Preference Falsification and Culture

The idea of preference falsification was coined by Timur Kuran in his book Private Truths, Public Lies which explores how people show themselves to be in with whatever is vogue in public but behave very differently in private.

Timur Kuran is a Turkish born scholar who witnessed how quickly public displays of secularism became the fashion during the time of Atatürk, and how quickly this changed into public displays of religiosity as when a new political power came in. Presumably, there were just as many religious people and non-religious people; it is just which expression is fashionable at any given time that changed.

The knowledge of preference falsification was a driving force behind the secret ballot (which Australia was a world leader in adopting) which allowed people to act out their preferences in private without anyone else knowing.

The divergence between high culture and mass culture (in whatever form that takes in any given era) is another way that preference falsification is shown.

In a bygone era, people would profess that they read Shakespeare and attend Vivaldi operas - and they probably did do both of those things in public. But the best sellers in each bookshop don’t lie, and instead of the Sonnets flying off the shelves it was cosy crimes like those famously written by Agatha Christie. Today her work is considered to be the golden age of literature, not lowbrow trash!

Today, it is easy to have guilty pleasures. No one needs to listen to your taste in music if it is delivered straight to your ears through bluetooth wireless earphones, and no one needs to know what you watch on your personal devices. More revolutionary is that you can find people who share your taste more easily since people aren't restricted to geography or culture, and instead can find internet forums dedicated to whatever niche interest one has.

There is still high culture, but it is very different to times gone by. It is the type of art where you have to “get it” like a banana duct taped to a wall or Banky’s self-destroying art. It is ironic, not beautiful or a demonstration of mastery of a medium. It is pure in-joke for those that have the right money and connections to enjoy the scene.

But in private people behave very differently, according to a piece in Mathilde Magazine by Varia Karipoff. According to a gallery owner, when people buy art to hang in their homes, it is not the ironic type - it is old school landscapes, still life painting, and generally art that is nice to look at.

Beware of preference falsification when you see ‘trends’ emerging as it might be a tiny group of people that are potentially just paying lip service to an ideal in public because it gives them access to those with power or clout.

It could be that a quiet majority will pay good money for something completely different.

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