Beethoven vs. Internet Pornography

I like to think of myself as a rather rational person. I weigh pros and cons before making (fateful) decisions; I (try to) think before I speak; I abhor superstition (as best I can) and gravitate toward science.

And when you tell me that a certain product, idea, or bias is preferred to another, I tend to think that it is superior to that alternative.

But it’s not always so. And Caldwell in his book I quoted just a month ago (Reflections on the Revolution in Europe) puts this point across very well:

Marcello Pera, who as president of the Italian Senate worried greatly about the erosion of Italian culture, uses a convoluted logical formula to show that the cultures of Europe are superior to the cultures of those who migrate there: “If the members of culture B freely demonstrate their preference for culture A and not vice versa — if, for example, migration flows move from Islamic countries to Western countries and not vice versa — then there is indeed reason to believe that A is better than B.” This gives the speaker a warm sense of satisfaction as long as he assumes A means “Western countries” and B “Muslim countries.” But Pera’s rankings will not be obvious to anyone who doesn’t already consider the West superior to the non-West. If you called A “Beethoven’s symphonies” and B “Internet pornography,” the statement would be equally true. Judging merit by following the herd works for economists, but not for cultural historians.

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