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.

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