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August 30, 2013

Towards a New Dictionary of Received Ideas

Ann Althouse writes of Flaubert's La Dictionairre d'Idees Reçues, or "Dictionary of Received Ideas." A comical, cynical spoof of the Thoughtless Thoughts people are infected with.

This is what I think Jonah Goldberg was talking about in his Tyranny of Clichés.

It's these automatic thoughts that cling to the brain like parasites that destroy thinking and reason. Rather like, and I don't think this could possibly be a cliché, alien Body Thetans of idiocy that are interfering with the lucid functioning of our own spirit Thetan.

Amusing Ourselves to Death briefly noted the long, long history of Thoughtless Thoughts. In pre-literate cultures, when all knowledge was stored in human memory and recalled by verbal trope, it was useful to have cute and memorable aphorisms, appellations and other received wisdom in the form of canned cliché. Thus all dawns reflexively had rosy fingers, and were you to dig into the ground, you'd find some money rooting all evils.

Although we've long since gained the capacity to write and read, we've kept many of the Automatic Associations we've been taught.

Liberals, I think, are especially prone to this, for a bunch of reasons. First of all, they dominate the culture and the natural dialogue so their Thoughtless Thoughts crowd out all others. Perhaps there are some anti-gay people who would like to establish the Meme Thetan that Gays Are In Revolt Against God, but they can't, because liberals have established their own reflexive clichés about gays: They improve neighborhoods, like cupcakes a whole heck of a lot, and are perfect fashion accessories for women entering their middle years.

And beyond that, while liberals really like to think that they Think an awful lot (reflexive liberal Thoughtless Thought on liberals: Our major failing is that we're too reasonable and overthink things!!!), in fact, they don't think very much at all.

I think in terms of psychographics, Liberals are better Students than the right. Understand here that I speak of the group, not any individual case. I think Liberals are more educable, and conservatives more resistant to education.

And there's a flip-side to this: People who are more "educable," as I call it, are also more pliable, more deferential to Assumed Authority, more dedicated to the goal of Pleasing Teacher. Less likely to rebel, less likely to quesiton.

This is why they make, on paper, such fine administrators of the National Bureaucratic state. And why they make, in reality, such terrible ones.

There's an old bit of Received Wisdom I heard about the Chinese Bureaucracy, an idea and innovation squashing institution that nevertheless persisted for over a thousand years (and still does). It persisted so long because, while it is bad, it was never quite awful enough to spark a revolution. It was always on every Emperor's to-do list to reform the bureaucracy -- but always at number 12 on the list.

No Emperor ever gets to number 12 on his list. No Emperor ever gets much further than Number 3.

And so a fundamentally poor cadre for administering the state limped along for over a thousand years, retarding Chinese advancement... but its effects were merely subtly pernicious.

Had the Chinese Bureaucracy been worse, China would have done better.

And so it is with Liberals, as far as group psychographics. They're overinvested in repeating back What Teacher Said and underinvested in questioning received wisdom.

I've been on about this basic point for years. I can't credit someone as a thinking person when I ask him for his first reaction to the word-stimulus "USAToday" and I can predict his response -- "McPaper" -- as precisely as I can predict that a cow will come trotting toward the barn when I ring the milking bell.

(Caveat: I have no idea if there's such a thing as a milking bell.)

No one who reacts with the precisely predictable conditioned behavior of a moth drawn to a light-bulb can be credited as fully "thinking."

As Jonah Goldberg argues (I take it-- I haven't read the book), part of the reason for the liberal dominance over the culture and lately politics as well is that it is extremely hard to argue someone out of a proposition he was never argued into in the first place. The public did not decide Barack Obama was extremely intelligent, cultured, articulate, and spiritually uplifting. The public had this word-cloud about Barack Obama drilled into their heads for two years so that when they finally saw the man speak, in all his umming and uhhing glory, there was hardly any space in their minds for their own analytical and impressionistic portrait of Barack Obama. The neurons necessary for storing such electrical wisdom were already all taken up by Extremely Intelligent, Cultured, Articulate, Spiritually Uplifting.

Oh and possibly actually The Second Messiah. Or, to our Jewish friends, just The Messiah.

Sometimes I catch a little heat from commenters who object to my going off-script, as it were, to get into these sorts of Not Really Politics topics.

I have to tell you that if you're conceiving of "politics" as the surface game of just shouting back and forth that abortion either is, or is not murder, I don't think you understand how people's minds are actually shaped. People talk in the language of reason but they actually think, or rather do not think, in the language of myth.

Any effort to reclaim the nation for the Enlightenment and for Classical Liberalism must begin with Breitbart's oft-quoted motto, "Politics is downstream of culture."

Defects in political thinking -- such as an embrace of socialism -- are merely the symptoms. To address the actual disease, one has to first treat the underlying disease, which are defects in thinking, period, and minds fevered by all the superstitions spread virally by the plague-rats of Chomsky, Marx, Zinn, Chuck Todd, Brian Williams, Anderson Cooper, and the rest of the forever chattering National Greek Chorus of Dumb.

I could go on. I usually do. But I'll wrap up.

I don't think most people grasp what Breitbart's slogan means. It's not just knowing what's going on on Girls, for crying out loud. It's understanding that people's political landscapes are just the surface expression of deeper structures of thought and tectonic plates of superstition.

And having blathered on too long, I'd like to suggest our own sort of Devil's Dictionary, or Dictionary of Received Ideas, those reflexive, look-ma-no-thinking Thoughtless Thoughts the American public has been conditioned to believe without even realizing they believe anything of the sort.

Easiest and most prominent starting entry:

RIGHTWING. Should be followed by "extremist." Possessed of something called "Lizard Brains." Usually found beating their wives, bashing gays, and shooting black people for no reason at all. Hate Science. Grizzled veterans of the War on Women. Opposed by pragmatic, rational, non-ideological centrist problem-solvers (see Democrat).


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posted by Ace at 01:57 PM

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