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Aughts

The Encyclopedia of Counterintuitive Thought

For pundits, Freakonomists, and Malcolm Gladwell, following the crowd meant going against the grain.

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In the aughts, the shocking hidden side of everything became the only side of anything worthy of magazine covers and book deals. Social scientists applied their techniques to the problem of climate change; liberals who wanted to be taken seriously had to come up with arguments for conservative policies and vice versa. Everywhere in the media, the former creators of mass consensus devoted themselves to contradicting the conventional wisdom. Here, a selection of the most unlikely ideas in a decade that was always looking to blow your mind.

Amateurs are better than experts.
2004, Book.
Disorganized crowds of people, so long as they have a diversity of experiences and viewpoints, make better decisions than individual experts.
JAMES SUROWIECKI, THE WISDOM OF CROWDS.


Illustration by Andrew Rae  

Ann Coulter should be a feminist icon.
2006, Website.
Female pundits as aggressive and funny as Coulter should be admired.
ELSPETH REEVE, “A DEFENSE OF ANN COULTER,” TNR.COM, AUGUST 16.

Boys are the biggest victims of sex discrimination.
2000, Book.
Girls are doing better in school than boys, but because feminists insist that girls are still an at-risk group, boys are now ignored and left to fail. Furthermore, teaching boys to be sensitive and empathetic is a mistake; what they really need is a father’s masculine presence, to instill a sense of honor and make them into “gentlemen.”
CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERS, THE WAR AGAINST BOYS: HOW MISGUIDED FEMINISM IS HARMING OUR YOUNG MEN.

Being smart doesn’t help you get ahead.
2008, Book.
Studies prove that “deliberate practice” fueled by “furious hard work” contributes far more to success in almost every field than innate intelligence or talent.
MALCOLM GLADWELL, OUTLIERS: THE STORY OF SUCCESS.


Illustration by Andrew Rae  

Breast-feeding is not worth the trouble.
2009, Magazine.
The evidence for the superiority of breast-feeding is thin. Most of the studies fail to distinguish between correlation and causation, and the massive national obsession with the need to breast-feed reeks of classism.
HANNA ROSIN, “THE CASE AGAINST BREAST-FEEDING,” THE ATLANTIC, APRIL.

Bush’s second term will be good for liberals.
2004, Magazine.
In a second bush term, things will go so poorly that the media and the nation will turn against both him and republicans in general.
MICHAEL WOLFF, "WHAT IF BUSH WINS?" VANITY FAIR, OCTOBER.

Car seats are unsafe.
2009, Book. Because they are so often installed incorrectly anyway, a regular seat belt may be safer for an older child than a car seat.
STEVEN LEVITT AND STEPHEN DUBNER, SUPERFREAKONOMICS: GLOBAL COOLING, PATRIOTIC PROSTITUTES, AND WHY SUICIDE BOMBERS SHOULD BUY LIFE INSURANCE.

Civilization should be destroyed.
2006, Book.
Civilization is unsustainable, and at its current size and complexity, it cannot be made sustainable. Participating in civilization makes you complicit in its violence, so it is a conscientious person’s duty to systematically dismantle and destroy civilization in order the save the planet.
DERRICK JENSEN, ENDGAME.

Consumption isn’t just good for the economy, it’s good for the soul.
2003, Book.
While some rail against the paralysis of consumer choice or find the commodification of identity unhealthy, being able to purchase one’s own “aesthetic identity” is liberating. The impulse to surround yourself with beauty and be beautiful yourself is natural and human, and capitalism makes more beauty more available to more people.
VIRGINIA POSTREL, THE SUBSTANCE OF STYLE: HOW THE RISE OF AESTHETIC VALUE IS REMAKING COMMERCE, CULTURE, AND CONSCIOUSNESS.

Conventional wisdom is right.
2001, Magazine.
While you may have read (hundreds of times in the very magazine this piece was being written in) that the conventional wisdom is wrong, it is actually usually right. It is “a broad agreement of elite opinion” and “a time-tested means of filtering out the bunk.” Attacks on the C.W. are vestiges of the New Left’s distrust of authority, and the consensus of wise, mainstream figures is reliable.
FRANKLIN FOER, “IN DEFENSE OF THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: WHY WHAT EVERYONE THINKS IS USUALLY RIGHT,” THE NEW REPUBLIC, MARCH 19.

Corporate fraud should not be punished.
2004, Magazine.
Prosecutions of prominent executives and CEOs may satiate public bloodlust but they distract from the necessity of real reform.
“THE CASE AGAINST THE PROSECUTION; AMERICA’S CORPORATE TRIALS,” THE ECONOMIST, FEBRUARY 28.

Creed is a good band.
2009, Website.
Creed irritated people only because its music was “so unabashedly calibrated toward pleasure.”
JONAH WEINER, “CREED IS GOOD,” SLATE, OCTOBER 21.

The crime drop didn’t happen because of better police work—or the economy.
2005, Book.
The only statistically proven causes of the nineties reduction in crime were increases in the size of police forces, increases in prison capacity, the end of battles over crack-dealing territory, and most importantly, the legalization of abortion—unwanted children are the ones most likely to commit crimes, and legalized abortion means fewer unwanted children.
STEVEN LEVITT AND STEPHEN DUBNER, FREAKONOMICS: A ROGUE ECONOMIST EXPLORES THE HIDDEN SIDE OF EVERYTHING.


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