The Notion of the Social Construct Is Itself a Social Construct

We hear often from our adversaries on the Left that race, sex, nation, and so forth are all merely adventitious social constructs, and so presumably, as fundamentally adventitious, therefore nowise suasive or authoritative, but rather, only, and simply, and completely, specious.

But the notion of the social construct redounds to and devours itself. It is autophagous. It cannot therefore be true.

If reality is socially constructed, and if that social construction is by itself a legitimate generator of truth, then one of the social constructs that can be legitimately constructed, and therefore treated as true, is the social construct that reality is not socially constructed. If on the other hand reality is socially constructed, but that social construction is not a legitimate generator of truth, then one of the social constructs that cannot be legitimately constructed, or therefore treated as true, is the social construct that reality is socially constructed.

Finally, if reality is not socially constructed to begin with, then the notion that reality is socially constructed is simply false.

All our notions are affected by society, to be sure. But that does not mean, as the Social Justice Warriors would like it to, that they are all just made up for no good reason, so that we can modify them as we wish and without serious consequence; that they are not, in other words, simply true, more or less.

To think that our social constructs are adventitious is to suppose that we are a society composed mostly of inveterate liars or fools. But if that were so, how could we have managed to survive thus far?

12 thoughts on “The Notion of the Social Construct Is Itself a Social Construct

  1. Pingback: The Notion of the Social Construct Is Itself a Social Construct | Reaction Times

  2. The proposition that everything is socially constructed is true in one sense. You and I perceive a meaningful world, and those meanings were constructed by humans. So the world you and I perceive is certainly an artifact. The proposition that everything is socially constructed grows false, however, when it denies the obdurate reality of the things perceived. Artifacts are made from material that will only bend so far. Masculinity, for instance, is a social construct, but the male sex has an obdurate reality that will only bend so far. This seriously limits the range of its possible constructions.

    Social constructionism also grows false when it is advanced (ignorantly or dishonestly) that all possible constructions are equal. All social constructions are not created equal, just as not all cultures are created equal. Some work better (are truer) than others.

    As you say, the Progressive argument for social construction is logically incoherent and false. They would have us believe that the desirability of change can be inferred from the possibility of change. This is the opposite of the truth. Artifacts (social constructions) embody reasons, and therefore have a greater claim on preservation than natural objects, so long as those reasons are valid. This was the point of Chesterton’s fence.

    Progressives use the social construction argument as an acid to destroy the world of traditional meanings, and traditionalists have naturally reacted with a degree of revulsion for the concept. But this is a mistake. We should argue that our social constructions are reasonable and good, not that they are something other than social constructions. And we should argue that they are reasonable and good because they (a) respect the material from which they are made, (b) serve the true interests of human beings.

  3. A certain degree of ugliness attaches to the word “construction.” Images such as building a strip-mall or raising an office tower or digging a subway tunnel come to mind. There is much disruption in the activity and – in contemporary North America – the result is likely to be brutal and utilitarian. But then the language of the Left is generally and increasingly brutal and utilitarian — not to mention mendacious. “Diversity” actually means uniformity; “rights” mean privileges; and “construction” means tearing things down. The term “construction” gained currency in the 1980s, as an element in the deconstructive Leftism of that Frenchman and his mindless followers. In reference to sculpture, “construction” refers to abstract assemblages of the non-representational or non-figurative type.

    Is culture “constructed”? In this context the verb to create strikes me as more appropriate. Human beings have created their cultures, as JM observes, by adjusting their behavior to their propensities and adapting their customs to the external reality, the manipulation of which has definite limits. Cultural institutions, like poems and cathedrals, are made to last and are thus unlike strip-malls or the latest passing item-list of “woke” vocabulary. The word poem comes from a Greek word that means to make or to create. Perhaps the Left’s fixation on “construction,” which really means its opposite, stems from its disdain of Christianity, where the idea of Creation has a special, sacred meaning with a transcendental reference. Culture is creation; the “constructionist” project is an agenda of de-creation.

    • The word “construction” allows “deconstruction” as its opposite. Apart from its cachet as a term of art, deconstruction sounds methodical, somewhat like disassembly. If they had used the term “build,” the natural antonyms would have been “demolish,” “wreck,” or “burn to the ground.” Of course all three terms would have been more accurate as the name for the critical method sold to the world as “deconstruction.”

  4. All that is human is to some extent socially constructed, to be sure. On essentialism and realism (including the pragmatic elaboration thereof), that observation gives rise to no difficulties, no paradoxes; for as pertaining more or less well and adequately and appropriately to definite objective data – of man and of his world – social constructs can be more or less rational and valid in the first place, more or less veridical in the second, and in the third (here’s the nod to pragmatism) more or less successful when carried into practice. Nothing wrong with that!

    On the nominalism and skepticism (and the amoralist elaboration thereof) so characteristic of our adversaries, on the other hand, the notion of the social construct is – like so many other concepts basic to life as it must perforce be lived – rendered absurd. On nominalism and skepticism, our hypotheses – social or not – cannot have truth value, because they are nothing but fictions, that can refer to nothing real, but can denote rather only other such fictions. They are, then, completely adventitious, and established for no good reason (or for bad reasons), nor indeed for any reason whatever, other than our own personal preferences and prejudices.

    They therefore, simply, *can’t* be carried into practice except by invocation of a host of unprincipled exceptions, which bely them.

    And this is so equally of the notion of the social construct as the skeptical nominalist construes it.

  5. OT:
    Kristor,

    This is Michael Humpherys and I sent you an email in September on an article concerning usury that I was writing. A couple of days ago I received a response to that email and the more I read it the more I wondered if you had actually sent it in late June as my Gmail claimed.
    I have written back and I wanted to make sure you got the email and to see if there is some sort of temporal (or Google AI) vortex eating emails.
    Thanks and keep up the good Orthosphering.

  6. All our notions are affected by society, to be sure. But that does not mean, as the Social Justice Warriors would like it to, that they are all just made up for no good reason, so that we can modify them as we wish and without serious consequence; that they are not, in other words, simply true, more or less.

    This, and pretty much everything else you have to say on the topic, indicates a fairly complete inability to understand what social construction is actually about.

    To say that some concept is a social construct is not to say that it is arbitrary, and even less to say that it is “made up for no good reason”. The whole thrust of the more politically-charged theories of social construction is that these constructs are made up for *reasons*, and usually in the service of some entrenched power or another. And while we have some ability to modify them, it՚s not easy, it՚s usually a matter of political struggle, and obviously has consequences or why would anyone bother?

    And your triumphal realization that social construction is reflexive, and itself a socially-constructed idea – that՚s like postmodernism 101, the modern academy is nothing if not conscious of its own reflexivity.

    • The term “social construction” is used in a multitude of ways, many of them very loose and sophomoric. Literary deconstruction in its pure form proposes constructions that are arbitrary, or at least “contingent.” Over time, this has tended to take on the Marxist ideology theory that you describe, albeit in its incoherent intersectionalist form.

      The social effect of an idea comes from the vulgar form of that idea. The social effect of social constructionist teaching on college students is that it appears to justify two ideas: all institutions are illegitimate and just about anything is possible. In other words, it makes them hostile to tradition and receptive to change.

      Reflexivity in the university is like sex at a boy scout camp: all talk. Many professors can talk about self awareness, since that is what they are paid do do. Actually being self aware is harder and not so common.

    • A.morphous: My exposure to postmodernism is by no means deep; I can take only a paragraph or two of the stuff at a time. But the postmodernism I have read has all been of the Marxist sort that JM Smith notices, and consistently argues that all texts are written in support of some system or other of social dominance, whether consciously or not; and that as thus interested in certain social outcomes, they are all more or less tendentious propaganda, even when they are trying to be the opposite. They are all written for reasons, then, sure; but not for good reasons.

      They *can’t* be written for good reasons, because the goodness of this or that reason might be socially constructed in the first place only by means of such ex hypothesi tendentious texts. On postmodernism, there can then be no reliable social construction of the good. Among the sorts of good that cannot then be socially constructed is the good of truth; another is the good of beauty.

      Postmodernism is latter day Sophism. It insists that dialectic is nothing but rhetoric; that there is in fact no such thing as what dialectic purports to be.

      The more rigorous postmodernists I have read extended their critique to documents of the hard sciences, nature poetry, recipes (as of white bread, mayonnaise, apple pie …), computer programs, instruction manuals, law books (of course), blueprints, maps, and so forth. Even musical scores have recently come under the postmodernist gun. Nothing written, or therefore written about, is exempt. So no social organ of any sort is exempt; not even – not even perhaps especially – the human person, qua animal body.

      So: social constructs are constructed for reasons, but none of those reasons can be good, along any dimension of goodness. Which is what I wrote: on postmodernism, social constructs are all just made up for no good reason. On postmodernism, there are no such things as good reasons. There are only “good” reasons. There is then no such thing as actual goodness. There is, rather, only “goodness:” an artifice, a fiction.

      As you have elsewhere argued, and as is obviously true, artifices and fictions can have enormous consequences. Viz., the catastrophic consequences for the people of Venezuela of the absurd fiction that socialism can be made to work.

      As to the consequences of modifying social constructs, I wrote first that Social Justice Warriors believe that it can be done without serious *adverse* consequences. Somehow in editing I erased “adverse” without noticing I had done so. Perhaps I was distracted by the cat. Perhaps indeed the cat did it; she’s always clambering across the keyboard to get onto my lap.

      My notice of the retortion of the notion of social construction was by no means triumphant. I have noticed it for years; this was no new insight, but a rehearsal and a reemphasis. So it was in no triumphant mood that I wrote. I was, rather, somewhat sorrowful, and pitiful. It is astonishing to me, and pathetic, that so many intelligent minds can nowadays feel it worthwhile to spend more than a few moments stipulating that it is impossible to write – impossible for *them* to write, too, NB – disinterestedly. It is profoundly dispiriting to observe entire generations of scholars wittingly assert that, in effect, the entire project of scholarship – of *their own* scholarship, NB – is incorrigibly tendentious.

      It’s like hearing from a whole generation of Cretans that all men, everywhere and at all times, and not excepting any of the Cretans, are inveterate, incorrigible, shameless liars.

      Smells like projection. Smells like a sweaty rationalization hamster. The poor sods. How they must hate themselves, so to damn all their own utterances and works!

  7. Pingback: Cantandum in Ezkhaton 06/30/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores

  8. And for those “social constructions” constructed for ENTIRELY malevolent reasons, say, for instance, gay man, one can employ scare quotes to inform other proficient users of the English language of such subtle malevolence and force Evil’s “reasons” to the fore.

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