Has this ever happened to you?
You hear of some half-baked new government proposal, a proposal which you know is fundamentally wrong, which is being promoted to either placate some elite lobby or attack a political opponent. It’s a policy that is unethical, unsustainable, ludicrous, unnecessary. It attacks deeply cherished values. You point out how unwholeome, unwarranted, unethical, how unbelievable, how unscrupolous the measure is.
Then you hear it …
“Construct … your argument is based on/presupposing/predicating a construct.”
Or at least that is what it feels like when the seemingly reasonable arguments you’ve been making have been termed artificial. Some one – either because they are ideologically liberal-leftist or because they want to get back to playing Pokemon – throws the construct accusation out there. As an example, I have argued here and in many other places that family is important for a political community. Its vital for there to at least be the ideal of a Mother and Father raising children. Many people dispute that. They say family is a ‘construct.’ I am forcing and superimposing a fanciful ideal.
The effect of labelling something a construct is that of declaring it illegimate. A construct is unnatural. Manmade. Imposed by power structures. A construct is illogical. Has no basis. Serves the system. Must be got rid of. A construct is unhealthy. Stifling. Rigid. Biased.
By contrast, the ‘new’ is liberating, exhilirating … it breaks through the construct. The walls come a-tumbling. The new is all-embracing and spirited. And most of all its natural.
So a lot hinges on this two-syllable word. However, if you are an old curmodgeonly traditionalist like me, don’t panic.
First it is a fact that we construct things. This originates possibly in our hearts or in our heads, and obviously comes as well through our senses. We notice something, we may notice a pattern, we may even feel something. For instance I see red, four legged, bushy tailed creatures, shin high and I call this class of creatures ‘foxes.’ These are what I term ‘real constructs.’
Then there are what I will term ‘fictional constructs.’ These are pure mental states. They are often used in science. For example, Newtons First Law where a body travels with set acceleration until acted upon by another body is a fictional construct. Adam Smith’s barter theory is a fictional construct. They are idealised assumptions basically.
Now the startling thing about many of those who cry ‘construct’ at the necessary real constructs is that they themselves are wedded to fictional constructs. Going back to our example, we can see that family is a real construct. Concepts and definitions may not be wholly accurate, and there might be an odor of the mythical, but it’s observable that there are human formations bound by blood of vast social benefit which we loosely term ‘family.’
On the other hand, the sort of people who critique the family have ideals which are highly fictional and speculative. They believe that humans can ultimately live as completely free individuals, whose choices are not subject to the viccissitudes of power and circumstance. The family is a ‘construct.’ It holds us back, they say. But from what? A wholly fictional construct.
Do real constructs serve the interests of power and are they rigid? Well there must be powerful people and there have to be rules. Again, one can see though that the question is framed as one of a real vs. fictional construct. How can there be a world without power? How can there be a world without rules? These are all fictions. All you can accuse a real constructivist of is dabbling in realities.
But fictional constructs are new? Indeed, and that is why they are perfect. They have never been tested. Real constructs have gone ‘through the ringer.’ They have been selected and adapted because they are real. By contrast, fictional constructs pop out of someone’s head and these types of people are often the most stubborn and least willing to listen to new evidence.
So I hope that next time you are hit over the head with that dreaded word ‘construct’ you will at least have the basis for an understanding of how to point out who is more artificial.