Bloody shovel

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Social Constructs

Razib Khan recently wrote a good post about how retarded the whole tirade on “social constructs” can be. Gender is a social construct! Sports should be integrated! Come on. As a scientist it’s natural he gets pissed at the whole thing.

I commented there a while ago about how, you know, leftists are actually right. Race is a social construct. Gender is a social construct. They got that exactly right. It’s a rather profound point, and I’ve been thinking on exposing my argument a bit better. It’s a linguistic argument, but that’s what I do.

Let’s put it more precisely. Race is, obviously, not a social construct. But “race” is a social construct. As “gender” is a social construct. The same way “car”, or “moon”, or “democratic republic” is a social construct. Words are social constructs. That’s how language works. Word meanings are social conventions. There’s nothing else to it. If you raise a child in a community where the word “car” is used to refer to a certain subset of vehicles, then that’s what a “car” is. If you raise a child in a community where “fascists” is used to mean a certain subset of low-status people, that’s “fascists” are.

Of course there’s a lot of details about how children adopt the usage of words. Sure, language, as so much else, is a social convention. Most human behavior, indeed the behavior of most social animals is conventional. People from different places walk in different ways. Samurais pre-1860s famously had to be trained by French officers to run properly, as samurai practice was to lower your back and run in small steps like a 6 year old kid after shoplifting. Language works the same way. A sensitive person can tell accents and little quirks of speech at the village, even the family level.

But why would people adopt those conventions? That’s the real question. Why do people in villages adopt every tiny little intonation quirk? Part of it is just human instinct: people are mimetic creatures, as the late René Girard liked to say. But instinct evolved for a reason. To put it simple, adopting conventions is useful. It helps you get by. It gets you more status than you would get by not adopting the convention. Humans adopt behavior which is useful to them. Humans are pragmatic.

And so language use depends on its pragmatic nature. Race is, certainly, not a clear cut category. Humans can mix. There are continuums of genetic clusters. But humans, at least since the modern era, have classified humans in different races; often according to very crude markers such as skin color. Andaman Islanders aren’t at all African; no genetic test will cluster them with Nigerians. But if you found one at your local grocery store you would most likely call him black. Why? Because it’s useful. If Andaman Islanders were all incredible geniuses who gave you 10 bucks every time you met them, soon enough people would find a way of telling them apart from other dark skinned, kinda African-looking people who don’t give 10 dollar bills at first sight. But in real life, dark skinned, kinda African-looking people tend to behave in similar ways; so there’s no particular necessity to notice their little differences and tell them apart. Nigerians, Jamaicans, Kenyans and Somalis are interchangeable for most purposes. The same way people don’t care to tell apart Irish from Italians from Swedes in America. They do in Europe! Because it’s useful to do so. Not in the US: so they’re all white.

Wittgenstein made himself famous by basically destroying the whole academy of philosophy by pointing out the, on hindsight, obvious point that Philosophy is based in a misunderstanding of how language works. How people use language in daily life. Words don’t have definitions, they don’t have essences. Writing books about single words is completely pointless. Words are things we use in particular contexts; the use changes all the time. It’s all convention, and conventions are dynamic, pragmatic affairs.

Everything is a social construct; because society is very important for human life. Many people, in particular the sort of person who would read this blog, often can’t understand why most people believe common progressive ideas. Surely humans aren’t all equal! Surely open borders doesn’t make sense! Surely spending millions on transexual toilet rights is pointless! Why does anyone take all this seriously? Well, because it’s useful. Because not doing so brings very concrete social consequences.

If you put your finger in a fire, it burns. It hurts a lot. If somebody comes later and tells that you that fire doesn’t burn, to put your finger in the fire; you are likely to protest. Of course it burns. It hurts like crazy. But most things in life aren’t like that. Nobody has ever got burnt due to global warming. Most ideas don’t have immediate consequences. If somebody tells you that “Muslims belong in Germany”, unless you have been stabbed by a Muslim recently, the proposition doesn’t have real consequences for you. It’s just a set of words. Your reaction to that proposition doesn’t depend on your memory of getting your finger burnt. The only real consequences to that conversation is the opinion that your peers will have about you. So if your memory about talking on Muslims belonging in Germany is that any contrary opinion gets your peers mad, and results in you having lower status; well your reaction will be “sure, Muslims belong in Germany. Merkel is awesome”.

The vast majority of ideas don’t have physical consequences; all they have is social consequences. They are status markers. Whether Muslims belong in Germany or not won’t get your finger burnt immediately. It may over the long term, but human brains don’t work like that. You learn behaviors to avoid danger and earn pleasure. And social disapproval by uttering non-progressive opinions are as harsh and immediate as a burnt finger in a fire.

So the reaction of most people to any abstract proposition like that will rely on their calculation of the social consequences of their particular reaction to that proposition. As it happens, being a good progressive gets you status and approval; not being a good progressive gets you low status and disapproval. So of course most people will do whatever gets them status and approval. The few contrarians like us who disagree, do so because of different experiences, because they don’t see the point in earning that sort of status, or, in many cases, because they are like the philosophers who Wittgenstein made fun of, and are just not getting the point. Taking stuff literally when you’re not supposed to. That’s not how language works.

You could make a meta point about “social construct”. It of course means that definitions are social conventions, which is a completely accurate point. But how is the string “social construct” used in actual language usage? A mere frequency analysis would tell you that “social construct” is a string that leftists use in order to crack down on bad people. You could perfectly define “social construct” as “a word whose definition is set by the Cathedral, and which denying it would get you in real trouble so shut up already”. When people come out of their way to state that “race is a social construct”, that’s not a scientific point. All they mean is “race is what I and my friends say it is and shut up you fascist”.

Note that they don’t really need to be aware of the difference. Surely some people understand that “social construct” is supposed to mean a concept deriving its meaning from social convention. But plenty of people just have picked up “social construct” being used in leftist agitation, got what’s used for, and imitated that usage themselves. You don’t need to be aware of the origin of words; only how they’re used. That’s the etymological fallacy at the micro level.

I’ve had hour long conversations about how to define “racist”. But “racist” in common usage means “bad person who I can easily accuse of disliking black people in order to ostracize him”. That’s how the language game is played. You can contest that kind of usage, and word usage indeed changes a lot all the time. But changing social conventions requires power. Political power. Because, of course, everything is politics. That’s a point the left understood a very long time ago. Even if they won’t say so.


61 responses to “Social Constructs

  1. Pingback: Social Constructs | Aus-Alt-Right

  2. ur mum August 6, 2016 at 17:05

    Everything’s fuzzy around the edges. When does the tree become lumber?

    People who can’t fathom this ultimate truth – the unity of all things and the subjectivity of distinction – are intellectual writeoffs: be they left, right or upside-down. The rightist who thinks that it’s nonsense is as stupid as the leftist who thinks that it somehow justifies moral permissiveness. Both are trapped in Maya, forever doomed to overcommitting to things and suffering the blowback.

    Can’t do much about them, unfortunately. Just smile, nod, and move on.

    • geirón August 8, 2016 at 08:20

      This is why we have (had and still have, in there) castes.

      • ur mum August 8, 2016 at 14:01

        Depends what you mean by caste. A “natural aristocracy”, yeah. But if you mean like India and Latin America? That kind of caste is what you have to use when you’ve already fucked up. That’s the future of Western Europe, but it’s definitely not the past.

        There’s no silver bullet. Minimise stupid people, maximise sane people: that’s all you can try to do. Notions of caste can be – and, honestly, I think generally are – harmful to reaching these ends, in that they justify the competent breeding less in order to consolidate their political and economic power to protect them from the masses. Rather, hierarchy should be of a more human scale, where the rich household has many children and the poor girl is the nanny. That way there is a true upward demographic movement, rather than an increasing keening of the top of the pyramid at the expense of the society as a whole.

        • geirón August 8, 2016 at 22:01

          Natural aristocracy, yes, that is true caste formation & ongoing dynamic.

          What you see in India now is an utter degeneration of what it used to be. The system is 5.000+ year old, and it´s not what it was. It was, which is what I was referring to, made out by people having different abilities, an intellectual hierarchy.

          ▬ „People who can’t fathom this ultimate truth – the unity of all things and the subjectivity of distinction – are intellectual writeoffs: be they left, right” … is what you said.

          So, I said, This is why we have (had and still have, in there) castes. Altho you did say ” upside-down” also, so I guess that´s sort of eliminates any formal hierarchy.

          But we can/do agree on natural aristocracy as a form of dynamic caste system.

          It´s hardly worth anything if it´s not dynamic enough.

  3. Pingback: Social Constructs | Reaction Times

  4. Rhetocrates August 6, 2016 at 19:47

    Very good post, like all your posts on social status.

    Of course, what this means is that if we want to capture political power, and we do (even if we don’t want to rule ourselves), what we need to do is shift social constructs to work in our favor.

    Or rather, the reverse, since democracy sucks.

    • geirón August 8, 2016 at 08:24

      ▬ „shift social constructs to work in our favor.”

      Exactly. And these (& other) construct are all preexistent in doctrines of the world which have lasted centuries. If you mine Marxism, e.g., you´ll find Christian concepts.

  5. Handle August 6, 2016 at 23:03

    It works for “social construct”, which is a self-denying social construct itself. When most progressives say, “X is a social construct,” they aren’t talking about conventions or local dialects and accents, and they don’t mean to support subjectivism or relativism or that nothing can be true of false, or continue the sentence, “just like every other idea, which are also just social constructs.”

    They obviously mean, “X is an idea promulgated socially as if it were a scientifically verified, valid and objective truth, but it isn’t – it’s false. It’s not a correct reflection of the real state of affairs or objective reality. Instead, anti-X, or other-than-X is the real deal, the thing which is not a social construct and instead is objectively true and proven by Science! – the thing all smart and cool and popular people understand to be really true – and so you should should believe and repeat that instead.”

    If X happens to be true – e.g. HBD – then the statement “X is a social construct” is itself a social construct in exactly the sense meant by the false assertion.

    • spandrell August 7, 2016 at 06:01

      What is anti-race or anti-gender? It seems to me that progressives deny that race and gender are anything but social-constructs, and they exhort us to accept the social conventions about it.

      You could say anti-race and anti-gender is “we are all but individuals”, but they hardly make a hard case about individuals being unique because that is Science. The vibe I get is that O’Brien said 2+2=5 didn’t you get that memo?!

      • Handle August 7, 2016 at 14:43

        One of the troubles we have around these parts is that we all seem to have somewhat different exposures and experiences to a diverse set of individuals that we over-aggregate into a class we simply call ‘progressives’, which obscures important distinctions between classes and places in the hierarchy of trickle-down ideological fashions. (How’s that for, “Progressive is a social construct.”)

        What the low level foot-soldier SJW’s are parroting, what their ideological framework of ‘thoughts’ behind these recitations of cant look like, and what their real motivations would be, are, I would argue, distinct from what goes on at the elite, ideological entrepreneur level with – yes their unctuous and jesuitical manipulations of sophistry – but nevertheless reflective of a complex, consistent and coherent worldview, albeit a totally inaccurate and delusional one.

        My exposures are mostly not of the type of which a low-level progressive is merely insisting I adopt one social convention over another. That is, like insisting that I drive on the right side of the road, while recognizing that, yes, perhaps the options are all ‘arbitrary’ and without any justification to make any particular choice except that it’s best if some choice is made and everybody does that thing, and for historically contingent reasons, this is way things are done here, and if you don’t you’ll really screw things up for everybody and we have ample reason to deter you or, failing deterrence, punish you.

        Instead, I get a lot of appeal to Science!, academic authorities, and Auster’s ‘studies show’. With regard to HBD, I get confident assertion of the delusion that Derb calls ‘proposition R’.

        Proposition R: Every human race has precisely the same statistical distribution as every other on all human traits of behavior, intelligence, and personality.

        When upper class progressives say “race is a social construct”, what they mean is “Proposition R is objectively true, and not-R – which lots of people used to believe for reasons of pure social propagation based in ignorance and/or systems of false consciousness, oppression, and exploitation – is objectively false. It’s been proven and “The Science! Is Settled”™. “Good people trust ‘the Science!’ and believe Proposition R, while anyone who denies the Science! and believes in not-R is a bad, uncool, evil bigoted hater and/or a stupid loser moron who probably doesn’t even have a degree!”

        So, I even read constant specific appeals to thoroughly refuted concepts such as Lewontin’s fallacy, and this reflects at least a somewhat ‘objectivist’ epistemological worldview in which (1) there is such a thing as objective reality, (2) it is knowable – at least in a tentative manner to certain limits of precision – to us through application of the scientific method, and so (3) Science! is the highest status and supreme arbiter of claims about social reality, and so (4) What we progressives are insisting upon is true while contrary statements are false.

        “That is, my statement in favor of Proposition R is as true as the Plate Tectonic Model of the lithosphere – the truth of which people have come around to only relatively recently – while your statement of HBD is as false as Young Earth Creationism.

        Again, when one descends socially ‘downrange’ of these elites able and eager to carry around the framework of a whole worldview around in their heads, certainly one is going to observe a lot of half-minded broken records who merely instinctively recognize the usefulness of these assertions in signalling holiness and for use in weaponized form as bullying and witch-hunting tactics for the typically petty reasons of status-degradation of enemies and participation as loyal clients and troops in a coalition aiming at total social and political domination, hoping for recognition or reward by their superiors when victory is achieved.

        • spandrell August 7, 2016 at 21:31

          As I said below; Races could exist, but be “skin deep”, indeed one hears that argument a lot.

          “Race is a social construct” is a different argument, basically a deny-all trump card. And indeed Lewontin’s fallacy basically denies any category at all; and it can do that by fundamentally confusing how categories work.

          Of course the “race is a social construct” argument came to being because “race is skin deep” basically dares people to actually measure it, and once they realized that they don’t really want people to go measure racial differences, they had to come up with the deny-all trump card.

          • geirón August 8, 2016 at 08:30

            Race can be deducted from mere bones alone, by a medical examiner and anyone knowledgeable enough. They use it in police (autopsy) reports.
            Race is at least bone deep, & official.

        • Jefferson August 9, 2016 at 02:58

          Handle, you’re making the mistake of taking people’s words seriously. Science confers status to a certain class, so they backfill their religious beliefs with “science!” The only way I have found to make any headway with Brahmins is to first shift their frame to religion (an abridged Moldbug argument, generally), then push them into nihilism and start rebuilding their status structure along Gnon’s vectors.

          • Joe August 10, 2016 at 08:12

            Jefferson, that’s an interesting approach, but I’m having trouble following it fully. Can you break that down a bit and share an example?

            Spandrel, good article. Would you say there’s also a lot of motte-and-bailey tactics involved around this particular word, which help to confuse the issue?

            • spandrell August 10, 2016 at 10:39

              Yes of course. But I’d like to emphasize that motte and bailey aren’t learned as a package. People learn the motte and bailey separately. It’s not so much that people are hypocrites than piece-meal learners who don’t necessarily see the logic behind each argument.

            • Jefferson August 19, 2016 at 15:35

              I’m sorry for the delay in responding, it’s been busy in these parts lately. My TL;DR on this is that humans are inherently religious (most tend to *believe*, even if what they believe is that they’re rational individuals, like the rest of you sheeple!). Therefore, if you want to change the way they are oriented (which means getting them to shift where they chase status), you need to break their faith. Convince them that what they believe is a belief, and that really, we know almost nothing. Once they’re a real nihilist (not just a salty leftist), you can start showing them a few true things and ideally rebuild them as someone who’s not a zealot.

  6. Bob August 7, 2016 at 02:24

    The social construct stuff is associated with the left but it actually goes back to Heidegger and phenomenology. Heidegger and his thought are generally associated with the right.

    For Heidegger, science and all claims to objective reality are metaphysics, and involve thinking that presence is somehow prior and fundamental to presencing. This includes Aristotle’s logic and his principle of non-contradiction, which for Heidegger involves privileging that which is present or constantly present. According to Heidegger, an essential feature of being itself is absencing or passing away, and metaphysics – logic, science, etc., – is unable to understand how contraries like these belong together in the same time and place. Ignoring this is actually the very inception or basis of logic and science. In presence, things are at once present and absent, in their becoming or presencing.

    • spandrell August 7, 2016 at 06:02

      “According to Heidegger, an essential feature of being itself is absencing”

      Not getting it. Not sure there’s anything to get.

      • Bob August 7, 2016 at 07:25

        I’m certainly no expert on his philosophy or the best expositor of it.

        You can appreciate the difference between being and beings, or things that are, right? Sort of like between flying and flyers, or things that fly. Except being is something much more fundamental than flying is. It’s the most fundamental thing. But it’s not a thing, that is A being. Like flying is not the same thing as a flying thing.

        Metaphysics ignores being itself and substitutes beingness, or that which is constantly present, for being. Philosophy and science are an endless series of positing some form of beingness or presence as fundamental. Physics says matter or atoms, biologists say survival of the fittest or DNA, economics says economic self-interest, etc. Physical objects may change but matter or atoms persist or are constantly present. Organisms die but natural selection or DNA persists or is constantly present. Societies and peoples may differ, but economic self-interest persists and is constantly present. Etc. They all “privilege” some type of presence. The notion of “social constructs” is based on this view.

        • spandrell August 7, 2016 at 07:56

          “Except being is something much more fundamental than flying is”
          Not sure what “fundamental” means here.

          “Metaphysics ignores being itself and substitutes beingness, or that which is constantly present, for being.”
          Totally not getting this. What’s the difference between existing (“being” is a really confusing verb) and presence?

          And what’s wrong about positing permanent things like atoms or DNA or economic laws? Surely they are useful in order to understand stuff. And we can actually observe atoms and DNA.

          Also “privilege” as a verb should be annihilated.

          • Anon August 9, 2016 at 12:13

            As someone well-versed in Hegel/Heidegger philosophy-major-bullshit and also sympathetic to your blog’s focus on precise linguistics, substitute “privilege” (as in “white privilege”) with “prioritization” and it may become clearer. Or not.

          • Bob August 12, 2016 at 06:50

            Being is fundamental in the sense that it encompasses every thing that is, was, will be, can be thought or spoken about. Any and every thing that is, is.

            I agree that “Being” can be a bit confusing. The German is “Sein” which is the infinitive so in English more literally it would be “to be” rather than the participle “Being”, but the standard custom is to use “Being” rather than “to be”.

            Heidegger says that equating “Being” (i.e. ‘to be’) with eternal presence is a misconception of Being. He traces it back to Plato, who said that what really is, is, the Forms, which are eternally present behind the ordinary appearances of experience. According to Heidegger, subsequent Western philosophy and science involve a continuation of this basic Platonic identification, with different beings being substituted for eternal presence. The Medieval substitute God for the eternally present thing, Cartesian moderns substitute the human subject for it, etc. Heidegger says that this misconception and history result in the forgetting of the meaning of Being and culminates in nihilism. This misconception understands Being as that which is beyond time and doesn’t change. But all actual beings, or things, come to be and pass away. Things exist in the realm of becoming or time.

            • spandrell August 12, 2016 at 08:17

              Forgive me if I sound obtuse, but I do like to translate things to plainer language.

              So what Heidegger is meaning is that some stuff is, but isn’t necessarily present. So somethings are, but they aren’t always around. And Plato assumed that everything that is is also always around.

              Not sure I get the point, or how the assumption of eternal presence leads to nihilism.
              I’m pretty sure I don’t get the point.

              • Bob August 14, 2016 at 07:21

                Heidegger is asking about the meaning of Being (to be). The original ontological question is why are there things rather than nothing?

                Plato and the Western tradition answer that it is a thing – the meaning of Being is a thing, there are things because of another thing (the Forms, God, the transcendental subject, the Big Bang, evolution, etc.). This is a misconception of the meaning of Being (to be) because it understands it as eternal presence, and the original question is gradually forgotten.

                This misconception – the identification of the meaning of Being with presence – culminates in nihilism because the eternally present things posited throughout the Western tradition change over time, revealing that nothing is, i.e. nothing is eternal, and therefore that the meaning of Being is nothing.

      • reactionaryfuture August 8, 2016 at 10:36

        Heidegger was translating Japanese philosophy.He was accused of taking the concept of Being from Kakuzo Okakura’s ‘book of tea’

  7. Aleksander August 7, 2016 at 10:59

    “When people come out of their way to state that “race is a social construct”, that’s not a scientific point. All they mean is “race is what I and my friends say it is and shut up you fascist”.”

    I don’t think that’s true for most progressives. I think they actually believe that “race” has almost no scientific foundations, and that most racial stereotypes are almost entirely due to society rather than to biology. They may be wrong in this, but I believe this is their honest opinion.

    • spandrell August 7, 2016 at 14:50

      Point being that they most likely don’t understand what “no scientific basis” means in practice. Effectively speaking they’re just repeating a set of slogans without much further thought. And they can do that because that’s how the game is played.

      • aleksanderpwnz August 7, 2016 at 19:06

        No, I really think very many people believe that almost all racial differences (apart from obviously visible ones) are purely due to society, and that this would be proved if researched properly. This specific meaning of the word “social construct” is very different from the broad meaning you assign to it in this post.

        I mean, they may ALSO say silly things like that “race is OBVIOUSLY a social construct”, or “gender is BY DEFINITION a social construct”, because they have not reflected as much on the word’s meaning as you have. And many people will fall back on this argument when shown evidence of racial or gender differences. But I still think they genuinely believe that racial differences are almost purely due to society, as opposed to biology.

        • spandrell August 7, 2016 at 19:30

          Even if evolution stops at the neck; the obviously visible racial differences are obviously visible. That black people would have ashkenazi IQs if we could only solve racism is orthogonal to whether race is a social construct or not.

          The argument about race or whatever being a social construct is indeed a solid linguistic argument; but that doesn’t stop at race, or at anything really. “House” is a social construct. Using that argument to argue for human neurological uniformity is intimidating people instead of making an accurate point.

          • aleksanderpwnz August 8, 2016 at 07:05

            “That black people would have ashkenazi IQs if we could only solve racism is orthogonal to whether race is a social construct or not.”

            Not if “race is a social construct” is shorthand for “all racial stereotypes apart from the obviously biological ones, are created by society”, which I think it is most of the time. When people say “race is a social construct”, I think that part of their belief is what they usually want to point out.

            The argument can, and is, also used as a motte-and-bailey argument, which is bad.

            • Rhetocrates August 9, 2016 at 13:36

              This somewhat misses the point, though. People don’t believe HNU/societal conditioning because it’s obviously true. It’s obviously false. They believe it because it’s socially advantageous to believe it. (Let’s unpack that: it’s socially advantageous to look like you believe it; the most convincing way to look like it is to actually believe it, therefore they actually believe it).

              The logic or rationality of the position or its supports doesn’t matter. What matters is the social structure propping up such beliefs. (See what I did there?)

              In order to actually convince people of the extremely obvious fact of deep biological difference, what we need to do is destroy the social incentives to believe HNU.

  8. Vladimir August 8, 2016 at 04:14

    Frankly, I think you’re overcomplicating. As far as I can tell, when progressives say “X is a social construct,” they’re making a perfectly clear and intelligible (if often false) proposition:

    (1) There is some observable trait (or group of traits) Y that differs between individuals and/or groups of people.

    (2) Trait Y, while observable, has absolutely no practical relevance by itself. If everyone simply ignored it, people with and without trait Y would not demonstrate any differences in their character, behavior, and abilities on average. Nothing of practical interest could be predicted, not even statistically, just from the fact that someone is Y or non-Y.

    (3) However, out of some mix of ignorance, malice, and historical accident, people do have an irrational obsession with Y, leading to a perverse self-fulfilling prophecy. People with trait Y are treated very differently, creating an artificial correlation between Y and actually relevant traits. This in turn creates a vicious cycle, as these differences further motivate different treatment and leave a false impression of being inherently correlated with Y.

    (4) All the aspects of this phenomenon — i.e., Y, the irrational obsession with it, and its consequent correlates that people erroneously take for granted — have become conflated under some concept X, which is therefore inherently pernicious and problematic. Therefore, it’s reasonable to describe X as a “social construct,” and it’s also reasonable to emphasize this whenever X is discussed in a way that fails to recognize all of the above.

    Obviously, in most cases, the progressives’ claim is factually false, because Y does actually have relevant and inescapable implications regardless of what anyone thinks or does. But still, the claim is perfectly cogent if one accepts their factual premises.

    (“Racist” is of course another thing. That term really has no coherent definition aside from its use as a rhetorical weapon and a call for unleashing moral outrage.)

    • spandrell August 8, 2016 at 08:47

      Seems to me your argument is more complicated than mine!

      • Vladimir August 8, 2016 at 15:20

        No, it’s just a long-winded statement of a very simple argument. The claim that “race is a social construct” boils down to a totally straightforward point. Namely, in a world where people weren’t irrationally and maliciously obsessed with superficial differences in appearance between human populations, they’d be a totally unimportant detail, and we’d observe the same standards of behavior and achievement in all populations. However, since people do have this irrational and malicious obsession, this causes hate and discrimination against certain groups, which then causes dysfunction and underachievement among them (and a vicious cycle in which people falsely assume that these problems are due to inherent differences, as a pretext for further hate and discrimination).

        If one believes this (as all respectable people do), then it’s perfectly clear and understandable what one is trying to say by describing race as a “social construct.” I.e., people have taken unimportant differences in appearance and constructed various evil social norms and widespread false beliefs around them that are perpetuated through all kinds of social institutions. (This as opposed to the wicked and false idea that there might actually be hereditary group differences that go beyond mere superficial appearance.)

        How’s that not clear? Any argument that tries to involve philosophy of language is far more (and unnecessarily) complicated.

        • spandrell August 8, 2016 at 16:19

          Where exactly are we disagreeing? My post wasn’t an attempt to say that progressives don’t believe what you say they do; of course they do. The articulate ones, at least. I’m just saying the argument is fallacious.

          Why do some progressives say “race is skin deep” while others say “race doesn’t exist (i.e. it’s social construct)”? The fashion seems to have moved to the latter, and my point is that it did so because the fallacy is unfalsifiable and does more useful to shut up dissenters.

          • Anon August 9, 2016 at 12:26

            “Why do some progressives say “race is skin deep” while others say “race doesn’t exist (i.e. it’s social construct)”? The fashion seems to have moved to the latter, and my point is that it did so because the fallacy is unfalsifiable and does more useful to shut up dissenters.”

            I think this is what finally tuned me in as to why progressives shifted from the former to the latter. Pretty amusing if you have the time. The comment section is a hoot.


      • Howard J. Harrison August 8, 2016 at 15:42

        But Vladimir’s argument is also more illuminating, perhaps. According to you, did not Confucius agree with Vlad?

    • Anon August 8, 2016 at 16:29

      It’s even simpler than the four paragraphs you’ve laid out. When progs say that B is a social construct, there is some A that does the construction. Or alternatively: A socially constructs B. A is either constructed individually or by culture. That’s it. That’s all they mean by it. Three entities are proposed within one proposition: A, the constructor. B, the constructed, and the construction relation between the pair. See link.

  9. chris August 8, 2016 at 07:19

    “The few contrarians like us who disagree, do so because of different experiences, because they don’t see the point in earning that sort of status, or, in many cases, because they are like the philosophers who Wittgenstein made fun of, and are just not getting the point. Taking stuff literally when you’re not supposed to. ”

    Or we do it to counter signal our intellectual superiority to those beneath us.

    “But changing social conventions requires power. Political power. Because, of course, everything is politics. That’s a point the left understood a very long time ago. Even if they won’t say so.”

    They do say so, read anything by Foucault or Marcuse.

    According to Foucault’s understanding of power,power is based on knowledge and makes use of knowledge; on the other hand, power reproduces knowledge by shaping it in accordance with its anonymous intentions. Power (re-) creates its own fields of exercise through knowledge.

    Or put simply, knowledge is downstream of politics.

  10. reactionaryfuture August 8, 2016 at 11:09

    You have some problems with your anthropology, especially in bringing Girard into things. Girard’s anthropology is shocking unliberal. That he got away with putting it forward whilst working at Stanford is a testament to either his genius, or the empty intellectual capacity of the university system; probably both. With Mimetics he is saying that Liberalism is a total fraud and a lie – directly stating it. Liberalism takes the individual as pre-societal (see social contract theory) and takes their desires and actions as based on intrinsic wants and goods. If desire is post societal as per Girard and we mimic the desires (not actions, but the actual desire) of a similar person/ role model, which is something Alaisdair MacIntyre has proposed as well in more clear terms, then the liberal basis of allowing these individuals do what they please, and pursue their own good is batshit insane. The results speak for themselves. But then we start entering into dialogue with the likes of the Actual Idealists of Fascist Italy and the Japanese ultra nationalists of the same period, and other evil, bad, nasty people, who we shouldn’t listen to of course. Gentile, for example was adamant that language is societal and a manifestation of the fact that all thought is not private at all, but intrinsically public. All the language you use, all the thoughts you marshal are predicated on language and thought patterns that precede you. Even when you create new words of languages, they are built on the patterns passed down to you.
    You opinions on the role of language however are very clearly correct to me, putting aside the anthropology issues. Each political tradition and political group has their own language, or dialects as such, rendering these fights over the meaning of words like race, individualism, liberty, freedom, progress largely pointless. You developing your own understanding, take power, and then force it on your enemies.

    • StAugustine August 10, 2016 at 07:43

      So really, at the bottom, it’s all about sex and power, and the rest is just window-dressing? I would say that works for animals too – everyone wants to be the alpha and take all the women. Nobody wants to be weak and feeble. Thank you Conan for putting it so succinctly for us lesser beings.

      • M_k_chi August 11, 2016 at 02:10

        By “animals” you must mean the part of animals on earth who don’t live by the illusion of being something else than animals, I take it.

        • StAugustine August 12, 2016 at 08:11

          Yes. It just struck me that, as we often boil down human motivations to being ultimately about sex or power (survival of genes, survival of self), it’s pretty much the same in the non-human animal kingdom. Or at least the mammal kingdom. I don’t know how fish or insects feel about power – perhaps it’s a hot-blooded thing? Or a lifespan thing? Or a mating season thing? As for the illusion, that concerns what happens after we die-and it’s rare to find people who are motivated by what happens after they die. Saints, typically, I assume.

  11. Jefferson August 9, 2016 at 03:19

    Why not draw this back a level? Progressives believe that dark skin confers nearly infinite holiness. That’s not exactly a foundational tenet of their faith (which would be that love and kindness is worth more points when extended towards those who least deserve it/are most difficult to express it towards), but they will guard it with linguistic constructs that protect it as a vector for status points against attacks down other vectors. “Race is a social construct” is a linguistic construct that signals that any bad behavior by a member of a (non-white) racial group does not diminish holiness regardless of science. It’s basically a progressive signaling that science (and occasionally self-preservation) is lower status than love towards Blacks and Browns.

    You’re spot on that everything is a social construct, and that meaning is contextual and ever changing, but language’s primary purpose in the post modern world is in delineating holiness. The meaning doesn’t matter, just the function.

  12. M_k_chi August 11, 2016 at 02:16

    I too was struck by how the meaning of “racism” has (been) changed in the space of a century, or a little more.

    • M_k_chi August 11, 2016 at 02:20

      What is fascinating is to try to decode the dynamics making a set of ideas (and the language used to impose it) or a rival set prevail.

      In the end you seem to say it’s the elite which manages to grab power.
      But are the elite really free, and self-determining? God-like?
      Doesn’t their acting obey to some law too, just like everything else?

      I wonder if they in part obey to the masses they apparently indoctrinate and lead by the leash, in some indirect way.

      • spandrell August 11, 2016 at 03:36

        No of course, it’s a manner of speech. Individual elites are as slave to the zeitgeist as anyone else. More so because they are fond of their elite status

  13. TheDividualist August 23, 2016 at 10:49

    > The few contrarians like us who disagree, do so because of different experiences, because they don’t see the point in earning that sort of status, or, in many cases, because they are like the philosophers who Wittgenstein made fun of, and are just not getting the point. Taking stuff literally when you’re not supposed to. That’s not how language works.

    I think I just have a visceral reaction to perceived insincerity, when people just say things without meaning them, Orwell’s duckspeak. I wonder if it is an autistic trait, likely not, as an autistic person would find it hard to detect insincerity.

    I detect it from the tone, from the facial expression, smug superiority, or the kind of face a kid has expecting praise for answering a teachers question correctly (as in, repeating back thoughtlessly what he was told to memorize).

    I think there is a fundamental difference between people who are more into prestige status vs. more into dominance status. As I am more into dominance status, all this prestige status comes across as sorta faggy to me. The distinction between the two seems to be one of the most profound political differences. I think the modern political divide was born in the Spanish Civil War: primarily because the Anglo Cathedral intellectualdom took a very strong interest in it. Don’t Franco’s followers look like the kind of guys who value dominance status over prestige status? And Trump’s followers?

  14. tublecane September 10, 2016 at 00:56

    I think this entry misses the point. When they say “X is a social construct” they mean that it is just a social construct. That is, that it’s a social construct and nothing else. That the thing being construed doesn’t exist outside of the construction. This is either true or false, and in the case of gender and race it is false.

      • tublecane September 18, 2016 at 23:07

        Exist: to have objective reality or being.

        I recently read a quote from “Missing the Revolution,” by Anne Campbell, who I assume is a feminist, on the causes of gender differences, which said that evolutionary psychologists, unlike “social constructionists” (her terms), “accept that beliefs reside in the mind and not just in discourse and language.” Notice that *just*. It is of primary importance. One side, the constructionist believe gender exists in and only in discourse and language. That it has no objective reality outside mere words.

        • spandrell September 19, 2016 at 06:59

          Define objective reality.
          We can play this game forever.
          Categories don’t exist. Things do. Gender is not a thing. It’s a category.

          • tublecane September 19, 2016 at 22:01

            “We can play this game forever”

            You’re playing the wrong game. Notice how you just said things exist. So why are you interrogating me on the subject of existence? Obviously we both think there is such a thing as existence.

            I don’t see why the burden of proof is on me and not social constructivists, or whatever you call them. But no matter. My point was they maintain such things as gender are *just* constructions. (And that they’re wrong, but that was a secondary point.) You apparently agree, and have made my point for me. Please revise the above essay to reflect that fact.

            As far as games go, how about we make society change its construction of gender, and flip the categories male and female. If the categories don’t actually exist that shouldn’t be any problem, right? Or, for that matter, let’s eliminate gender categories altogether, and have no such chimera as “men” and “women.” Then everybody would be the same, right? No reality could possibly intrude and make us doubt the truth of genderlessness.

            You are entirely too glib concerning reality.

            By the way, how come nobody bothers, or bothers much outside of philosophy class or drug-induced rap sessions, that color is “just a social construct?” It relies on the exact same argument as race or gender. In the visible light spectrum there’s no real difference between red and orange, for instance. Our categories “red” and “orange” are arbitrary and based not in objective reality but social convention. Therefore, color doesn’t exist, right? What B.S

          • tublecane September 19, 2016 at 22:11

            Or how about age? We assign numbers to age, of necessity in an arbitrary fashion, and therefore create categories exist in speech and in our heads, rather whoever than nature. Therefore, there is no such thing as age. Everyone has been alive for the same length of time. No, wait, we cut time up arbitrarily, too. Time is *just* a social construct, isn’t it? There’s no such thing as time.

            I could go on forever. This is the worst sort of postmodern sophism. Just because something is a construct, a category, does NOT mean it doesn’t exist. You say categories aren’t real, okay, but maybe they refer to real things. If I don’t know that they do, certainly social constructivists don’t know that they don’t. Which is why my point about their saying things are *just* social constructs is so important. They can’t know that, and neither can you. And the argument from category, or at he argument from arbitrariness, or whatever, don’t cut it.

          • tublecane September 19, 2016 at 22:33

            “Gender is not a thing.It’s a category.”

            I didn’t explain my position as well as I’d like, so I’m going to take one last stab. “Male” and “female” are categories within gender, just as “red” and “orange” are within color, “black” and “white” within race, or “17” and “18” within age. Let’s pretend “male” and “female” are mere labels and don’t actually exist. Does that mean gender itself doesn’t exist? No. If “black” and “white” are arbitrary and merely exist out of social convention, does that mean there’s no such thing as race? No!

            You’re jumping from one level to another: artificial category and real thing attempting to be classified by category. Social constructivist are correct to say “black” and “white” are constructs, and insofar as that’s true your essay is fine. But they also claim race itself is a construct and *just* a construct, which they have no right to do.

            You swoop in and say gender or racial categories are categories, so that you can say whatever it is you have a mind to say about how everyone is full of hot air and merely signalling to eachother, or whatever, per usual. Well, okay. But you’re missing the real point, which is about the *just* part. That is a real, honest to goodness philosophical difference between insane progressives (and maybe you) and normal people, i.e. that the former think not only the lines between the categories Black and White aren’t merely fuzzy, but that no such thing as race exists.

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