Monday, 2 July 2012

Bad faith? Not quite.


I’ve been casting around for a good word to describe something we all know very well, but don’t seem to sum up as a single word. I want a word to describe how a range of people accept a flaky consensus, but from a spectrum of motives.
  • The sheep meekly accept the consensus without analysing it.
  • The charlatans promote the consensus out of self-interest.
These aren't two modes of behaviour, but a spectrum of acceptance with two extremes and lots of nuances. Only those who challenge the consensus analyse it honestly, everything else is promotion.

Bad faith is a good phrase for the motives driving some of the consensus-pushers, but not for the full spectrum of motives. Some people accept a really flaky consensus in good faith either because they haven’t done the analysis competently or they have a biddable nature. 

Biddable is good and quite wide in its application, as are docile, orthodox, compliant and acquiescent. It isn’t at all difficult to find words for the sheep-like end of the spectrum, but I want a word to bring out the bad faith that keeps a flaky consensus going.

Spinoza used the word assent, which is quite close to what we actually do, but doesn’t have anywhere near enough negative baggage because it doesn’t bring in bad faith. So all in all, I don’t think there is a really good word.

I also think there is a reason why not.

If there was a good word, we’d be able to describe and analyse any dubious consensus much more easily. In other words, deficiencies in our language make it is easier for societies to coalesce around myths, which may be very necessary where there are no good alternatives. Social cohesion has survival advantages over analysing myths honestly.

So our assent to a flaky consensus is social glue - we are stuck with it.

Sorry about the pun though.


James Higham said...


Demetrius said...


Anonymous said...

I agree there is a lacuna here - probably for the reason you suggest. Confucius he say "The corruption of society begins with the failure to call things by their proper names". May I suggest 'barristerly'.

A K Haart said...

James - you and your acronyms. Is that the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (:

Demetrius - we usually are, yes.

Roger - barristerly maybe, although when I read that, it occurred to me that 'narrative' has some of the flavour too.