Ockham’s Toolbox

August 16, 2012 § 28 Comments

William of Ockham is famously the father of nominalism. In rough terms, nominalism denies the existence of universals or essences. As a result of its denial of essences, nominalism holds that words don’t refer to real categories but are really just arbitrary names that we assign to buckets of things that we want to group together for the sake of convenience.

Don’t expect it to make sense when you try to puzzle it out, because it doesn’t. Anti-essentialism never makes sense; but folks do adopt an anti-essentialist pose for all sorts of reasons.

The nominalists are wrong, but that doesn’t mean that every single word absolutely and necessarily refers to an essence. Not All Words Are Like That (NAWALT). As human beings we can name things: we can make up a word and assert that when we use it, we are referring to this collection of things; and we can do that whenever we like as a matter of convenience. That’s what makes nominalism seem so plausible in the first place (when it does), even though it ultimately degrades into nonsense. Sometimes a given word really is a bucket or holding place that we invent to conveniently refer to some collection of things, like tools, for example. And that is how, it seems, many pro-Game Christians would like us to understand the word “Game”: as an arbitrary collection of social “tools” from which we can select what is compatible with Christianity and reject what is not.

But if “Game” is really just a collection of amoral tools, and the tools used by pickup artists (PUAs) and the tools used by good Christian men are not the same set of tools (though there may be overlap), it raises the question of why Christians would want to use the term “Game” to refer to the tools in their toolbox. Presumably there are things Christian men ought to do in order to have rightly-ordered relationships with women which are not in the PUA’s toolbox. The fact that the contents of the toolboxes may have some superficial overlap is hardly a justification for using the same label that PUAs use, since that label-sharing can only lead to confusion and endless semantic haggling (see the combox, NSFW). Selecting the term “Game” for the Christian man’s toolbox creates an unnecessary connection between what Christian men ought to do and what pickup artists in fact do. So “Game nominalist” Christians, or GameNom’s as I will call them, really ought to come out against using the term “Game” for the advice they dispense to Christian men. They may well have learned a few things from pickup artists — stopped clocks are right twice a day and all — but creating that PUA association can only marginalize and harm a genuinely Christian antifeminism, in my view.

On the other hand, maybe the GameNom’s are wrong and there really is an essence to this thing called “Game”. If that is the case though then the claims that “Game” is an arbitrary toolbox filled with amoral tools with which a Christian can do good, is false. Particular tools cannot be added or taken away at will, because they all share some essence. Once Game has an essence it can be criticized as a thing with an essence, and all the protests against defining Game as a set of PUA tools are empty: Game is a set of PUA tools to dishonestly manipulate women because that is its essence.

In summary: if “Game” for Christians is just an arbitrary collection of social tools for Christian men, we ought to label it with some other name. On the other hand if “Game” has an essence then it is subject to an essentialist critique, and the “toolbox” and “semantics” protests reflect a misunderstanding of the nature of the problem.

UPDATE:
Looks like the PUAs are the essentialists and the (pro “Game”) Christians are the nominalists. That pretty much seals the deal right there.

§ 28 Responses to Ockham’s Toolbox

  • Chris says:

    Ah, but are you a hard Platonist or a soft Platonist?

    Let us, for a second, consider that there may be some essential truth in the observations of the Gamesters. The clock is not correct because it is stopped but their model correlates with reality, and their advice is congruent (it mirrors) the advice given to pre-postmodern women about avoiding cads and going for men who have substance.

    We would then have a couple of more subtle questions. How much does this model explain the phenomena we see? If something changed, can this model predict what would happen? Does this work better than other models (Say Feminism, or the catholic theology of romance, which I am sure exists ).

    The second question is if this is moral and good. For instance, you cah have a model and discussion about demonology and the occult as a form of defense against the dark arts or as a practitioner. Now, the first may not be moral, or may be moral (but we avoid because we are sqeamish). The second is not moral.

    Now I would argue that the Solomonic model of sexual relationships — which can be gleaned from Proverbs and Song of Solomon — is more congruent with reality (and a hell of a lot more politically incorrect) than Game model. But that is testable. As would be, that game predicts behaviour better than feminism.

    (You can probably gather from this that I take a position fairly close to objectivism — some things are real and true, and some things are not. I ain’t a nominalist. Using evolutionalry psychology or game model to manipulate stupid women into taking their knickers off is just as immoral as the seducers in Les Liaisons Dangereux , pseudosicentific jargon or even correct description of mechanisms notwithstanding).

  • Dalrock says:

    I wouldn’t confuse difficulty in finding a solid definition with proof that something doesn’t exist. The term slut has been somewhat malleable over time. Feminists like to screech “Just how many partners make a woman a slut!”, and if you can’t show them a universally accepted rule they deem there to be no such thing; slut away ladies! One could say the same about the word coward (which I have argued is the closest male equivalent to the pejorative slut). The Spartans would have had a much lower threshold to deem a man a coward than we would today. Likewise past generations would have a much lower threshold of promiscuity to deem a woman a slut. Likewise the definition of obscenity, with the famous SCOTUS quip “I know it when I see it”.

  • Chris:
    Ah, but are you a hard Platonist or a soft Platonist?

    Heh. I wouldn’t want to get too sidetracked, and I think that the essentialist-nominalist distinction works without further atomization here. But as far as my personal philosophy goes, from my perspective present-day Aristotlean-Thomists adopt an antiessentialist pose on certain questions. That hints at what a hard case I am.

    The clock is not correct because it is stopped but their model correlates with reality, …

    Well, a quibble: the stopped clock analogy works precisely because a stopped clock correlates with reality twice a day. It would be a fair point to suggest that the clock doesn’t know it is right when it is right, and doesn’t think it is right at those times it is wrong, while PUAs really do understand some contrary-to-feminism reality and really don’t understand other contrary-to-feminism parts of reality. But then we are into epistemology, agency, etc not mere correspondence.

    Still, I am muddling over a parable I’ll try to put into a post which expresses the issues less abstractly. Suffice to say here that I sympathize with the GameNom position – that is, Game as a grab-bag of true antifeminist observations swiped from PUAs – but I think as a matter of praxis Christians ought not call their prescriptive antifeminism “Game,” for reasons stated in the post.

    (You can probably gather from this that I take a position fairly close to objectivism — some things are real and true, and some things are not. I ain’t a nominalist. Using evolutionalry psychology or game model to manipulate stupid women into taking their knickers off is just as immoral as the seducers in Les Liaisons Dangereux , pseudosicentific jargon or even correct description of mechanisms notwithstanding).

    We are not far apart, then, and may only differ on the meta-level question of what naming conventions Christians ought and ought not use, and why.

  • Dalrock:
    I wouldn’t confuse difficulty in finding a solid definition with proof that something doesn’t exist.

    The suggestion though isn’t “Game doesn’t exist”.

    Suppose I take, say, a fedora hat, a bicycle, a frog, white lies, petting a dog, kicking a cat, the feeling you get when you see a spectacular landscape, and the number seven. I’ll put them in a set and call them “zipcrap” just as a convenience. Then I say to you, “Hey Dalrock, you can take from zipcrap what you want and leave what you don’t want. Zipcrap is morally neutral in itself: you can use it for good or for evil.”

    There isn’t anything inherently invalid about doing that, and to point out what is taking place isn’t to suggest that all those things don’t exist: that is what makes nominalism so appealing.

    Still, I think my post may have been too abstract, and I probably need to come up with a more concrete way to express it.

    The term slut has been somewhat malleable over time.

    That is true, but that doesn’t mean that it lacks an essence. I suggest that “slut” is a kind of sorites (basically a sand pile), where the grains of sand are partner counts. One might argue that a woman with slutty aspirations is a slut, but I don’t think that works: if she hasn’t actually succeeded in becoming a slut, she can reform without actually becoming a slut. Yet there is no subtracting from actual partner counts without a time machine: a reformed slut is still a reformed slut.

    Cultural perceptions of and responses to sand piles may vary, but a sand pile is a sand pile is a sand pile.

  • Dalrock says:

    In case you are curious, Brendan has written a fascinating definition of what makes a slut here. My only quibble is that he is making it sex/gender neutral, when slut as a concept is very much not gender neutral (same for the term coward). Still, one could substitute the word promiscuous and his definition works very well. Conceptually it also fits with the biblical view of sexual morality, which almost noone (including Christians) actually holds today.

  • From the link:

    A slut is someone who has an instrumental view of sexuality — that is, one who views sex in a hedonistic way for the most part. A person with this mentality towards sex will not link sex with marriage exclusively, because the view of sex is distorted and based on hedonic elements which we all know can well occur outside of marriage as well. That is, sex is about two (or more) human beings collaborating physically to bring each other sexual pleasure, and this is a “good” in and of itself as long as ‘enthusiastic consent’ is present. That is an instrumental/hedonist view of sexuality, and is the sine qua non of being a slut.

    I tend to demure precisely because this attempts to remove the objective nature of the thing and turn it into some purely internal, subjective thing. As a purely subjective thing it becomes part of an internal universe over which one has absolute power: one may have been a slut for twenty years but in an plenary act of the will one can become not-a-slut.

    I don’t think that’s the way reality works. The things we have done have objective consequences, and we can’t will those consequences away. I have a long history of arguing against a “this-wordly time machine” conception of forgiveness, and I think that applies here. A forgiven slut is not now magically a born-again virgin: she is a forgiven slut.

  • johnmcg says:

    I guess one way to think of it is to imagine there was a branch of martial arts that, contrary to others I’m aware of that are mostly about self-defense, was devoted to attack. It used pieces of knowledge about human physiology and basic mechanics to develop a series of offensive maneuvers that can be used to disable, maim, or kill, an adversary.

    Now, it’s possible this same knowledge could be used for defensive reasons, and a separate defense-minded martial arts program could be developed based on this same knowledge.

    However, if this other branch was marketed using the same name as the attack-based program, it would lead me to seriously question whether it was truly about self-defense.

    If the “Game” is to be rescued from the PUA community (and I’m still not convinced it should be), It seems to me what is needed is a name one step above in the hierarchy, to capture a name for the knowledge about human behavior that Game leverages, and this is also used in the techniques Darlock advocates should be used in the context of a Christian marriage.

    So long as it is linked by name to tactics used by PUA’s, those who do not aspire to be PUA’s will continue to be skeptical of it.

  • Tom K. says:

    There’s also the famous Scotus quip, “I know it when I see two.”

  • Dalrock says:

    @johnmcg
    Now, it’s possible this same knowledge could be used for defensive reasons, and a separate defense-minded martial arts program could be developed based on this same knowledge.

    However, if this other branch was marketed using the same name as the attack-based program, it would lead me to seriously question whether it was truly about self-defense.

    Are you suggesting that Christian husbands must only passively (or reactively) lead, and never actively lead? If so, then the assertive tools of game would then be off the table. However I don’t see why this would be the case.

    It is true that much (perhaps most) of game is about the man taking the initiative to lead, but it is not true that it is all “attack”. One of the most essential game concepts for husbands is the concept of the “fitness test”. In this case the wife is actually manipulating the husband, and the husband’s job is to spot the test and “pass” it by failing to comply. Fitness tests can take on different forms, some of them are quite subtle but the most obvious ones are emotion based irrational demands. Husbands who comply with these demands from their wives typically find doing so only makes the wife more furious. Contrary to conventional wisdom, standing up to the full force of her fury is what will result in both her satisfaction and increased attraction to her husband. Vox Day has a post discussing this here, and there is a very good post from “Dave from Hawaii” on Roissy’s blog here. Note that those posts use a less polite term than “fitness”, but they are talking about the same thing. If you only look at one, see the Dave from Hawaii post because what he describes resonates with nearly every husband who reads it. The Vox Day post describes the experience from the woman’s perspective.

  • It may be worth pointing out that Dalrock is very pro “Beta” and anti “Alpha” (or maybe “beta realist” and “alpha realist” are better terms; but they come to the same thing). If we stipulate the categories and concepts being used, he’s on the home team. And the concepts may not be rocket science but they do have some validity: I think “fitness tests” are very real, especially in the first few years of a marriage, and stipulating that it is a statistical rather than universal concept.

    When I got my MBA probably at least a third of the educational process involved taking fairly obvious common sense concepts and codifying and organizing them in a way that makes it possible to deliberately, strategically and tactically, manage people and their behavior. The reason you see very few analytic philosophers with MBA’s is that analytic philosophers by their nature have little patience for that kind of fruity ambiguous stuff. But the thing is, learning and applying it really can work. I see Christian “Game” in a similar light (though for reasons already stated I don’t think we ought to call it “Game”).

    Men in general tend not to think about, plan, and execute our plans in our relationships the way we do in other areas of our lives. This natural tendency is made worse by the fact that virtually all of the “relationship advice” peddled these days – including Christian advice – is fem-centric Oprahrrhea claptrap. So mostly we just ignore it and get on with the things we do understand in our lives. In the modern world that can be and often is a recipe for disaster. So while I’m far from on board with all of the concepts, terminology, associations etc. of the Christian “manosphere” I do think bloggers like Dalrock are doing important work. He’s trying to provide men with a high school diploma in relationships, or at least in the part of relationships about which the modern world tells lies, lies, and more lies.

  • johnmcg says:

    To me, “Game” has come to mean a series of techniques to use to manipulate women into having casual sexual encounters. Maybe this is unfair, but I suspect most people familiar with the term would have a similar general sense.

    This turns me off for two reasons:

    1.) I do not want casual sexual encounters.
    2.) I do not want relationships based on the manipulative behaviors I have practiced; I want them to be based on the person I am.

    Thus, relationship strategies that nod to Game will need to overcome some serious skepticism from me.

    I do not dispute that Game is based on sound insights. I do not dispute that those insights can be leveraged in a more ethical manner than PUA techniques.

    I do suggest that clinging to the “Game” title suggests that this is about more than men filling their rightful role as spiritual leaders of their families.

    In the same way, if a group of traditional women wanted to “reclaim” the term feminism to refer to being truly authentic women who embrace their role as wives, and used the word “feminism” in their name, I suspect you would be skeptical. Why would they name themselves after a movement that has brought about so much harm?

    Are you suggesting that Christian husbands must only passively (or reactively) lead, and never actively lead?

    I’m not sure what I wrote that would lead to that conclusion. Here is the analogy I was trying to make:

    Attack :: Most martial arts disciplines = Manipulation for casual sex :: Christian husbands.

    Most martial arts disciplines would not want to be associated with one that stressed attack.

    In the same way, I don’t think Christian husbands should want to be associated with a movement that’s about manipulating women to get casual sex.

  • I agree John: I resist attempts to define “good Game” for much the same reasons I resist attempts to define “good feminism”: such attempts never seem to fully and unequivocally separate the wheat from the chaff, and I guess I’m too “alpha” or “sigma” or some Greek letter or other to put up with the bullshit.

  • Dalrock says:

    Use Game or don’t. I’m not really invested in your choice. What troubles me is that 99% of Christian men and women have thrown out biblical marriage because it is “sexist”, and not “modern”. What this really means is it violates their primary faith, which is feminism. Then they reject Game because it isn’t from the Bible, and they don’t go for all of that new fangled stuff. The second position is great so long as it isn’t combined with the first. When combined with the first it is simply rationalization to keep their feminist faith while pretending to follow the Bible. I don’t know either of you and I’m not saying you are having it both ways. But if you aren’t having it both ways, I have a large amount of confidence that you stand out like a sore thumb amongst nearly all other Christians you interact with.

  • I don’t think it is a “use Game/don’t use Game” dichotomy. I don’t think John is ruling out doing what works and understanding what is true, including the uglier things that are true, just because some people call some of the wheat “Game”. Fitness tests are real, male headship is in accordance with nature and the Bible while female headship is not, etc. What is at issue is whether Christians should be encouraged to embrace “Christianized Game” in the same way that some are encouraged to embrace “Christianized feminism”. I tend to think not: the fact that proponents of “Christianized feminism” may be right about some things doesn’t mean they should march under that banner. The more they insist on calling their project “Christianized feminism” or some cognate, the more likely they are to fall into error; which is not the same as suggesting that they have nothing important to say.

    I’ll agree that most Christians aren’t like our little corner of the blogosphere though, and reiterate that you are substantially right in your critique of fem-centric Churchianity, etc. On my read the great majority of your posts are critique, and very trenchant critique.

  • johnmcg says:

    I’m probably not as pessimistic as you guys are about the direction things are going in, and probably don’t define male headship the same way you guys do, but I recognize that the current trends have put things in a bad direction, and will continue to do so unless they are confronted forcefully.

    For that to happen, I think there will need to be a critical mass of men (and women) who but in to these observations and have conversations about how to deal with them. I’m not positive the pool of people who share your degree of pessimism about the current state of things, and who don’t recoil at the association with PUA tactics, is deep enough to provide that.

    Now, I suppose that if your pessimism is correct, then before long there will be large cohort of victims of the current regime who will want to rise up against it, and won’t be particularly concerned about the roots of the movement that is doing so.

  • Dalrock says:

    You are right johnmcg. Those who are content with the current trends should feel no motivation to change the approach. In that sense, the system isn’t broken. It is functioning as intended.

  • johnmcg says:

    johnmcg: I recognize that the current trends have put things in a bad direction, and will continue to do so unless they are confronted forcefully.

    Dalrock: Those who are content with the current trends…

    It may also help you if you don’t dismiss those who are not 100% in lock-step with you as “content with the current trends,” and concluding that those who do not join you on your end of the spectrum must be inhabiting the extreme other end of the spectrum.

  • johnmcg says:

    Which leads me to another of my problems with the manosphere…

    On the one hand the message seems to be — you must break free from the Oprahfied vision of what being a man is! Take charge of your life, your family, and your marriage!

    On the other hand, it seems to enforce this rigid orthodoxy on what that must look like. If your marriage doesn’t look a certain way, then it’s not Biblical, you’re not fulfilling your role as spiritual head of your family,and you generally don’t get it, you’re still taking the (whatever color corresponds to self-delusion) pill, etc.

    In essence, I feel like I’m being asked to trade one set of masters for another.

  • Dalrock says:

    Fair point johnmcg. I should have chosen my words better. Large numbers of Christians are quite satisfied with the status quo, but it was unfair of me to suggest that you might be among them.

    But I do wonder what you mean by pessimistic. 40% of US children are now born out of wedlock, and that number is growing rapidly. Add in the kids whose parents divorce after they are born and the majority of kids born today are very likely to be growing up without a father. At what point should Christians sound the alarm? Just in the last 10 years there has been a major shift in the age of marriage, etc. What we have tried for the last 40 years has been a creeping disaster, and sadly almost all of it has been given moral cover by Christians.

  • John:
    On the other hand, it seems to enforce this rigid orthodoxy on what that must look like.

    Well, in fairness, and keeping in mind that I’m a total noob, Sigma-masculine traits seem to be as much admired as Alpha-masculine traits. And Sigma-masculine traits boil down to “he does whatever he chooses and doesn’t give a crap what everyone else thinks, basically laughing under his sleeve at all the ridiculous peacocking self-deluded Alphas”.

    I have to say that I can relate to that pretty strongly.

  • Dalrock says:

    @johnmcg
    Which leads me to another of my problems with the manosphere…

    On the one hand the message seems to be — you must break free from the Oprahfied vision of what being a man is! Take charge of your life, your family, and your marriage!

    On the other hand, it seems to enforce this rigid orthodoxy on what that must look like. If your marriage doesn’t look a certain way, then it’s not Biblical, you’re not fulfilling your role as spiritual head of your family,and you generally don’t get it, you’re still taking the (whatever color corresponds to self-delusion) pill, etc.

    The manosphere is a big place with a wide range of competing and often contradictory opinions. With that said, most do fall into one of three categories:

    1) Ditch the half Oprah half Christian/Traditional script, avoid marriage and become a player.
    2) Ditch the half Oprah half Christian/Traditional script, take biblical marriage and biblical sexual morality seriously.
    3) Ditch the half Oprah half Christian/Traditional script, and go your own way (MGTOW).

    You can probably guess the common ground as well as which camp I’m in.

    In essence, I feel like I’m being asked to trade one set of masters for another.

    The manosphere message is more to consolidate on one side or the other; stop serving two masters.

  • Mike T says:


    To me, “Game” has come to mean a series of techniques to use to manipulate women into having casual sexual encounters. Maybe this is unfair, but I suspect most people familiar with the term would have a similar general sense.

    That’s a fair initial assessment, but if you think about it, it should generally mean more sexual success period for a man. That includes within the context of a traditional marriage. Most game writers, Roissy in particular, have emphasized that “Game” is to men what makeup, “dressing to attract” and overt displays of femininity are to women who want to meet men.

    (In fact, they often observe that most men are oblivious to “girl game” because it is take for granted that women have to do these things to attract men, but men just need to show up with a good job and cheerful disposition.)

    There is certainly truth in the fear that Christian men would use game to sin, but sex and marriage provide numerous ways for men to fall into dire sin. One of the most common ones that vexes many Protestant denominations is the sin of unlawful remarriage. If you are unlawfully remarried, you are fornicating every night with your “wife” anyway. It might as well be casual sex, aside from whatever spiritual mitigation might come from you earnestly (but ignorantly) believing you are married.

    So it is important to learn how to make one marriage work really, really well because the alternatives just suck.

  • […] the basis of Game would be this sort of superficial but useful model.   “Game” itself, when it has any stable meaning at all, appears to be a set of social prescriptions intended to help a man be perceived as […]

  • […] garbage collector, the pickup artist (PUA).  I’m interested in whether, underneath the rather plastic label “Game”, there are any basic complementarity-of-the-sexes truths of interest to Christian men and women. […]

  • […] theory, not manosphere game theory.   The fact that I have to make that distinction is another strike against the latter use of the term […]

  • […] is necessary in order to take the subject seriously, and that is what the last few posts (here, here, here, here, and here) have been […]

  • […] to the conclusion that I pretty much agree with Zippy on this issue 100%. He really seems spot on. This post pretty much nails what my issue is with the manosphere. Zippy […]

  • […] time to time.  So we should attempt to distinguish between the neg, as a tool in the gnostosexual toolbox of Game, from conversationally ubiquitous backhanded or ambiguous compliments in general.  In […]

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