Sunday, June 17, 2007
A Christian told me that God loves taxonomy. It's a necessary practice, of course, for concretely living in the world. But more often, I think, where taxonomies proliferate, seperated from actual practice, yet inviting this solicitude, they constitute an ersatz science, and an impediment to science. They represent a mannerist, or purely ornamental kind of science.
The simplest form of ornamental taxonomy has one distinction and two species, so this is what I'll consider here, though multipart taxonomies work in exactly the same way. In advertising, the elaboration of a multi-part taxonomy can sometimes be used as a hook, for instance in ads for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The most influential recent example of a two part ornamental taxonomy is probably The Female Brain, a fake psychology book. Another example can be found in C G Jung's late essay Approaching the Unconscious. Here Jung explains the distinction between "thinking" and "feeling" types of people:
"I had always been impressed by the fact that there are a surprising number of individuals who never use their minds if they can avoid it, and an equal number who do use their minds, but in an amazingly stupid way. I was also surprised to find many intelligent and wide-awake people who lived (as far as one could make out) as if they had never learned to use their sense organs. They did not see the things before their eyes, hear the words sounding in their ears, or notice the things they touched or tasted. Some lived without being aware of the state of their own bodies.
There are others who seemed to live in a most curious condition of consciousness, as if the state they had arrived at today were final, with no possibility of change, or as if the world and the psyche were static and would remain so forever. They seemed devoid of all imagination, and they entirely and exclusively depended on their sense-perception. Chances and possibilities did not exist in their world, and in "today" there was no real "tomorrow". The future was just the repetition of the past.
I am trying to give the reader a glimpse of my own first impressions when I began to observe the many people I met. It soon became clear to me, however, that the people who used their minds were those who thought - that is, who applied their intellectual faculty in trying to adapt themselves to people and circumstances. And the equally intelligent people who did not think were those who sought and found their way by feeling
"Feeling is a word that needs some explanation. For instance, one speaks of "feeling" when it is a matter of "sentiment" (corresponding to the French term sentiment). But one also applies the same word to define an opinion; for example, a communication from the White House may begin: "The President feels..." Furthermore, the word may be used to express an intuition: "I had a feeling as if..."
When I use the word "feeling" in contrast to "thinking," I refer to a judgement of value - for instance, agreeable or disagreeable, good or bad, and so on. Feeling according to that definition is not an emotion (which, as the word conveys, is involuntary). Feeling as I mean it is (like thinking) a rational (i.e., ordering) function, whereas intuition is an irrational (i.e., perceiving) function. In so far as intuition is a "hunch," it is not the product of a voluntary act; it is rather an involuntary event, which depends upon different external or internal circumstances instead of an act of judgement. Intuition is more like a sense-perception, which is also an irrational event in so far as it depends esthetically upon objective stimuli, which owe their existence to physical and not to mental causes."
The taxonomy works this way: the auditor is invited to identify with one of the species established; to identify themself as a "thinking" or "feeling" type. Now, belonging to either species identifies one as possessing both the positive and negative attributes pertaining to that species (it's necessary for these attributes to be both positive and negative). The system works where the auditor is seduced enough by the positive things said about them to accord some validity to the negative things. According to the heuristic approach necessary to make the mass media intelligible, negative characterisations of the auditor are always afforded a degree of absolute validity. Also the auditor is most likely ill equipped to theorise an alternative conceptual basis for system laid out.
So, the auditor is offered this role, the role of a "thinking" type, for instance. The auditor is both seduced and repulsed by this designation, but cannot make a judgement on its validity, only partially accept it. But this partial acceptance of the application of a concept in particular, implies the validity of the concept in general. It is accepted that there is a "thinking" type, and so correlatively, a "feeling" type.
(I know this sounds idealist and cruel, but you've got to bear in mind that I'm describing the psychology of the mousetrap not the psychology of the mouse)
The effect of this is to reproduce the field of psychology in a distorted way. The division of humanity into different species, each coherent only with respect to others has the effect of:
1. obfuscating genuinely scientific ideas about human consciousness
2. offering spurious justifications for the political application of division of labour
3. eternalising and mystifying historically conditioned states of human development
4. offering spurious justification for the idea that humanity is comprehended by its philosophers, and by implication that society is comprehended by its owners
"as if the world and the psyche were static and would remain so forever"
(subject to modification, if I can think of any better way to express these ideas)