Yours truly has written copiously about quality and how its intimately connected to morals even if the quality attained in the creation of something is intended for a purpose not aligned with morality. Think Bernays and Goebbels to see why this take rings true. With this being said, an excellent NYTimes article titled Tyranny of 'the Best' describes Skinner box tendencies many people exhibit when obsessing about finding the best of any given thing while totally missing out on what it means to be truly alive. As one fairly cognizant about how data is packaged and dissiminated, I can honestly say I'm not a chipmunk spinning in a wheel driven to find out what 'the best' actually means, something most comforting while others continue their endless pursuit of what's 'the Best' is in a fashion similar to Zeno's Paradox where Achilles never wins.
Zeno of Elea (c. 450 BCE) is credited with creating several famous paradoxes, and perhaps the best known is the paradox of the Tortoise and Achilles. (Achilles was the great Greek hero of Homer’s The Iliad.) It has inspired many writers and thinkers through the ages, notably Lewis Carroll (see Carroll’s Paradox) and Douglas Hofstadter, both of whom wrote expository dialogues involving the Tortoise and Achilles.
Without 0, the Tortoise always wins. :)
Rankings, of course, are nothing new. Sight and Sound has put out a list of greatest films every 10 years since 1952. The U.S. News & World Report college rankings were first published in 1983. (It will probably surprise nobody that this year’s top three are Princeton, M.I.T. and Harvard.) Rolling Stone released its first list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” in 2003. Some version of the “hottest new restaurants of the year” could be found in local newspapers and magazines for decades — not to mention the best dentists, doctors, schools. These have always provoked conversation, backlash, letters to the editor.
Maybe. But to me, anyway, the experience of shopping for a hair dryer online feels less like being a pawn in a Matrix-esque mind-control operation and more like being trapped inside a box of plastic toys that have all been wound up so they constantly chatter and clatter against one another. The reality is I just want to spend as little time as possible in that box, while also hopefully buying something that won’t break the second time I use it. Best-of lists and rankings can seem like a simple solution to this problem.
There are a lot of areas where people don’t feel as if they have expertise, and ratings “get rid of that feeling of not being competent,” Rick Larrick, a professor of management and organization at Duke University, told me.
Zeno's Paradox rules as does the Skinner Box. :)
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