The year-end "Arts and Ideas" section of the New York Times featured an entertaining but uneven piece titled "Judging 2003's Ideas: The Most Overrated and Underrated" (NYT 27 Dec 2003). It was a compilation by Emily Eakin and Felicia R. Lee of comments by "... a handful of writers, scholars and other opinionated people ..." --- most of whom swung for the fences and struck out.

But there were a couple of thoughtful nuggets in the low-grade ore. Among the "Overrated" category entries I salute:


Metaphors have become the verbal equivalent of grade inflation. You are a goddess! Everyone is a hero! (Thanks to Joseph Campbell for that one.) Gods were immortal, ageless and powerful; heroes were extraordinary. No ancient person would have made that mistake. There was only one Hercules.

- Mary Lefkowitz, author of Greek Gods, Human Lives -

... and in the "Underrated" group, my hat goes off to:


To say that honesty is a virtue often underrated in political life is, I realize, like pointing out that the sun rises in the east. But never have the dangers, costs and consequences of concealing or distorting the truth seemed quite so alarming as they have this past year.

The demand for truthful answers to the most essential questions (Did our administration really believe that Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction? Will the new prescription-drug plan actually benefit the elderly?) is more and more often dismissed as "partisan" or, worse, "unpatriotic."

Forthrightness and integrity are being made to seem naïve and weak, the moral province of losers, pointless scruples inconsistent with the more manly attributes required to wage war on terror. But what could be more terrifying than the prospect of a society that no longer has the desire, the will, the energy or the ability to distinguish between the truth and the spin that our leaders would prefer us to believe?

- Francine Prose, novelist, and the author of The Lives of the Muses -

(see also Underappreciated Ideas (6 Jul 1999), ... )

TopicPhilosophy - TopicLiterature - TopicSociety - 2004-03-13

(correlates: FlashInThePan, EsseQuamVideri, SummertimeQuips, ...)