Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Understanding Objectivist Jargon Pt 10: "Anti-concept"

"Anti-concept" = any vague, confusing or poorly defined term. Which would include the term "anti-concept" itself. More simply, any concept Ayn Rand was anti.


Anonymous said...

A few other terms/expressions are: package deal, free-floating abstraction, thinking in essentials, and "the cashing in."

Anonymous said...

What you attribute to Rand is nothing but abject distortion. Her own words: "An anti-concept is an unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept."

Daniel Barnes said...

What in about Rand's comment clashes with my description, Anon57?

Anonymous said...

Where in Rand's definition do you find "vague" or "confusing" or their synonyms? ("Poorly defined" is so vague it's useless.) Where in your alleged definition is "designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept" or anything similar?

Daniel Barnes said...

You need to take a look at the Ayn Rand Lexicon
on the topic where you will find various synonyms for "vague" (eg "approximate") and "confusing" ("disparate, incongruous, contradictory elements taken out of any logical conceptual order or context") and "poorly defined" ("definition by non-esesntials").

Your "designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept" I thought was covered by my more flip "any concept Rand was anti" ie those that she did not consider "legitimate." But I think it's probably a good idea to update my description to add the "designed" part, because it does reflect Rand's odd implication that some linguistic terms have been somehow consciously designed by anonymous evildoers to pervert human cognition. It might also be worth adding that her idea of "legitimate and "illegitimate" concepts is also a fallacy. Thanks, Anon57, will amend appropriately.

*mote: original comment deleted, replaced with correct link

Anonymous said...

An example of an anti-concept

An "anti-concept," as Ayn Rand identified and defined this perversion, is "an unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept."

She identified the following as anti-concepts: "consumerism," "duty," "ethnicity," "extremism," "isolationism," "McCarthyism," "meritocracy," "polarization," and "simplistic."

To that roll of dishonor, I would add "socialization." This term is used, ostensibly, to refer vaguely to the process by which a child comes to adopt the elements of civilized existence in society. A definition I found on the web states:

"Socialization is the process by which culture is learned; also called enculturation. During socialization individuals internalize a culture's social controls, along with values and norms about right and wrong."


A definition given at a medical dictionary site is more explicit, and therefore uglier:

"the process by which society integrates the individual, and the individual learns to behave in socially acceptable ways."


Right there, you can see the incredible package-deal the term is trying to put over on us. The first part of the definition speaks of society acting upon the individual, as if society were an entity and the individual a lump of clay, waiting to be molded by it. The second part of the definition refers to learning. (And even with regard to that the definition's author felt the need to add "socially acceptable" into the mix.)

"Socialization" packages together rational learning and mindless conformity.

The purpose of the package is to eliminate from the user's mind the idea that there is such a thing as rational learning. Note, in regard to this purpose, that the two parts of the second definition are joined by "and"—as if there is always an element of second-handedness in a child's acceptance of morality, etiquette, etc.

But there is no more fundamental difference in a child's development than that between first-handed and second-handed functioning.

Both Howard Roark and Ellsworth Toohey came to hold moral (or, in Toohey's case pseudo-moral) principles. But the difference in how this happened is the difference between . . . well, it's the difference between Roark and Toohey. Packaging both their developments into one concept, "socialization," is designed to obliterate this difference, to make the idea of Roark unthinkable—by implying there is no essential difference between Roark's mental processes and those of Toohey and Keating.

Indeed, the anti-concept "socialization" is aimed at wiping out the very idea of a mental process, suggesting that everyone is molded unconsciously by "society," passively absorbing his conclusions, his convictions, his standards, from his interactions with others.

Note that the first definition says "individuals internalize social controls." You "internalize" the food you eat. If you are simply eating up the "values and norms" tossed to you by others, there's something very wrong.

The term "socialization" has currency because it resonates with the experience of second-handers. To the extent one has not engaged in rational learning, and has passively absorbed his ideas from others, he has difficulty even conceiving of an alternative. People who blithely write about society "integrating" the individual—without shuddering at the implications for how they themselves developed— are either unaccustomed to applying ideas to their own lives or confessing so thorough a second-handedness that they have lost the idea of rational learning altogether. Or both.

What does a rational person do in regard to anti-concepts? First, he doesn't allow them into his own thinking. He refuses to use words such as "socialization," consigning them to oblivion. Second, he doesn't give them further currency in communication with others; where appropriate, he unmasks them for the mind-busters that they are. Which is what this post has been designed to do for "socialization."

Harry Binswanger, HBL

Lloyd Flack said...

47 ovisMy security program has identified the link in the preceeding comment as dangerous spam. I think you should delete it.

Daniel Barnes said...

Cheers Lloyd, will do.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your post Harry!