A Case of the Mondays: List of Most Overrated Things

I wrote this note on Facebook while feeling somewhat contrarian. My rule here is that everything has to have a large number of defenders, and as small as possible a number of detractors. Of course everything here is culture-dependent; when a category makes sense only within a specific culture, I went with the West, or the United States.

Literature: Shakespeare. If they read Dan Brown in four hundred years, they’ll consider him profound, too.

Leaders: Churchill. He had a forty-year career as a military adventurer and an unabashed imperialist, and even during World War Two, he engaged in futile attempts to preserve the British Empire. And Giuliani, who took credit for things others did, and screwed up the few things that did fall under his responsibility.

Political movements: economic populism. It’s more often than not a cover for authoritarianism; the sort of leaders who help the poor the most are moderate social democrats like Roosevelt and Lula, not firebrands like Huey Long and Hugo Chávez. And new atheism, whose leaders openly express their political cluelessness.

Political issues: the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Israel and Palestine have ten million people between them; Congo has sixty, Myanmar fifty, and Sudan forty. Nice priorities, people.

Linguistics: the universal grammar. Every time a language violates it, Chomskyite grammarians incorporate its additional rules into their universal grammar, as if falsifiability has gone out of style.

Science: evolutionary psychology. It’s essentially a political reaction to academic Marxism, and about as rigorous as you’d expect from a politicized science.

Economics: Amartya Sen. Countries that follow his prescriptions may avoid famine, but none of them has achieved first world status. And Milton Friedman, whose economic prescriptions didn’t actually cause famine, but came fairly close to that in Chile.

Social science: fill-in-the-blank studies. If e.g. gender studies departments were really about studying gender relations rather than making feminists feel good, there wouldn’t be controversy whenever one of them appointed a male chair.

Philosophy: Peter Singer. His presentations about poverty and animal rights are as deep as my seventh grade geography textbooks, and about as interesting.

Popular science: ScienceBlogs. Politics gets more hits than science, so ScienceBlogs recruits screamers rather than interesting popularizers or important scientists.

Music: Elvis Presley. Even Britney Spears is less flashy and more talented.

Television: 24. Every season has been the worst season so far. Lost, which is a laundry list of clichés and plot holes. And Seinfeld, where the acting is so bad I could probably do better, and the writing is even worse.

Food: anything at a fancy restaurant. I’ll grant fancy restaurants that they’re tastier than McDonald’s, but they’re not any healthier, and they have nothing on small delis or homemade food.

Media: punditry. If I want someone to tell me how to think, it’s easier to just look up his issue profile than to read his fact-free tirades.

Books: political advocacy. See under media. George Lakoff deserves singular scorn for his armchair analysis of conservatism, but none of the others is much better.

Academics: core curricula. If you care about something you’ll take a class in it voluntarily; if you don’t, you’ll forget everything you learned five years down the line. And private schools at all levels, for being twice as expensive as equally good public schools.