hesitate to bring up this list, except it has come to my attention that I have broken — in half — one of my most fundamental rules.

You see, in my most recent blog post, I committed — in bold typeface no less! — a mortal sin.  And though it was a sin so small that no one but me would ever notice or care, it was large enough in my own mind that I feel compelled to apologize right away.

The rule…

Never argue something is “overrated”

I’ve had this rule for a number of years, yet still decided to state firmly and without irony, “Apples are overrated.”

I’m sorry.  I won’t do it again.

Why?

Well, what do we mean when we say something is overrated?

The word itself roughly means “to appraise too highly,” which does not seem too controversial.  Fair enough.  But more often than not, when we say something is “overrated,” we are not using the word in the objective, literal sense — where a too-high tangible amount is ascribed to the object in question — but as a way to dismissively cast judgment without room for negotiation.

I will explain — using a hypothetical!

The Hypothetical: Let’s say you are at a party.  And let’s say that at this party, there is music.  And let’s say that at this party where there is music, a particular song begins to reverberate through the available speakers.  And let’s say that song is “We Didn’t Start The Fire” by Billy Joel.

Your friend (you have a friend in this hypothetical!) turns to you and says,

“You know what, Billy Joel is overrated!”

Why This Is Problematic: In order for something to be “overrated,” going back to the dictionary definition, two things need to be true:

  1. the subject must be appraised; and
  2. the appraisal must be higher than the subject’s real value

Unfortunately, there is no scale that measures the social value of Billy Joel, at least not any particular measurement that you and your friend have agreed upon.  In other words, your friend is saying,

“I think Billy Joel deserves less praise than my perception of the amount of praise bestowed upon him by society.”

In the end, “Billy Joel is overrated” falls under a category that I like to call (starting…now) a silver bullet non-argument because it is based wholly on a comparison between two unknowable variables:

  1. an internal unknowable perception (how your friend believes Billy Joel is valued by society); and
  2. an external unknowable fact (how Billy Joel is actually valued by society).

And as a result, despite the fact that both elements of the “argument” are unknowable, the listener/arguee has no grounds for counter-argument because each of the elements is completely contained within the mind of the speaker/arguer.

The inherent flaws of the claim being made are only exposed when the listener begins to deconstruct either element.  No mater how the listener responds, the arguer has an escape hatch.

Counter-Argument #1
Argument element deconstructed: Internal Unknowable Fact
Counter: “Perhaps you think Billy Joel is more heralded than he is.”
Escape hatch:  “Still, he’s more heralded than I believe he deserves.  Therefore, he is overrated.”

Counter-Argument #2
Argument element deconstucted: External Unknowable Fact
Counter:  “Perhaps Billy Joel is not actually well-liked.”
Escape hatch: “Still, I believe he is liked too much.  Therefore, he is overrated.”

Counter-Argument #3
Argument element deconstructed: Internal/External
Counter: “Perhaps you should check out this website, Faux Outrage, where the credibility of the word ‘overrated’ is put into question.”
Escape hatch: “That website seems to be written by a crazy person.”

Anyway, as it turns out, this argument is actually moot.

Everybody knows that Billy Joel rocks exactly as hard as he is given credit.

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