Social Constructionism For Conservatives

Domingo Colina

Domingo Colina

Domingo Colina lives in New England, where he (in a show of spectacularly poor judgment) studies philosophy.

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21 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    I’m 100% down with arguing that “The Map Is Not The Territory” and think that a lot of our socially constructed “truths” deserve criticism and, heck, some of them ought to be replaced with other, better, socially constructed “truths”.

    On top of that, there are people who mistake matters of taste for being matters of morality and they try to impose their moral vision of the world on stuff like, yes, pizza and they get all prescriptivist about what others do with their own free time. Oh, you shouldn’t be enjoying *THIS* entertainment, you should be enjoying *THAT* one. Instead of watching that violent cartoon, why not watch Veggietales? And so on.

    When it comes to gender, it does strike me that there were a lot of baked-in assumptions that worked fairly well in a world with low productivity and not a whole lot of food that don’t work in a world with high productivity and free calories everywhere. Unfortunately, the future isn’t yet evenly distributed and a lot of ideas that work quite well in a high productivity world with free calories are actively harmful in places with more limited means.

    And that’s without getting into issues of long-term sustainability and the time-horizon problems that see the immediate benefits of eating the seed corn but haven’t given a lot of thought to what happens after that.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      The dividing line between matters of taste and matters of morality can get very blurry at times. Like with eating meat. There is a small but very vocal percentage of people that believe that eating meat or even animal derived products like dairy and honey is inherently wrong. The only just solution to them is universal veganism. Others see meat eating as a matter of taste. You will never get agreement on what is a matter of taste and what is a matter or morality. For doctrinaire people, there can be no division. If something doesn’t advance the true doctrine, be it Evangelical Christianity, Wahhabi Islam, or Maoism, it is by definition evil.

      This doctrinaire thought isn’t limited to the Left in the United States. The Right through their institutions has their own doctrinaire thought, that America is the best place beyond criticism and anything that they see as anti-American or critiquing Americanism must go, that they are advancing.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        Or homosexuality! There are people who think it’s morally wrong. There are other people who think that “sexual preference” isn’t an offensive term but is more-or-less synonymous with “sexual orientation”.

        Who can say?

        Things wander from one circle to the other as cultures evolve and commingle and the stuff that is in one circle in this culture is in that circle in another and, ooop!, now they’re engaging in commerce! Now what?

        Maybe long-term sustainability will tell us which was the right attitude to have. History will be written by the winners, after all.Report

  2. Avatar Brandon Berg
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    says:

    An example I like is that color is socially constructed. The spectrum of visible light has no discrete bands. Different cultures have not historically agreed on how many colors, and which ones, are important enough to name, and where their boundaries are. But the underlying physical phenomenon is real and objectively measurable.

    Tallness is socially constructed as well. The fact that some people consider a 6’0″ man to be tall and a 5’11” man to be not-tall is largely an artifact of an arbitrary measuring system we use. But height is a real physical fact.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Brandon Berg
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      says:

      There is an interesting study about language and color, and how ancient languages didn’t have words for certain colors (IIRC, blue is a relatively recent word, and was often called black by older cultures). And the question is, did ancient people just not have a social construct of the color blue, or have our eyes evolved since then to let us see blue more clearly such that we can have words for it?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon
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        says:

        “Wine-dark sea” still confuses me.Report

        • Avatar George Turner in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          That’s Greek, and was used by Homer. Blue is often referred to with ocean colors, and has been used to refer to everything from greys to yellows in the Germanic family of languages. Another thing about tricky color names is that you really don’t need them. Brightness ranges from ebony and onyx to daylight, and colors can be wine, blood, forest, fire, earth, dirt, bark, skin, opal, jade, gold, slate, sand, ochre, etc. Those are all also nouns, not purely adjectives, and you can get along just fine in art without actually having unique names for colors like “yellow” and “red”.

          Even with our more obvious color names, the subtle shades fall back into this familiar pattern of references common objects. Browns and tans get differentiated into almond, copper, antique brass, apricot, chocolate, coffee, cocoa, fawn, saffron, camel, desert, etc.

          Many shades contain the basic color range as part of the name, like cobalt blue, fire engine red, olive green, canary yellow, but there the range is really just flagging that the previous words refer to a color and not an object. We could say “cobalt color, fire engine color, olive color, canary color” and convey the same meaning.Report

    • Avatar KenB in reply to Brandon Berg
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      says:

      Re colors — it’s true that colors differ across cultures, but (as I recall from my bygone academic life) there are clear tendencies around maximizing contrasts. If a culture only has two colors then they will be black & white, if it has three then the third is likely red, the fourth is likely green, etc.

      My bygone academic life was in linguistics, and my advisor pointed this out as a comparison to a similar sort of typology in phonological inventories, which maximize contrasts for obvious signal-processing reasons.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to KenB
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        says:

        Phonemes are another social construct. The t’s in “tone” and “stone” sound somewhat different, but to us they’re both “the ‘t’ sound”. Speakers of a different language might consider them to be different sounds entirely.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Mike Schilling
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          says:

          Specifically, “tone” begins with an aspirated alveolar stop, while the t in “stone” is an unaspirated alveolar stop. I’m told that in Mandarin, b, d, g are unaspirated (as in English) but also unvoiced (as is usually not the case in English). Which is to say, the “d” at the beginning of “Dongbei” is the same sound as the t in “stone,” and different from the “d” at the beginning of “dog.”

          However, I just can’t convince myself that this is important. I understand the difference, and I can pronounce it. I could probably hear the difference if I really tried. But the distinction just doesn’t seem significant to me. Aspiration, rather than voicing, dominates my interpretation of a syllable-initial stop.

          It doesn’t seem to matter, though; since Mandarin has no voiced stops, you can go ahead and voice the unaspirated stops and no one cares, and you also don’t have to distinguish them. I wonder if native Mandarin speakers have the same issue when learning English.

          Hindi has stops which are both voiced and aspirated, like the “dh” in “dharma.” That confuses me. Fortunately, I have no particular need or desire to learn Hindi.Report

  3. Avatar InMD
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    says:

    I don’t think the problem is the theory, as rigorously and fairly applied. The problem is the use of the theory in our discourse to steal a base on some policy issue. It comes out as ‘nothing is real anyway and I am therefore relieved of my duty to make the case for x on the merits.’Report

  4. Avatar Pinky
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    says:

    It seems to me that sex and gender refer to, respectively, objective and subjective senses. I would use the words like male, female, hermaphrodite, and intersex to describe objective reality. I’d use words like masculine, feminine, transgender, et cetera, do describe subjective reality. If you say that something is a construction if it relies on both objective and subjective elements, then I can’t accept the statement that “Dolly Parton is a woman” as a construction. is this because I’m treating “woman” as an objective fact pertaining to sex? If so, is there a way we can carry on the conversation without losing reference to sex as objective? Or am I misreading the whole thing?Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Pinky
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      says:

      To further my point, I think the article underplays the uniqueness of the idea of objective reality, or of natural kind. Philosophically, there’s nothing odd about saying that some things are opinion. The oddity is saying that some things aren’t. Those who believe in objective truth are perfectly willing to admit that there are optical illusions. Subjectivists don’t believe the eye ever sees anything real. Traditional Christianity can discuss how perception can mitigate guilt; it’s the existentialist who can’t discuss guilt. The traditional aesthetic can talk about both beauty and taste; the modernist can’t perceive beauty.

      So if the point of the article is to say that the conservative framework can entertain ambiguity, I’d say “sure”. But that’s not the half of the conversation that’s missing. I don’t think the article even addresses the idea that some social constructionists deny everything but ambiguity. But again, I might have missed something.Report

  5. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    says:

    I can concede that the term social construct is overused but I think the argument for the right, which is incorrect, is also part motivated reasoning. The right needs for gender to be a biological fact because it can provide a “justification” for their homophobia, transphobia, and sexism. If you make gender a hard fact, it allows people like James Damore to justify his retrograde view that women were not meant to be engineers.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      “It’s a social construct!” gets misunderstood as being identical to “it’s not real!”

      Sometimes by the person hearing the phrase. Sometimes by the person saying the phrase.

      The problem is that this is very much wrong. Sometimes something being a social construct makes it very, very real indeed.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        Ultimately, everything is a social construct.

        This does, of course, destroy the utility of declaring something to be A Social Construct (and thus, by implication, a mere convention or habit or prejudice, insupportable by any logical or moral calculus.)Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      Speaking of Hanlon’s Razor, you’re explicitly rejecting any motivation of your opponents other than malice, right? It’s unlikely that a meaningful conversation can follow that.Report

  6. Avatar JoeSal
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    says:

    I’ll break silence for this one.

    Social Constructs (as much as they are recognized to exist) should be based upon social objectivity, and the only thing glueing social objectivity together is that its social truth components are resolved.

    My bone to pick with most leftward folks is they steal a base because they think the left owns social obectivity.

    Stripping the philosophy to its nakedness, if i take the social truth components out in the real world and ask people if this is true or not, if i have plenty respond ” no that is not true ” then i have real suspicions on whether the underpinning social objectivity of what is being claimed has a foundation under it.

    In empirical obectivity the high degree of resolved truth components are somewhat baked into the cake.

    And here is the warning of our time:
    If you ignore empirical truth, reality will harm you…..if you ignore social truth, people will harm you.Report

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