clichés of some society or social
1. The majority of the people speaks and reasons in terms
of the jargon and clichés of the day, that
embody the popular illusions and
fallacies of the day, and
partially pretend and partially believe that these are true and
important, and how one should speak and think.
What Byron said about England holds in
general for any society, for reasons explained below:
"The grand primum mobile of England is cant; cant political, cant
poetical, cant religious, cant moral, but always cant, multiplied
through all the varieties of life."
Dr. Johnson had the following realistic counsel, seeing that it may
be difficult not to speak cant:
"Sir, clear your mind of cant!".
Those who cannot give clear evidence that they can do so, have given
clear evidence they cannot think rationally.
2. There are two main reasons for its prevalence in society: stupidity and
conformism. Especially the last is interesting:
People indulge in cant to indicate they belong and wish to belong. When they
offer a cant phrase, the subtext is: Let you and me pretend we are part of the
same society by exchanging some of its current cant.
It should be noted that this may be considered as a kind of acting as if
and playing, but that it differs from the same in children, in that children
know they act as if and play, say, cowboys and indians, and know what it is to
But there is usually, for ordinary people, concerning most subjects, nothing
but cant: They don't have anything better or different in the situation and
about the subject than the cant they offer; what they offer is the normal cant
of the day in their group; they offer it to signify they belong socially to that
group of Us, like dogs and hyena's offer their
group-smell; and they know they pretend, but because they don't have any
alternative but pretending and because what they pretend is what is currently in
their social environment the fashion, they don't want to admit they pretend,
except if such an admission is a piece of common cant as well (as may happen:
"Poor Humble Sinner That I Am").
To be a phoney, that is to be a well-behaved canting
conformist, is the only way
ordinary people can be
social, in an ordinary public of their social equals or superiors. Moreover, and
conversely: Ordinary people understand being social as being a phoney, as acting
as if, as pretending and keeping up each other's pretences.
This is also part of the secret of role-models, advertising etc. - these
encode and communicate the "How Things Should Be And Seen To Be" of
folks, that teach how one should appear to be in kinds of situations to be
counted by all that belong to We that one is one of
For ordinary folks, including their politicians and
priests, being social is
being a public phoney and consists mostly in conspicuous canting, to show one
belongs and knows what it seems like to be one of Us,
and to demonstrate who keeps up the proper pretences.
3. Next, there is another side to this canting
conformism: Ordinary people ordinarily know they cant, but they often
also generate a kind of emotion belonging to the cant. These emotions too are
cant, or make-belief, but they nevertheless motivate.
One good example is wherever a political or religious leader speeches publicly
to some of his followers: For them it is good form to act as if they are
enthused and instructed, and to act as if they feel so. And indeed, motivated as
they are then they may go into some war.
The psychology is somewhat like this: "I know I am pretending, but the end I
am pretending for is - I maintain - a noble one, and thus my pretending is noble
and must be taken serious, and indeed honored. And anyway, the majority of the
We I belong to do so too and feel just the same
- so I would be considered crazy if I would not be like one of
Us." ("If in Rome, do as the Romans do" - if among
cannibals do as the cannibals do.)
4. And here is an analysis in
LPA of canting and its uses:
(1) aD(F'a) & aB(F'a --> Fa)
(2) aC(Fa) & aD(bBFa --> ~bA~F'a)
To start with, one desires to be in state F' and believes that if one is,
then one is in state F. Therefore, one tries to be in state F and desires
everyone who believes one is, not to assert that one is not in state F'.
In short, this is exactly like the case of the emperor without clothes, in
principle. Note aD(bBFa --> ~bA~F'a) IFF aD~(bBFa & ~bA~F'a), and that what a
desires of b is external conformism.
In the above formulas, the F represents cant, and the F' is a supposedly
desirable state of a - that often is ideological and about
leaders: Say a's
beliefs that Marx was a great genius who discovered the laws of necessary
historical development. The corresponding F might be: a is a tireless worker for
the Party and often tells his comrades how great a man Comrade
Stalin is. (I
take an example of the past to make things clearer.)
Note also that a much stronger form than (2) often does not obtain
with real cant:
(3) aC(Fa) & aD(bBFa --> bBF'a)
This is deception, but the point of cant and social hypocrisy is not
deceiving each other but keeping up the pretences: Part of the
game is that the others should not assert publicly that they are not deceived,
whatever they really think.
Furthermore, the canting is, for ordinary minds, truly social behavior,
and rather like étiquette and polite manners: Well-behaved
ordinary minds speak
the cant of their day, with pride, and out of conformism, and use their canting
to indicate they want to be counted as well-behaved conformist ordinary
minds - which then is indeed what they are, whatever they really believe about
the cant by which they prove this.
Finally, cant has the pleasant property, for
that one is not contradicted, by ordinary minds: To contradict the common cant
of the day is to be socially deviant, improper or gauche, and is definitely bad
form, according to the ordinary conformist's understanding and sense of
proprieties. For the ordinary mind to deny or question the current cant is
immoral and improper.