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All the Really Dangerous Fallacies I Learned in Kindergarten

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Have you ever wondered why your speedometer goes to 160, when you’re pretty sure your old hoopty couldn’t do more than 75, 80 tops? It’s because gauges are designed so that “normal” is somewhere toward the middle of the dial.

That porridge-nicking hussy Goldilocks probably started this, and the idea reinforces itself every time we burn our mouths: best is something in between. Not too hot, not too cold. Fair. Moderate. Reasonable. Normal.

This idea goes right down to the bedrock. It’s in our bones. We buy it instinctively. We want to be that thing. That normal, reasonable, moderate person.

Problem is, the best answer is usually not the one poised halfway between two extremes. Even simple concepts that lie along simple scales are more useful at the extremes. Hot is for pizza. Cold is for beer. Room temperature is for…bananas, I guess.

For more complex concepts, there often isn’t a middle ground, because the competing ideas are too different. There are too many parts, and the parts don’t lie along the same scale.

The pernicious belief in moderation even in the face of unreconcilable ideas is how we get extraordinarily bad Third Ways. Tony Blair. Bill Clinton. Edutainment. Christian rock. Culottes. Zombies. Intelligent design. Unitarians. Palestine.

Okay, there’s the spork. I’ll give you the spork.

March 10, 2008 — 10:54 am
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