instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Don't haste

We all know about the fallacy of "hasty generalization," which can be defined as "draw[ing] a conclusion about a population based on a sample that is not large enough."

Could we distinguish a related phenomenon -- call it "hasty moralizing" -- defined as "drawing a moral from a story that doesn't teach that moral"?

Here's how it might happen: Something happens to which I have a strong but unremarkable reaction. Someone insults my reindeer necktie, for example, and I am angered and embarrassed. Because my reaction is strong, I want to communicate something about it, but because my reaction is unremarkable (and possibly unflattering to me) I don't want to communicate the basic facts. "Someone insulted my reindeer necktie, and I am angered and embarrassed," is the sort of communication Twitter is rightly mocked for promoting.

So what do I do? I invent a moral. (Invention is necessary, you see, because the actual moral of the story -- "insults can hurt people's feelings" -- is far too insipid to match the strength of my feelings about this.)
It is quite clear, when you think about it, that whimsy -- or no, we needn't even go that far -- that simple good humor in casual fashion is nowadays looked upon as a heresy everywhere to be stamped out.
And hey presto, I've turned my hurt feelings into a critique of modern culture.

Except it isn't, really, right? I mean, it may be the case that simple good humor in casual fashion is nowadays looked upon as a heresy everywhere to be stamped out, but if so then it's just a coincidence. I wasn't engaging in any real social criticism, I was just making stuff up so I would feel better. Not only am I standing firm against the tide of unreason, but I've put the person who insulted me in the vanguard of the... of the tide.

And having hastily moralized, I am subsequently safe from any sort of "quit whining" dart, because it's not about me, you see, but about the cultural meaning of fashion, and if you can't see that, well then, really.

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