Demonstrations -- of Poor Thinking

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Glenn Reynolds points to a tweet that beautifully captures the idiocy of the various women's marches. (Psychologist Michael Hurd considers the same matter in more detail.) The tweet shows a picture of the Normandy Invasion with the caption, "The Men's March Against Fascism didn't have nearly as many signs."

Quite true, and the example of men fighting a properly prosecuted war reminded me of the following passage from John Lewis's absorbing book, Nothing Less than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History, which I read recently:

To rip out the source of the rebellion, [General] Sherman set out on what was, in effect, an educational mission. His actions served to connect the abstraction "war" to its concrete referent in reality: immediate, personal destruction. No longer would "war" float in the minds of southerners as an elixir, calling up notions of social superiority, bereft of its real meaning. The smell of smoke would haunt southern civilians as it had haunted the people of Sparta and Carthage-the smell of failure caused by their own willingness to wage war on others. War now meant loss, poverty, shame, and death. Now, knowing its nature, they could reject it. (loc. 1942)
Lewis also considers later examples of wars in which belligerent nations whose people did (Imperial Japan) and did not (Germany, during or after World War I) receive this kind of cognitive correction. Oddly enough, Germany would go on to become a belligerent nation again in short order and Japan would quickly become an exemplary, powerful, and peaceful nation. Abstract ideas have consequences. It is best for everyone that as many people as possible form them correctly.

In the above passage, Lewis, an Objectivist intellectual, alludes to a term, "floating abstraction," coined by Ayn Rand. It is interesting to consider in more detail what that is, in light of the martial metaphor leftists are so fond of using when they feel -- and I never use that term as a synonym for think -- they occupy (another military metaphor!) the moral high ground (and another!):
The perceptual level of consciousness is automatically related to reality; a sense perception is a direct awareness of a concrete existent. A concept, however, is an integration that rests on a process of abstraction. Such a mental state is not automatically related to concretes, as is evident from the many obvious cases of "floating abstractions." This is Ayn Rand's term for concepts detached from existents, concepts that a person takes over from other men without knowing what specific units the concepts denote. A floating abstraction is not an integration of factual data; it is a memorized linguistic custom representing in the person's mind a hash made of random concretes, habits, and feelings that blend imperceptibly into other hashes which are the content of other, similarly floating abstractions. The "concepts" of such a mind are not cognitive devices. They are parrotlike imitations of language backed in essence by patches of fog. (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 96.)
Now, for an example of floating abstractions, consider the following observation by Michael Hurd regarding the vast chasm between what these protesters want and what would actually help them:
The ironic thing about successful feminists like the singer Madonna? They got where they did through the very things -- individualism, capitalism, liberty, and other virtues commonly thought to be masculine -- that they now retaliate against in unfettered rage. You'd almost think Madonna doesn't want other women (or men) to gain the advancement in life that she gained through the very things she now seeks to obliterate. [links added]
Considering the non-rational origins of what many of these protesters want, it should be no surprise that so many are prone to rudeness or violence (or favor censorship): Having no concept of how to form an opinion, how could they know how to argue in favor of it with another, or even realize that their tantrums are antagonizing (or entertaining) others, rather than changing their minds? (Lewis made similar observations about the inability of some belligerent generals to understand their opponents in his book.)

These protesters have the right to say whatever they want, and our government should protect it, but I would hope that, to the degree they initiate force (or threaten to), our government responds appropriately, showing them the consequences of doing so in a free society. That said, it is not the government's job to determine the validity of anyone's viewpoints; just to protect the freedom of individuals from the initiation of force (or the threat thereof) from others, as the video linked above shows. This will not change the protesters, but it will allow civilized Americans the freedom to have productive conversations about the direction our country is going.

-- CAV

P.S. In researching the term "floating abstraction", I uncovered the following gem from The Journals of Ayn Rand:
The "common man" doesn't understand the gibberish of the "intellectuals" -- because the common man relates abstractions to the concrete. It takes a second-hander, a collectivist intellectual, to run amuck among "floating abstractions." (p. 304.)
That tweet is a pretty good example of that, too.


Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,

When floating abstractions become a way of life...

A neurotic is a man who builds a castle in the air.
A psychotic is the man who lives in it.
A psychiatrist is the man who collects the rent.

Jerome Lawrence, 1915-2004

c. andrew

Gus Van Horn said...