Grammatical fictions

by Neil

In the course of an unrelated conversation, a friend responds to my earlier post here, A number is not an explanation,” and in particular to my takedown of the concept of status.” He says:

I see where you’re gesturing with the blogpost
But e.g. “women sexually prefer high status men” absolutely does mean something and if you don’t understand it, realizing it becomes hugely explanatory
Women prefer men who:

  • make more money
  • are more powerful
  • are treated socially in ways that affirm their power

I feel like you’re being purposefully obtuse here ! You can’t actually think the meaning of status” is little more than being good at things.” What things?
Do you deny power exists in the world? […]

I see where he’s coming from. In the original piece, it kind of looks like I want to deny that men who are preeminent in some way usually find more romantic/sexual success. I don’t want to deny this.

So then what was I trying to say? Well, bear with me for a moment, but I want to draw on Wittgenstein. I think he encounters a very similar problem.

Right in the middle of Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein is wading through the treacherous private language argument.” He wants to argue that it is not useful to think of pain,” or expressions of pain, as being references to some inner sensation of pain that really exists.” The problem is, it kind of looks like he’s saying pain isn’t real. In the excerpt below, he carries on an argument with imaginary interlocutor, using the example of remembering”:

  1. But you surely cannot deny that, for example, in remembering, an inner process takes place.” — What gives the impression that we want to deny anything? When one says Still, an inner process does take place here” — one wants to go on: After all, you see it.” And it is this inner process that one means by the word remembering”. — The impression that we wanted to deny something arises from our setting our faces against the picture of the inner process’. What we deny is that the picture of the inner process gives us the correct idea of the use of the word to remember”. We say that this picture with its ramifications stands in the way of our seeing the use of the word as it is.
  1. Why should I deny that there is a mental process? But There has just taken place in me the mental process of remembering….” means nothing more than: I have just remembered ….”. To deny the mental process would mean to deny the remembering; to deny that anyone ever remembers anything.
  1. Are you not really a behaviorist in disguise? Aren’t you at bottom really saying that everything except human behavior is a fiction?” — If I do speak of a fiction, then it is of a grammatical fiction.

So to tie this back — what I want to point out is that, specifically in the evopsych sense, the idea that status” must really” exist is a grammatical fiction that prevents us from seeing something more usefully. I’m not trying to take down status in areas (e.g. improv) where the concept of status is a useful handle that actually helps people get things done. By all means! But online, the most common usage of status” I see is the evopsych usage, and in that case, I want to reject the picture that comes along with the usage.

An observation: many redpilled” evopsych truths are things normal people accept with equanimity. When my friends have gone through nasty breakups, my (normal) friends will often suggest stuff like going to the gym. It’s not considered an outrage that you might want to make yourself more superficially appealing if you’re going to get back into dating. Nor is it particularly shocking that some groups of men might find it easier to date: tall men, rich men, ripped men, men who carry themselves with some swagger, men with really chiseled jaws. That’s just, like, the world.

Actually, hell, one of my favorite bands has a song called Girls Like Status.” But if you listen to it, the singer’s not angry, he’s almost wistful:

Guys go for looks, girls go for status
There are so many nights where this is just how it happens
Guys go for looks, girls go for status

On the one hand, it would seem like status is real” or girls like status” is just a proposition, a statement about the world that might be true or false, like all men are mortal.” But in the evopsych usage of status,” it seems to me that these propositions carry something else with them. If evopsych propositions were taken as a simple fact, you might expect guys to say: well, I’ve proven that all women are capricious and unfaithful. Guess I’ll get really into golf.” But they don’t seem to do that. As far as I can tell, the arc of the manosphere has bent away from pickup artistry — which was, if nothing else, a logically-consistent response to a set of beliefs about the world — and toward self-congratulatory doomsaying.

So do I think status is real”? I think that some of the phenomena that are described using the word status” are things that actually happen. But I think to accept the concept of status” wholesale presents a misleading picture, which can break down in different ways. This is what I’m trying to illustrate when I poke at the reality” of status, and point out contradictions and caveats. My intention is not to deny that status exists” or deny that power exists,” but to dislodge the picture that has come along for the ride.

  1. What is your aim in philosophy? — To show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.