Don’t like bandwagons?

Bandwagon meme

I think we need a bit more meta…

If my various social media streams are any indication, there are a lot more people posting about why they aren’t going to create year-in-review posts or new year resolution posts, including sometimes rather snarky comments about those that do. For someone like me, that just increases the pressure to do it.

I’ve already posted about some goals I’m setting myself, so I’ve already probably outraged or disappointed a few. I could do a really verbose and intricate summation of my 2013, but I really don’t think even I would enjoy that. But all this talk about not doing things just because other people are does have me thinking…

The term “bandwagon,” according the the Oxford English Dictionary, first appeared in print in the U.S. where it referred to a literal wagon in a circus parade on which a band rode and played music.

When Dan Rice, a rival of P.T. Barnum (and at the time, his circuses were more famous), became involved in politics by inviting some politicians to ride on the band wagon in his circus processional, the phrase entered political commentary, quickly evolving to mean a politician who takes on a popular cause not because of conviction, but because it was popular.

Dan Rice, who had begun his career as a circus clown, seemed to be onto something, because for a while he was a serious contender for the Democratic nomination for President in 1868.

A literal, rather than metaphorical, bandwagon. (Wikimedia Commons)

The term has since broadened in definition beyond politics. I see it most often used lately to refer to either people who become fans of a sports team only after they begin to win, and people who become fans of a band or other musical performer only after they get popular. I find the latter one particularly amusing, given that both the literal and metaphorical meaning include a musical performance troupe. It’s also odd because it seems to be most often used in the negative: ‘I was into such-and-such band before they became popular, so I’m not some bandwagoner!’

I also think it’s more than a little silly to use the term “bandwagon” in a pejorative manner when referring to why someone is an enthusiast for a particular thing in pop culture. It’s called “pop” culture because it’s popular, for one thing. The other part is, if you want a particular musical group to succeed, you want them to keep finding new fans who will buy their music, buy tickets to their shows, and so forth, right? So if you despise all the people who become fans after some arbitrary point, you’re now rooting for this group you claim to love to fail.

The term ‘bandwagon effect’ is used by pollsters of political observers to describe certain sociological phenomenon of conformity. Humans are social animals who are both hardwired and conditioned to conform in various ways and to various extents with their social group. It can be very stressful to express an unpopular opinion, and that stress is proportionate to how likely we believe it is someone important to us might disagree.

Similarly, the ‘bandwagon fallacy’ is used as a layman’s term for argumentum ad populum, the logical fallacy of concluding that a proposition is true merely because many people believe it (see also, truthiness).

Which brings us back to the kinds of snarky comments that started me writing this post. They are excellent examples of the ‘bandwagon fallacy fallacy’—the fallacious argument that something is wrong or false precisely because many people believe it or are doing it. It’s really simple, but it shows a misunderstanding of logic. See, if we invoke the bandwagon fallacy to counter an argument, the proves nothing about the actual truth of the proposition in question. It simply says that popularity is insufficient to determine veracity of facts. The proposition may be true, it may be false, but if the only proof you have is that it’s popular, all we can say is that the proposition is unproven.

In other words, the bandwagon fallacy impugns the integrity of the argument’s structure, not the conclusion. Just because a lot of people believe something, doesn’t prove either way whether it is true or false.

Similarly, just because a lot of people are doing it, that doesn’t prove either way whether or not it is a good, beneficial, or useful thing to do.

So, 2013 was a pretty good year for me. My husband and I celebrated our first anniversary as a legally married couple. I hope that I didn’t drive him too crazy pointing at at just about every holiday that it was our first as a married couple. Thanks to the Supreme Court ruling in June, my legal-in-my-state wedding now is recognized by the federal government, and there have been a host of positive developments in the gay rights arena. I remained employed throughout the year. We didn’t have any health crises. We both caught colds way more often than we’d like, but no crises. I was able to be my mom’s writing buddy for her very first NaNoWriMo (and she’s still writing, so double-yay!). I made significant progress on my current novel-in-progress. I got to meet some people in person who had previously just been voices on a Skype call. We both had fun at RustyCon, EverfreeNW, and RainFurrest.

It wasn’t a perfect year. My last living grandparent died in January. Several of my friends have been unemployed. A lot of people I know and care for are struggling one way or another. My employer has been struggling, and there are been a few rounds of lay-offs at my work, which is stressful. All of those gay rights victories have contributed to the widening gulf with some of my relatives.

So, like every year it can be described as a mixed bag, though definitely, personally, much more good than bad.

And that’s certainly better than the alternative.

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. For more than 20 years I edited and published an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live near Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

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