Cat couplings are a way to construct and reinforce types
I love when I realize someone else has done all the leg work for an important aspect of my worldview that I haven’t yet had the time to dig into. I recently had the pleasure of realizing how John Nerst’s Cat Couplings post performs the assist for my Type as social coordination mech post.
Types are more than patterns. Most patterns we observe never get reified with a phrase or a handle, and most patterns that we individually reify never get ratified by a social network. A Type is a pattern that a group can all recognize and sync up their behaviors on. It creates an object of discourse. It’s an entity that people can have Takes on. It’s A Thing.
I go at the “purpose” or function of types. I also assert that types are decision rules, “If [recognizable features from startpack meme] THEN [judge in XYZ way]”, a notion I flush out more in Arguing Definitions to Argue Decisions. But how do these types which are decision rules come to be? There’s defs going to be a multiplicity of ways, I mean startpack memes and bingo cards are themselves explicit social tech for making types.
Nerst pinpoints a very specific and very common way that casual language is used to construct and reinforce types.
First, a definition:
A cat coupling is a kind of phrasing where it’s unclear whether an attribute is meant as justifiably picking out a subset, or unjustifiably describing the whole, and as a result strengthens the connection between the concept and the attribute.
It’s easier to explain with some examples. The one that made me take notice in the first place was this statement: “Pessimism has its downsides, but is still preferable to naive optimism.”
It was leveled at me during an argument about progress in society and it got me thinking. What does “naive optimism” refer to, exactly? Is it only picking out the optimism that’s naive — i.e. in this context mistaken — and saying pessimism is better than that? Well, true, but that’s not much of an argument if we don’t know how much of optimism is mistaken.
Is it saying that all optimism is naive simply by virtue of being optimism, and therefore that pessimism is more correct? No, that just assumes its own conclusion.
His post is excellent and has many more examples if you feel like you wouldn’t be able to spot a cat coupling in the wild. Later, he explicitly connects Cat Couplings to Types reinforcement!
Cat couplings make much more sense and aren’t weirdly ambiguous at all if we understand them in terms of types and not sets. They’re not making logically intelligible claims about physical reality, they’re evoking, constructing and re-articulating types. “Naive optimism” is a type, a concept, a piece of mental machinery, and, if you will, a social construct. So are “rich bosses” and “unsavory foreigners” as well as neurotic introverts and contrarian twats. “Doctors who keep up with the latest science” and “venture capitalists who hollow out our public systems” are arguably types as well, if less succinctly described, and some certainly want to re-articulate and reinforce them
That is all, go forth and, may a great multitude of blogs eventually converge on the truth!