It’s a funny quirk of the human race that we love to create boundaries. It seems paradoxical — aren’t we all about freedom? Why, then, do we constantly constrain ourselves by erecting ideological barriers? Put more than one of our species in the same place, let them hang out for a while, and when you come back they’ll have a codified belief system and an established system of government.
When you get right down to it, you find that people mostly like to put boundaries on what other people can do. Take, for example, the recent brouhaha over the increase of Amazon Prime costs (from $79 to $99). Of course there was a ton of complaining about it online. (Because that’s what people do on the internet.)
So that happened, but then there was the inevitable backlash — complaining about the complaining.
“You have enough money to pay for Amazon Prime, you can pay an extra $20 a year! Why don’t you get upset about something worthwhile, instead of wallowing in your entitlement?”
At the root of this is a bizarro on-the-fly scale of validity. The fallacious idea that there’s something wrong with complaining about something that isn’t the MAXIMUM WORST THING EVER. How dare you complain about your day when there are people dying somewhere in the world?
Shiftgate is another recent example of people complaining about things that weren’t the worst thing that’s ever happened. How dare they!
If you follow the logic here it ends up that the only thing anyone should ever complain about is genocide. Or whatever tops genocide. Only then will you have something valid to complain about.
By this same logic you shouldn’t really even complain about people complaining about things that they shouldn’t complain about.
This fallacy has an all-too familar brother, which is the idea that unless you’re a victim of something your opinion about it means nothing. (Sure your opinion might be less valid because it hasn’t happened to you, but not automatically.)
Why are we so obsessed with telling other people what they do and don’t have a right to talk or complain about? Wait — I think I have an answer for my own rhetorical question:
- the warm fuzzy sense of moral superiority it grants us and
- the sneaky way it protects our own position from all argument
It’s so tempting and easy to go this route that I know I’ve been cynically guilty of it, in full knowledge of the above. Which — guess what — doesn’t mean I can’t have a valid opinion.
It doesn’t really matter if you’re using this argument to promote a really great cause, unless you really believe that the end justifies the means. Even then, you should be aware that it’s a cheap, toxic, and ultimately self-defeating strategy.
Published on March 14th, 2014