John Gray writes on Malcolm Gladwell…
Pretending to present daringly counterintuitive views to his readers, he actually strengthens the hold on them of a view of things that they have long taken for granted. This is, perhaps, the essence of the genre that Gladwell has pioneered: while reinforcing beliefs that everyone avows, he evokes in the reader a satisfying sensation of intellectual non-conformity.
Despite forming a culture that does not hesitate to exclude people for cleaving to marginal opinions, we like to think of ourselves as bold, independent thinkers, flouting dull conformism. We call ourselves democrats but we remember that cool kids never constituted a majority at school. To distinguish oneself as a thinker one has to be distinguishable.
This inspires two tendencies. Some people frame their unextraordinary opinions as being somehow radical. In his tribute to Norman Geras, Nick Cohen mentioned the “liberal consensus” against Western wars, as if Aaronovitch, Hari, Lloyd, Burchill, Wheen and so on were embattled dissidents.
Others form an instinctual aversion to accepting mainstream ideas. I have sympathy with this, because I think conventional wisdom can be very flawed, but the fact that humans live for as long as they do, in a world that is as productive as it is, suggests that some things have been proved. Unthinking opposition to the mainstream can lead one to accept ideas on the grounds of their alternative status rather than their epistemic value, as well as to limit one’s opinions by defining them according to what they contradict rather than what they promote.
In the spirit of avoiding such tiresome tendencies, I offer ten conventional opinions that I’m proud to hold…
1. Fascism and communism were very unpleasant things.
2. The Sopranos was a televisual masterpiece.
3. People would be healthier if they adopted Mediterranean diets.
4. Vaccines are worth getting.
5. Tony Blair was not a good Prime Minister.
6. The Earth is very old.
7. Ingmar Bergman was a genius.
8. Humanity should reduce its fossil fuel consumption.
9. OK Computer is a better album than Kid A.
10. Life is probably worth living.