Steve Sailer likes to invoke the weak form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (strong version: language determines behavior; weak: language influences it), defining it as “…having a term for a reality or a concept makes it easier to notice that reality and easier to think about that concept, while not having a term for it makes thinking harder.”

This concept itself would qualify as just such a useful concept laying fallow. But it came to mind yesterday as I was introduced to the word “cryptonormativisim”, which may sound like a pretentious jumble but is highly useful in understanding, just for starters, the inscrutable blob of mercury that is critical theory.

Joseph Heath on critical studies:

A long time ago, Habermas wrote a critical essay on Foucault, in which he accused him of “cryptonormativism.” The accusation was that, although Foucault’s work was clearly animated by a set of moral concerns, he refused to state clearly what his moral commitments were, and instead just used normatively loaded vocabulary, like “power,” or “regime,” as rhetorical devices, to induce the reader to share his normative assessments, while officially denying that he was doing any such thing. The problem, in other words, is that Foucault was smuggling in his values, while pretending he didn’t have any. A genuinely critical theory, Habermas argued, has no need for this subterfuge, it should introduce its normative principles explicitly, and provide a rational defence of them.

Cryptonormativism is everywhere, claiming the moral high ground on bases ultimately so obscure they can’t be challenged. It travels well with its companion–the image of the  secular “liberal” as high social status versus the low social status “conservative.”

I would add to the hypothesis the creation of false concepts. Not only are we limited, in Orwellian fashion, from naming and identifying useful concepts for understanding society and our world, we are loaded up with false ones that cause misunderstanding of it–racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia…more every day.

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