More Secondhandedness Examples

More examples of secondhandedness thoughts/questions (with links) contrasted with rational/reality-oriented thoughts/questions.

Also, for a long form analysis of a great example of second-handedness, read this whole post.

Secondhanded thought Better thought
You shouldn’t claim you’re the best philosopher; you might be proven wrong and embarrassed. I’d love to be proven wrong and learn about someone better than me.†
I should post a bunch of candid moments of my children on Facebook because they’re cute and people will like them. Is getting Facebook likes a good goal? And does my child have any right to privacy?
I want it to appear to others that I am a fast learner.  I want to actually learn stuff quickly and well.
Am I an imposter or fraud, despite being recognized as a successful person? Am I objectively good at what I do?
Will other people judge me for not learning FI? Would learning FI serve my life and values?
What solution to this programming problem does the interviewer want? What solution to this programming problem would work?
Am I coming off as weird or autistic in continuing to talk about this topic? Do I want to continuing to talk about this topic?
Do some prestigious people say Ayn Rand and Sam Harris have similar ideas? Are the ideas of Sam Harris and Ayn Rand actually similar?

†Elliot Temple, in a July 2, 2013 Fallible Ideas email, subject line “Psychology of a Pretzel” (no longer directly linkable online because Yahoo took down its archives), said “I’d be fucking thrilled. If someone could prove me wrong, I would learn something and thank them. And it’d be something particularly useful. Please tell me who is better that I missed. I will read their stuff and get in touch with them. That’d be amazing.” 🙂

Vague Standards & Second-handedness

If you’re unclear or vague about what your standard of evaluating something is, that can make it easier to act in second-handed ways while denying to yourself that that’s what you are doing.

People typically don’t want to admit they’re just trying to pander to others. Objectivism is particularly strong and clear on the issue of second-handedness, but it being a bad idea to live for the approval of others is a common enough idea in mainstream culture. Being vague on how they are judging things can help people to live a life of pandering.

Below is a list of vague standards, the second-handed standard that the vague standard may be hiding, and an alternative standard of evaluating things that’s more focused on objective value and on what an individual person might want for themselves.

One thing I thought of while writing the “Second-handed standard” descriptions was that other people don’t actually “think” and “consider” their second-handed opinions in the full and proper meaning of those words. It’s like Toohey said: “A world where the thought of each man will not be his own, but an attempt to guess the thought in the brain of his neighbor who’ll have no thought of his own but an attempt to guess the thought of the next neighbor who’ll have no thought—and so on, Peter, around the globe.” The process he’s describing isn’t really thinking or considering. I’m not sure how else to describe what’s happening though.

Vague standard Second-handed standard Alternative standard
A nice place to live A place others will approve of & think is appropriate A place that I’ll like and that is near things I care about
A nice meal A meal that will impress others and appear “fancy” A meal that I will enjoy and that is within my budget
A desirable partner A partner whose is considered attractive and of appropriate social station by others A partner who shares my values and interests
A good school A school with a name that will impress people who hear it and cause them to think I’m smart A school with excellent teachers in the field I want to study
A notable author An author who other people consider noteworthy An author whose writings and ideas are worthy of note according to my own judgment
A good book A book that other people say is good A book that I think is good based on my own judgment
A good career A career that will impress other people and be considered respectable A career that I love doing
A fun time A way of spending time that everyone else said is fun A way of spending time that I considered fun
A good man A man considered to be good according to conventional standards A man I consider good according to my own standards

UPDATE: I should note that a proximate cause of this post was this Brittany Venti video where she criticizes euphemistic language that people use to describe selling online pornography (or what she considers prostitution). I thought she had a good point in that people describe pornographic photos as “just photos” and drop the context of what they’re photos of and the nature of the satisfaction the photos are providing. They would feel more negatively about the “photos” if they stated the full context, but by keeping their mind fuzzy they can lie to themselves about the nature of the activity they’re participating in/endorsing.

The Fountainhead Scene Analysis: Costume Ball

The Fountainhead:

That winter the annual costume Arts Ball was an event of greater brilliance and orginality than usual. Athelstan Beasely, the leading spirit of its organization, had had what he called a stroke of genius: all the architects were invited to come dressed as their best buildings. It was a huge success.

Success by what standard? Presumably, by the standard of getting socially notable people to attend and have “fun”. By the standard of getting talked about as an “event”. So it was a success by second-handed standards, which is pretty much the only standard that an event like that could have. People weren’t going to the event to objectively evaluate costume quality and design, or to talk about or learn about architecture, or anything of substance, but only to see and be seen.

Some types of events- like costume galas where people come to make light of their life’s work – are inherently corrupt and only about social/second-handed stuff. Other types of events could theoretically be more worthwhile – like a conference on technical issues related to your profession. Even those types of things, IRL, tend to wind up being much more about social interaction and networking than about learning anything.

Peter Keating was the star of the evening. He looked wonderful as the Cosmo-Slotnick Building. An exact papier-mâché replica of his famous structure covered him from head to knees; one could not see his face, but his bright eyes peered from behind the windows of the top floor, and the crowning pyramid of the roof rose over his head; the colonnade hit him somewhere about the diaphragm, and he wagged a finger through the portals of the great entrance door. His legs were free to move with his usual elegance, in faultless dress trousers and patent-leather pumps.

The reference to “faultless dress trousers” reminded me of “conservative” New York Times writer David Brooks being really impressed by Obama’s pants:

That first encounter is still vivid in Brooks’s mind. “I remember distinctly an image of–we were sitting on his couches, and I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant,” Brooks says, “and I’m thinking, a) he’s going to be president and b) he’ll be a very good president.”

People are really impressed by that sort of thing. Keating knows that, and is playing effectively to the crowd with his clothes. (Tangentially, I think the reference to “patent-leather pumps” is a reference to something like a court shoe or opera pump described here. I was a bit curious since “patent-leather pumps” didn’t really map to anything for me in the context of men’s footwear, so I researched it a bit).

Back to The Fountainhead:

Guy Francon was very impressive as the Frink National Bank Building, although the structure looked a little squatter than in the original, in order to allow for Francon’s stomach; the Hadrian torch over his head had a real electric bulb lit by a miniature battery. Ralston Holcombe was magnificent as a state capitol, and Gordon L. Prescott was very masculine as a grain elevator. Eugene Pettingill waddled about on his skinny, ancient legs, small and bent, an imposing Park Avenue hotel, with horn-rimmed spectacles peering from under the majestic tower. Two wits engaged in a duel, butting each other in the belly with famous spires, great landmarks of the city that greet the ships approaching from across the ocean.

Nobody in this scene seems to have an attitude to their work consistent with answering the question “When did you decide to become an architect?” with “When I was ten years old”, as Roark does to Cameron earlier in the novel.

Everybody had lots of fun.

Why? Because they got to socialize, see and be seen, and maybe most importantly, not take themselves or their work or their lives seriously.

Many of the architects, Athelstan Beasely in particular, commented resentfully on Howard Roark who had been invited and did not come.

Athelstan Beasely is the person who organized the Ball and came up with the costume idea. Why is Beasley resentful? I think there are two reasons. The first is that by not showing up to the event, Roark has socially slighted Beasley. (As Lillian Rearden says of Francisco d’Anconia in Atlas Shrugged, “It’s a nuisance if he comes, and a social black mark if he doesn’t.”) The second is that by refusing to participate in the whole building costume ball thing, Roark implies that he takes his work seriously – more seriously than the people who do participate, which “insults them by implication” (to quote Toohey in another context).

They had expected to see him dressed as the Enright House.

Given that they had that expectation, the costume ball people don’t really “get” Roark, do they? 🙃