Popularity and Truth

What is popular and what is true have no necessary connection. Sometimes the most unpopular opinion is the most accurate, but while the cowardly hold it back and proclaim the public position, the authentic speak it anyway.

Society endorses those views that perpetuate its status quo.  “Common sense” really only means the ways we are taught to think in order to preserve the order of society and promote the interests of those who hold power within it.  Sometimes the truth lies not in common sense, but in uncommon sense, that is,  in the critical vision that sees the flaws in the official story, the irrationality in the professed rationality, and the facts beyond the fictions.

Popularity is a lottery. One enters into the hierarchy and finds oneself on the top, in the middle, or on the bottom.  On the bottom, one is silenced by lack of power. In the middle, one doesn’t speak out against the power structure in order to remain diplomatic with the top. On the top, one either does not see one’s privilege at all, says it is a shame that such inequality exists but does nothing to change it, or sees it as perfectly natural.  A privilege always seems natural when it’s in your hands and unnatural when it’s not.

Popularity is based on conformity to a value system, that is, the value system of those who hold the power.  This value system is taken to be “rational,” “natural,” and “divinely ordained.” If you have the highest possible concentration of those things society holds to be most valuable, you are popular. If you lack the valued goods, you are said to lack value yourself.  Money, power, beauty,  prestige and their symbols; these are the marks of popularity.  Is it any wonder that the popular all seem to look and dress the same, to frequent the same places, to own the same brand- named goods and status symbols? They have a part to play on the stage of social life and know how to play it well.

There is no necessary connection between popularity and truth.  Sometimes what is popular is irrational; sometimes it is reasonable.  Sometimes beliefs get popular credence because they are the most supported by evidence and expert interpretation. Other times, beliefs get popular credence because they are convenient or reinforce the interests of the powerful.  The mere fact that something is popular or not is no reason to reject it, nor is it any reason to accept it.

When we consider a matter, we must look into its proper merits, worth for human life, and the extent of its truth. These are the relevant criteria, not the degree to which it is socially sanctioned or condemned.  Society forces individuals to wear masks of conformity, but if conscience, reason, and compassion cry out against the majority opinion, then we must–if we are authentic–be willing to cast those masks aside.


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