Saturday, June 8, 2019

The New Racial Epitaphs

It is always unwise to get into race related issues Skin colour is a much overhyped and overly simplistic measure of lineage. The genetic diversity of Africa is significant and simplistic single phenotype measures are naive, even if technically possible via gross statistical considerations.


But, the Carlos Maza Vox'autoritan affair has gotten my blood up. I just hate manipulative bullies. Society's political commentary, as evidenced by any late night talk show, or any mainstream comedy show (like SNL) clearly accept fairly high levels of mockery. Mockery norms clearly include exaggeration of behaviours and affects.  How many OrangeMan jokes have you seen? How much comedy surrounding George Bush's mannerisms and speech have you seen. The mockery of powerful, political, and moral arbiters is an ingrained cultural norm.  Whether it should or not is of course debatable. 17th century Puritans certainly would agree that mockery and most forms of comedy are offensive. But, that may not be the wisest norm to emulate.

Punch-down rationalizations are certainly apt. Pareto distribution laws (or even simple linear scaling) ensures that minorities are unduly effected by by punch-downs.

This week society is confronting the extent to which individual or even identity based trait exaggerations are or aren't representative of society's strongest moral castigations - the various "'ism" sins.


The Carlos Maza affairs highlights the uni-dimensionality of abuse. That evidence is tangential to the interesting dynamic which has emerged. Part of it boils down to whether gay terms are of uni-directional use or not. In other words can only that group, and its well-intentioned allies, be the only ones allowed to use those people's/group's self-identified monikers? This is very reminiscent of the "N" word. I understand the linguistic and group value of uni-directional reclamation of the word - it switches the power dynamics that the word had. Therefore, reverse power over the word, as evidenced by only blacks being able to use it, is a logical way to re-appropriate the term and highly its shameful past and the past it embodied.

I certainly disagree with this approach. But, it is rational.


What the Carlos Maza affair highlights, in conjunction with uni-dimensional epitaphs, is the racialized role of modern ism sins. For example, look at this proud Maza twitter profile

I think there is little doubt that Tucker Carlson, while liberally offensive, is not a white supremacist. You can certainly change the definition of supremacy to include anything that has racialized structural effects, but as we'll soon see the dynamics of how that play out end up supporting the concept of trans-racial epitaphs.

Maza, and MANY others, clearly use the white supremacist term as a racial epitaph. Grammar checker AI 's would certainly flag that term's usage as a derogatory.  That is how it is meant. But, that term is increasingly applied to individuals like Ben Shapiro, Dave Rubin, Candace Owens, etc., who clearly aren't white supremacists. Thus, the term is trans-racial.

But, the term purposefully connotes association to a racialized group's characteristics - true David Duke level bigots.  The para-religious association of these groups with Devil level sin is clear. White supremacist is meant to connote the worst of the worst associations. In that sense it is clearly an epitaph. It is racialized because its content is clearly meant to associate its load with a racial (white KKK) group.

But, you might say, its referential base (white KKK's) does not invoke all whites. This is true. But it is also true that many "black" epitaph referential bases only apply to sub-saharan populations. That does not diminish their racial referential intent. As a racial epitaph these terms are meant to blur sub-population distinctions.  

That is the motte & bailey of "white supremacy term". It leverages all the negative associations of a sub-population, applies it without distinction to a broader population (eg. people's skin colour, which is now trans-racialized skin colour) for very purposeful derisional intents.

I just can't see how Maza's (and other's) use of white supremacy fails to meet all the conditions of a nasty racial epitaph. It is not just a slur, it is a purposeful racial slur. The application of that slur to non-whites and clearly non-KKK's reveals its purpose as a slur. Association with all the negative of a colour based group ensures it is a racialized epitaph.

White Supremacy, when applied to non-KKK folk is clearly as nasty a racial epitaph as any of the other vile race based slurs out there. Uni-dimensionality attempts to enable its application to anyone based on punch up rationales. If youtube and twitter want to censor racial hate, they should consider censoring the pejorative use "white supremacist", "Nazi" and other such slurs.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

When Weak Empires Split

Lately I've been exploring the process of grievance sacralization at the state level. As usual, James Lindsay's tweets make for a great muse...

Do splits in weak empires really tend, over time, to bi-modality?

Off the top of my head, I'd say yes. For example, here's the case studies I looked at the other week, before this idea came up:

  1. Canadian Confederation - Canada should have been a three founding nation state (French, English, First Nations). But, in practice, it ended up being a 2 nation system.
  2. US Confederation - It stated out as a multi-state, multi-ethnic confederacy. Following the war of Independence, it had functionally settled down to a bi-polar arrangement (federalists, statists)
  3. US Great Religious Awakenings - Lots of different sects formed during these cycles. While a couple of radical sects stayed independent (Mormonism, Jehovah witnesses, etc.), most tended to a common Protestant confessional grouping. But Catholicism also represented another pole. You could even argue that Native religion maintained itself as yet another pole.  But, in general, it seems like most of the population was bifurcated between nouveau Protestantism, classic Protestantism, and Catholicism. This disproves the two-way schism model. But, its interesting to note that there was very little violence forcing polarization....
  4. US Civil Rights - This pretty much split the population into two camps. There may have been some moderates, but its doubtful that they really functioned as a cohesive group.
  5. European 16th century War of Religions - This was definitely a bi-modal split. You get lots of different permutations of Protestantism, but things were pretty bi-modal.

The possibility that during weak empire splits, sub-populations split into two and only two groups over time is very interesting.  Inspection suggests this only happens when selection pressure (violence) is significant and the empire is weak. This facilitates grievance sacralization.

But, the possibility of a set social fractal length of 2 is very, very, intriguing.


One possible post facto explanation of this potential fact is that binary division produces the largest possible sub-group size.

For, example, imagine a weak empire splits into 3 groups. Any of these sub-groups would radically increase it's chance of success if it had 1/3+n members.  Thus, over time, it makes sense that divisional gene-cultural practices should favour individuals who express this tendency. 1/2 + n is possible, but it immediately limited by intra-sub-group competition. Thus, 1/3+n solutions should stabilize at 1/2.

I don't think this process should be too hard to model.... I guess I'll have to add another "to do project" to my list...

It would also be very interesting to test this via a historical database.


This suggests a bimodal welled cultural-evolutionary landscape. This implies that people are, to some extent, hardwired for bimodal polarization. This fits common sense experience.

Overtime, oscillations between one hegemon and another increase polarization and select for bi-modality.  The main question is how much pressure and what time frames are required to produce bi-modality?

But what's even more interesting, is that this process may take a multi-moded, segmented weak grouping (divided rule based empire), and via over-reach into a higher level of selection, produce a bifurcated (bi-modal) stable state.

Thus you really can't say the process is clear fission...rather it is an odd sort of "poly-sexual" reproduction fission.  
  1. Multiple populations come together under semi-ordinated control,
  2. They percolate through lots of unifying options, none of which are stable enough for the population's traits (gene-culture co-evolution)
  3. Eventually a meme emerges which is innocuous enough to not immediately get suppressed (because it is hard for elite hegemons to really grasp, but is understandable-enough for the laity, and is amenable to hidden signalling), has sufficient memetic virility, and facilitates intractable conflict via grievance sacralization.
  4. The population splinters. While lots of offspring are produced, environmental processes (resonating around gene-cultural trait expression) produce a two welled landscape (at least over long periods of time in environments with sufficient selection pressure).
  5. Oscillations between old power and new power polarizes the population and, as per 4, selects for the largest sub-group size possible (roughly a 1/2n solution).  The more pressure is present, and the more polarizing the process, the closer things should get to a 1/2n split. Laissez faire moderates may obscure a true 1/2n, 1/2n fission.
  6. Either, A) pluralism emerges, B) two state solution emerges, c) one side or the other trounces the other to the ground.

Relevant quotes from Nexon (pp. 261-264)

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Grievance Sacralization

Looks like the process of how radical movements splinter groups is gaining a bit of interest as of late.

Last month I spent a lot of time looking at whether radical social justice is a religion and came away with the idea that it mainly mirror those dynamics when it is modularized, has a linked, but plausibly denied extremist group whose participation within it can be ritualized into a coming of age process.  Supernaturalism is much less important than transcendent value and the degree of group-to-individual feedback.

This month I decided to look at the dynamics of how these processes went in the past.

A couple of years ago I looked at this in terms of the rise of american religious pluralism in the 18th and 19th centuries via Chris Beneke's excellent book "Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism".  This all tied in with a couple of posts exploring the role of quasi-factual belief

Last year it looks like I even toyed with how progressivism might relate to levels of selection.


James Lindsay's process is basically takes a self-adaptive complex systems perspective. This is reflected in the unstated assumption of zero-sum population / power: one group's development comes at the expense of others. New feature combinations can produce emergent behaviour/properties. These may increase capacity, but competition between groups remains zero-sum, even if zero-sum reasoning gets destabilized for short periods.

Not everyone is so nice...


I think the difference between James' approach and my current approach is the grain of dynamics we're looking at.

From the little I can gleam from his process quote, James seems to be looking more at social psychology and individual actors (as normalized over a population).  This fits very well with a complex system's framing. In this tradition, you're normally looking at how individual actors aggregate into general system class behaviours and structures. I would guess that Lindsay would probably resonate with Kauffman's Santa Fe complexity framing more than he would Prigogine's (continental) dissipative frame.... But I could be wrong. Mathematicians usually like Prigogine's tradition.

Both complex systems based approaches have an idea of "lock in". Prigogine describes this as a series of bifurcations that eventually arrive at a landscape where old possibilities are now constrained.  Thus, I'd suggest Lindsay's logic probably leads to a frame where one is interested in critical agent numbers and irreversible group dogmas.  I could be wrong.

I've been less interesting in the cognitive science - social psychology interface, and more interested in the physics of multi-level selection.  Thus, I've been exploring things from the perspective of what actor tendencies, as expressed in group level scenarios are adaptive over moderate time periods (say hundreds of years - the approximate short-interval of significance for gene-culture co-evolution).  

I do wonder how well the individualistic side of social psychology meshes with meme-based lock-in evolution rates. Memes evolve very quickly. This means you have a hard time making a strong case for any particular core-belief lock-in. You basically have to say our cognitive architecture is such as to favour this class of belief. Alternatively you can say in our environment there are general classes of memes which are likely to remain foundational.  I just think this level of analysis is likely to miss out on the "why" of things.

In effect, by trying to explain why a certain social psych tendency is present, you have to explain it in terms of short time scales and immediate environmental conditions, rather than longer time scales. Longer time scales account for why the risk of genocidal backlash may still be adaptive.  In effect, as you stretch out the time scale of your analysis, the probably of success for any particular rebellion can drop quite low; What matters is general tendencies to higher levels of selection which history shows only need big pay offs every once in a while. For example, 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Grievance Politics: Testing the 1960's as a Possible Sacred Value Based Bifurcation into a Mid-level of Selection

Last post I made a fairly unorthodox speculation that grievance based sacred value creation in weak, divide and rule, weak empire networks function as a tool, less as a tool for between-group competition, and more as a process for mid level of selection stabilization.

This post I will continue the test of this idea's accuracy.  I have not idea what to expect. While the Canadian Confederacy test and US manifest-destiny test proved inconclusive, the US civil war seemed to support the theory.

This speculation emanated from my reading of Nixon's "Struggle For Power in Early Modern Europe" which analyzes the 16th and 17th century European war of religions through a relational network lens.


The 1960's likely represents one iteration of people's regular 50 year moral/religious awakening cycles.  Other major "awakenings" are the ~1900's progressive movement, the 1860's Civil War, the 1820's great religious awakening, etc.

It is hard to consider most western countries during this era as weak empires.  Civil unity tended to be fairly high.  Therefore, there is little chance of accurately testing the grievance politics mid-sized polity stabilization theory. But, it may provide a chance to generalize it by finding out whether the theory is only applicable in weak empires.

Let's assume the civil right's era can largely be characterized by the emergence of equity sacralization. This certainly comes in lots of different forms, but in general, this label seems "right-enough".

The theory proposes that grievances around equity should start to become sacralized, and that:
  • the most successful memes should resonate around intractable grievances,
  • the grievances should polarize the population,
  • grievance dynamics should produce hegemonic concessions,
  • the process should produce groupings which stabilize at mid-levels of selection.
Hindsight tells us that strains of 60's era progressivism do in fact see the world as an irredeemable racist sexist patriarchy. 60's era equality movements left little space for fence sitters. Dividing lines were clear, and grew clearer through the early 70's.

Political conciliations during this time to grievance groups were fairly large. They may not have been as big as some people would have liked, but the benefits now awarded to the main griever classes are certainly bigger now than they were in 1950.


The civil right's era reshaped political party lines. One major change involved the position of Southern Dixie-crats.  But, the civil right's era produced no new polity units.  At best, you have the rise of a media and news-media conglomerate. While an adaptive group, this is no real "polity".  You do see certain inner-city dominated municipalities starting to work together. But, this again stretches the idea of polity.

Was the federal empire too strong to overcome? Is the lack of divide-based governance a deciding factor? Who knows.  Perhaps all that can be said is that grievance based sacred value creation increases the chance for adaptive pay off concessions from hegemons, provided those hegemons are worried about new alliance formation between hitherto disconnected groups.

I don't think there is anyway to say that the civil right's era created a new stable polity level as a result of grievance sacralization.  It appears that a weak empire is needed for this to occur.


The civil right's era does suggest that vertical alignment between multiple layers of government (municipal, state, federal departments) may be the modern incarnation of the 16th century's isolated city-states.  In this sense, the alignment of California sanctuary city-states with California's sanctuary state status may be something to look at. Has the federal government conducted a de-facto divide and rule strategy by playing cities, states and regions off each other?  Has 

Grievance Politics: Testing Bifurcation into a Mid-Level of Selection via US Confederacies

Last post I made a fairly unorthodox speculation that grievance based sacred value creation in weak, divide and rule, weak empire networks function as a tool, less as a tool for between-group competition, and more as a process for mid level of selection stabilization.

This post I will continue the test of this idea's accuracy.  I have not idea what to expect. The Canadian Confederacy test proved inconclusive.

This idea emanated from my reading of Nixon's "Struggle For Power in Early Modern Europe" which analyzes the 16th and 17th century European war of religions through a relational network lens.


Things in the late 1790's in US were a mess. Alan Taylor rightly considers the US war of Independence more akin to a civil war than a rebellion. I previously discussed how that era's moral-political divide dynamics are eerily similar to what we see happening in today's moral-socio-political culture wars.

United States after the war of Independence certainly counts as a weak empire. Special privileges to this state or that group were continually granted in order to stabilize federalization. However, the fed's didn't rule via a divide and conquer process, so the parallels with 16th century Europe are bound to be minimal again.

The civil war and government's push-and-pull of semi-legal westward expansion are probably the best foils.

Manifest Destiny

Manifest destiny might be one "sacred value" which emerged to bifurcate the US population with respect to the process of westward expansion. However, British loyalists, who were the most apt to favour a minimally colonial approach to expansion, were largely expunged during the war of Independence. Thus, manifest destiny didn't emerge in a landscape that was overly ripe for its function as a bifurcating value. Why didn't other, more bifurcatible memes, rise instead?

On this point, I think my mid-level of selection theory fails. It postulates that a dividing sacred value should emerge that would allow adherents to grieve its empire for concessions, and should threaten and facilitate broad based revolution between various separated polities. 

But, one could also argue that the formation of western territories represents the emergence of mid-level polities. Settlements did not develop as competitors to federation. The only exception was the Utah independence threat. This was met by a swift, if ill fated, federal military response. US territories may be a good doppleganger for 17th C German protestant city states...

Territories were able to extract fairly significant concessions from the federal government.  Non-territorialized regions had little influence.

But, I know of few cases of sub-groups whose position against manifest destiny provided them with significant federal concessions. Perhaps some southern slave states and southern slave state counties meet this condition?

Civil War

The civil war involved a combination of federalism vs. state's rights, hierarchy vs. equality (as represented via slavery and caste based governance systems).

If we assume that the federal empire sought popular equality via the minimization of state rights and prevention of caste based elite governance, then southern states are the one to look at for grievance dynamics.  From this lens, southern states wanted concessions that allowed their elite classes to operate with minimal constraints.  Such freedom was certainly inherit, to some degree, in the terms of confederation. Did southern elites expand what confederation envisioned? Probably, but I don't know for sure.

According to my speculative theory, a sacred value should have emerged among the Southern ruling class (extending into the population) which would have rallied around some type of irreconcilable grievance. The vehemence of this grievance's morality should have yielded a variety of concessions from the weak empire and should have gradually created an irreversible process to a mid-level of selection (polity).

A possible grievance may centre around the perceived uniqueness of Southern culture and southern industry.  A variety of sacred values seem to have developed in this regard:
  • radical individual freedom (provided of course you were of the right caste & skin colour)
  • honour culture
  • god given right for unrestricted financial advancement (off the back's of others)
  • the value of lineage (classical dynamism)
  • etc.
This can, of course, be seen as tantamount to Protestant theological permutations (such as Lutheranism, Calvinism, Zwinglianism, etc.). Although, I would question the relative similarity of the degree of group-to-individual feedback. Religion produces much stronger feedback than post rationalized narratives.

But it does seem like the south's entrenchment into sacred value grievances did provide them with a lot of federal concessions. This ticked off quite a few northerners.  Ultimately, it led to an inevitable conflict. Either southern states would become their own polity within a weak federal empire, or federalism would have to choose which side to align itself on. Either choice would result in weak federalism and the emergence of a de facto new mid-level of unity (slave states & abolitionist states). Even the south's defeat in the civil war has done little to diminish the unity and delineations on either side of the Mason-dixon line.  Inter-state immigration has probably been the most significant factor ameloriating here...


It looks as though US civil war supports the theory that grievance politics may ultimately serve as a tool to establish mid-levels of selection within weak empires.  If southern states had not rebelled against the federal empire via sacred value creation, they may well have been assimilated. It provided them lots of concessions prior to civil war. After civil war, southern states remained fairly unified as an adaptive socio-political block.

Ultimately, federalism has won. The south is largely assimilated. But, it is likely than southern sacred values have greatly decreased the rate of assimilation. US federalism's huge adaptive advantages have largely broken down the zero-sum reasoning which underpins the 17th century european religion wars (and likely most of human evolutionary history...)

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Grievance Politics: Testing Canadian Confederation's Possible Bifurcation into a Mid-level of Selection

Last post I made a fairly unorthodox speculation that grievance based sacred value creation in divide and rule, weak empire networks, function less as a tool for between-group competition and more as a process tool to stabilize mid-levels of selection.

This post I want to test to see how accurate this idea may be.  I have not idea what to expect. The idea emanated from my reading of Nixon's "Struggle For Power in Early Modern Europe" which analyzes the 16th and 17th century European war of religions through a relational network lens.

Tests will include

  1. Canadian confederation (1800 - 1867)
  2. US confederation  (1790's to Civil War)
  3. US' ~1820's Great Religious Awakening
  4. US 1960's cultural destabilization (or great moral awakening)

I am no great historian so don't expect any great rigour.


French - English wars were foundational to Canadian North America. Protestant - Catholic divides were pronounced. After the Haudenosaunee confederacy's loss of Upper Canada under Tecumseh, Canadian confederation was functionally between two founding nations, the British which dominated Upper Canada and the French which dominated Lower Canada.

That both Upper and Lower Canada were ruled via weak empires under divisional based governance is uncontroversial. Power, the degree of colonial independence throws a wrench into things. Canada was at a long arm's distance from their central empires. After the US war of Independence, British policy was extremely conciliatory with respect to its Canadian colony. France increasingly left Lower Canada to its own devices.

Wikipedia lists a number of influences leading to Confederation. It also has a rather untrustworthy sounding section on the role of ideology in Confederation.

The major failing of this case for my theory is that French and English Canada represented colonial interests of two very different empires. A Quebecois grievance against the Canadian British would produce no special conciliation from their French empire.

Joint governance was always an unlikely scenario. Despite high tensions between the two colonies' politics and customs, a pluralistic outcome emerged. Britain headed off the US' sacralization of independence via extraordinarily generous concessions and "welfare" pay offs.

What seems to have happened is that as the tensions for assimilative compromise heightened, both parties pulled back and agreed upon "good-enough" borders for their cultures and values. During this process, one can argue that Quebecois culture gradually got sacralized. I'm not sure what happened on the English side? A bit of sacralization of "progressive" destiny? Sacralization of english westward expansion?

At any rate, it seems like both sides (potential) sacralizations served to head off the increasing frictions compromise was engendering. Pluralism emerged.

Was this a new level of selection as per my original theory? No.

Well....maybe a little?

Initially though, you ended up with no North American polity sized changes. Both groups largely dissed their old empires. The result of that split didn't really change the polity sizes that were already in play in terms of North America itself. But, one could argue that sacralization prevented immediate assimilation into a single large polity size. It also prevented Balkanization back into "city" sized sub-states. Population centres, Eastern Canada, and the territories, were able to connect with one of the founding nations. The line, "clear lines make for good neighbours" comes to mind. Canada has functionally stabilized at a two polity sized solution.  It is currently tending to a three-nation confederacy under strong federalism.

I think it is more than a bit of a stretch to say Canadian confederation supports my supposition that sacred value emergence in weak empires facilitates mid-sized polity size development and stabilization. However, I don't think the Canadian case disproves things. There just isn't enough information to support either conclusion. Arms-length colonialism split between two rival empires also confounds things.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Grievance Politics: A Historical Lens for Functional Analysis

The French Religion Wars

I’m going through Daniel Nixon’s “The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe” as a foil for the dynamics of our current Great Religious Awakening and schism.  To what extent do the socio-political dynamics of the original Protestant-Catholic religious wars illuminate our own Progressive culture wars?

I think the answer is… a lot.

Here’s one example.

The steps toward “Castilianization” taken under Charles V reached fruition under Philip, not only because the loss of the eastern Habsburg domains left Castile the clear epicentre of its “Spanish” successor, but alone decisions taken by Charles to consolidate his position in Castile after the Comuneros revolt. Catholicism and Castile conjoined under Philip in ways that limited his ability to engage in multivocal signalling with respect to other domains.  - p. 189

Weak empire "Divide-and-rule" relational network
Nixon’s basic thesis is that division based empires, such as those from the middle ages, survive because each polity has a unique set of accommodations that pre-clude cross-polity unification.  For example, accommodations for Castile come off the back of Flanders. Zero-sum empires gain some dynastic stability via divisional based strategies. This increases the number of small to moderate revolts. But, it minimizes the cohesiveness large revolts require.

The creation/emergence of sacred values within a dissident or uncomfortably ruled population precludes a weak empire’s divide-and-rule governance. What Nixon’s work seems to show is that Protestant grievances weren’t “designed” for easy reconciliation or buy-off. The grievances that had “power” were the ones that evolved into sacred value space and which also precluded easy comprehension by hegemonic groups.  Hegemonic attempts to reconcile doctrinal differences usually resulted in the emergence of finer and finer grained intractions.

Habsburg weak empire's relational network
In one sense, you could say that Protestant evolved into a position where it was impossible not to see the core of Catholicism as anything other than irredeemably rotten. Therefore any meaningful rationalization with it was flawed. (sound familiar structural racists?)

Accommodations could be made, but these ultimately served to empower grievance dynamics and did absolutely nothing to diffuse "true grievances". That’s because viewing dissatisfaction in terms of rational transactions is flawed. I contend that this is because “dissatisfaction”, in these landscapes, has more to do with group level dynamics than simple power or theological/rational issues.


Weak empires are incapable of maintaining cohesion at a higher level of selection. But, the localized polities over which divide-and-rule empires govern, eventually become too low a level of selection. In the 16th century, this was city states.  It was not the bigger duchies, sub-kingdoms and princedoms. These changed hands too quickly. 

Over time, a variety of sacred value experimentations rise up, most of which are unfit and are quickly quashed. But, over time, the adjacent-possible landscape shifts. A revolutionary movement stumbles upon a “good-enough” solution, leverages grievance dynamics and produces a sacred value based bifurcation.

Protestantism forced a weak emperor into a no-win situation where any side he took would alienate one group or another. It precluded divide-and-rule strategy. The only sense I can make of this, is that such revolutionary strategies are less about usurping governance and more about stumbling into a mid-polity sized solution (i.e. a mid-level of selection solution).

Thus, evolutionarily, the 16th and 17th century wars of religion were less about between group dominance (i.e. which socio-political system was more fit) and more about the process by which mid sized groupings were formed and stabilized.

This has some very interesting implications for today’s grievance based culture wars. For one, it implies that Western nations may be experiencing the rise of grievance politics because:
  • they have evolved into de facto divide-and-rule governance strategies
  • their governance systems, while seemingly strong, are actually weak with respect to the levels of diversity they have to manage
  • radical social justice grievance politics have evolved into sacred value terrain in order to de-legitimize hegemonic buy-offs and force no-win governance conundrums
  • nation states and nation state confederacies (such as the US) may see the emergence of mid-sized polities. In the EU, this may be the unification of small country blocks (e.g. Poland + Hungary + Czech or Germany + France + Sweden). In the US it may be the unification of various States (or the de-facto weakening of federalism into smaller competing blocks such as the progressive coastal states and the conservative interior states).


I am certainly not saying that any of this is intentional. What I am exploring is what evolutionary role grievance based bifurcations play in social and political realms. Why do most socio-political schisms evolve into sacred value battles? 

On the surface, one can interpret it as an effective inter-group competition tool. I certainly think this is correct. But, the grievance dynamics make this an incomplete picture. Why not use grievances to gain a better negotiated settlement? Why do grievances seemingly evolve into intractable fights that almost purposefully preclude settlement via sacred value dynamics (and their natural intractability for negotiated settlement)? This is just such an unfit position that it seems there has to be a higher level of selection at play for it to make evolutionary sense...


Point 1
Tests for this rather unorthodox theory might be found during any levels of selection transition. Ideally, tests should be situated at the point where unstable higher levels of selection solidify. This might include:

I'll probably take a quick look at some of these test cases this weak to see to what extent my theory is falsified.

Point 2
The main counterpoint to this theory is that sacred value based grievances induce hegemons into giving away the farm. For instance, how many political concessions did Lutherans and Calvinists get or potentially get during the various conciliatory meetings with Charles?  Modern grievances can be seen as shifting the Overton window for their own benefit without giving up much if anything in return.

This is a solid argument. Grievance sacralization risk is that is inspires the hegemon into treating the group as unwindable, and hence ripe for extermination. Evolutionarily, this may still be fit, if martyrdom inspires insurgency and greater group cohesion. Suicide bombers probably reflect this dynamic.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Three Lenses on Radical Social Justice Zealots

This last month I've been looking at radical social justice as a religion. Here's James Lindsay's short twitter thread on what distinguishes someone pushing for social justice from a zealot (social justice warrior).

It looks like there are three main ways of viewing this radical group

  1. quasi-religious cult - a science of religion frame
  2. authoritarian group - a social psychology frame
  3. adaptive group  - a biological frame
I'd suggest the science of religion frame is probably the most useful. The literature on authoritarianism is interesting and very informative. As James points out, you have to combine a few different authoritarian concepts to get at the whole thing. The quasi-religious lens is basically more of a sociological frame. Rather than looking at individual psychologies, you're looking more at the group level.  Thus, authoritarianism is more of an individualistic perspective while quasi-religion is more of a sociological perspective (in the classical technical sense of that term).

The biological frame, fully represented by D.S. Wilson's Darwin's Cathedral, mainly deals with the adaptive benefits of group behavioural wells. It provides proximate and ultimate reasons for authoritarianism, including its internal and external group dynamics.

I think the religion lens basically lays at the intersection of the adaptive and authoritarian frames.

The science of religion lens takes into account adaptive evolutionary perspectives. For instance, it looks at the role of moral group agents, the value of sacred values, norms, rituals, costly commitment displays etc. These are all things that are associated with sustainable adaptive groups. Adding in a moral element modifies adaptive group dynamics a bit. It exaggerates certain components.  Specifically, the components it exaggerates are those related to authoritarianism.  This includes the heightened role of group agents (moral big brothers), appeal to authority, and norms & in-group out-group gradients. These are the salient points James highlights with respect to the authoritarian literature.

The main difference with quasi-religion is its extraordinarily large focus on transcendent values, and supernaturalism. Basically, the quasi-religious lens postulates individuals act out authoritarian behaviours because it's an ideal solution to growing and sustaining adaptive groups. Thus, authoritarianism isn't simply a reflection of people's cognitive dispositions for oppression, it's a reflection of their tendency for forming groups which rally around something of transcendent value or meaning. Note that the adaptive group frame generalizes this more. It postulates that group formation and its associated behaviours occur due to adaptive benefits. It makes no claim on transcendent values. That is a sub-set: a particular type of adaptive group.

Thus, the question between authoritarianism and quasi-religion is settled on the question of whether social justice zealots are primarily motivated by power or transcendence. Both are obviously at play. But, what was the vector?

I know which one I lean to, both in terms of historical trajectory accuracy, and in terms of likely future directions...

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Social-Justice-as-Religion: Predictions

Over the last month I've been keeping track of falsifiable predictions with respect to religious sect evolution. The goal is to see to what extent the premise that Social Justice is a religion can be falsified or verified.

But for this post, I'm just going to concentrate on the major thesis of Robert Wright's "The Evolution of God". His major point is that successful religions are able to re-interpret counter-factual events (things that clearly disprove religious (meta-) narrative validity) to produce a memetically optimal slightly-counter-intuitive position by extending their deity's power.

This often happens by extending the time frame over which actions happen. For instance, that battle your god was supposed to have helped you win was lost because you didn't make the right offerings for it. Thus god's teaching you a lesson via a longer term strategy.

Another way defeat is rationalized is by taking a clear counter-factual event, say the death of a saviour figure, and re-interpreting older clues to produce a plausible "always there" doctrinal change. Wright cites Jesus' resurrection and sacrificial narrative as an example of this cultural evolutionary tendency.

If Wright's general process is correct, then we should be able to look at counter-factual events within the modern radical Social Justice movement and see these two solutions at play. My reading of Wright suggests two major cultural-evolutionary paths:

  1. Major defeats are used to highlight a narrative's long term meta-value and its supra-ordinacy.
  2. Counter-factual events are re-intrepreted, post-facto, to highlight slightly different doctrinal threads. This is often evidenced by complaints like, "no, that's never what we actually believed, here's how you should have interpreted those statements..."
The first deals mainly with meta-narratives lessons and their culture/group/state validations. The second deals mainly with logical rationalizations which prove an ideology's anti-fragility.

Here's a brief summary of my analysis of major social justice counter-factual events. They're explained in detail below.

Major Social Justice Counter-Factuals

California's 2008 Prop 8 Loss
I think the Prop 8 battle came before social justice as a religion really took off.  Its narrow win margin certainly isn't a clear cut loss. Because of this I don't think this event is a good test case. While loss did serve as a rallying point for progressivists, victory was possible, and in fact the vote was closer than many people expected. The tide of bigotry was retreating. A new humanistic narrative was winning. Because prop 8 wasn't an unexpected defeat, I don't think it can be used to test Wright's thesis.

Trump's Election - Progressivism Defeat
This is by far the clearest test case for Wright's counter-factual re-interpretation theory. Right now it looks like both the doctrinal re-interpration and the meta-narrative time frame may be at work. But, I'm not sure how distinguishable things may actually be.

Many people portray Trump's election as a huge blimp in the system. The "correct" progressive arrow should be restored soon.  As of yet, there still isn't an overly clear sense that his election is viewed in terms of a societal castigation for people's secular sins (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.). While I strongly suspect radical Social Justice has a de facto moral agent, I don't think that agent has yet evolved much of a punisher role. Perhaps it never will. This challenges meta-narrative supra-ordinancies.

There is, however, a sense that countries like Hungary, Poland and others are likely to get their just-desserts for their choice of intolerance. But I don't think American progressivism yet sees itself as defeated. Thus, we really can't distinguish if Trump is a blimp in the inevitable progressive trajectory, or if the defeat was large enough to force the creation of a new-time framed supra-narrative. I think there is evidence for both.

Similarly the counter-factual interpretation of this event is a bit chaotic. For example, there is the growing narrative that this and other progressive presidential losses are due to the electoral system. But, there is no clear sense that any progressive doctrines have changed as a result of Trump. The main thing to have gone is the left's commitment to free speech. Is there a re-interpretation of hate-speech as an "always there" leftist doctrine? No yet. But, that idea is nascent and ready for growth.

There's also a bit of a sense that the enablement of governance by executive order is wrong. While most radical progressives thought Obama's application of it was a good thing. It seems like that stance has conveniently been forgotten and there are wisps of a "no, we never believed that" stance poised to deploy.

In conclusion, it seems Trump's election simply forced a few doctrinal re-interpretations; But even these are stalled pending the outcome of the next round or two of elections. The main thing Trump's win did in terms of progressive doctrines was to highlight the depth, breadth, and severity of society's "racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, etc." sins, and the time it may take society to get over them.

Hillary's Loss - sexism
While Trump's win and Hillary's loss are two sides of the same coin, I think the meta-narrative re-analysis on gender is tight enough for a good analysis.  There's no doubt that rejection of the "most qualified candidate ever" threw equity warriors for a loop. How could such a womanizing creep beat out a woman? How could white women not vote for her?

This did not induce any doctrinal changes. The uncoordinated radical progressive move did not shift what it thought about gender equity. It did not develop any unexpected rationalizing work-arounds.  It did however re-analyze how long it might take for women to earn parity in the workplace and in politics.

Thus, I think (though I'm not certain) that you saw a rise in the belief in how entrenched patriarchy is.  A number of thinkers now even view it as in-escapable.  For instance, it is not uncommon to find gender study scholars postulating that even a female dominated company will still be subject to the pervasive pernicious effects of patriarchy within their own sphere of action. It isn't just something external that is happening to them. Women unwittingly recreate the inescapable patriarchy!

What can change this "original sin"? Who knows. Can generations of female dominance offset patriarchy's corrupting structural influence? I sense that Hillary's loss has facilitated a narrative change toward feminist supra-ordinancy. Feminism can win, but only if it is universally hegemonic, and even then, only if it is universally hegemonic for a LONG period of time.

This is a weird, but interesting version of supremacy. The default isn't the Judeo-Christian version where Yahweh always wins (except when his chosen people pick infidelity). The default is Equity always loses (even when we try really really hard). Interesting.

As I've mentioned before, the chances of a saviour narrative developing (in order to escape from this universal original sin) are, in my mind, pretty good.

Jordan Peterson
I don't think it's wise to underestimate the counter-factual role Jordan Peterson has played in popular media circles. He came across as a loony evangelical blow-hard, but proved a ferociously tough opponent, even for gotcha-minded journalists (Cathy Newman, Wendy Mesley, Helen Lewis, etc.), and their editing subterfuges.

On the doctrinal level, I think the pay gap narrative has changed as a result of Peterson caused rhetorical losses. While this isn't strictly due to Peterson, his public evisceration of Cathy Newman on a hitherto unwinable point showed that a re-calibration of some progressive talking points was in order.  There's now a bit of a "we didn't ever mean simplistic wage averages" excuse going around.

I think you also see a bit of a doctrinal shift in terms of compelled speech legislation as well.

The hate-speech doctrines are still being fought over. I don't think anyone quite knows where that will wind up. Right now people are still clinging onto the meme that speech = violence at a real individualistic level rather than at a theoretical population level. We'll have to see where that goes.

Hate Hoaxes
Hate hoaxes (and there have been a lot of them - especially amongst high profile hate crimes on Colleges) haven't changed any specific doctrines. Rather, they seem to be rationalized as proof about the severity of the marginalization that inspired them. In effect, they are a scream in the dark that reflects a reality that otherwise is hard to adequately capture.  In this sense, they mostly meet Wright's definition of a re-tooled meta-narrative.

The analysis doesn't provide any overly-reliable patterns. Loss severity doesn't seem correlated with meta-narrative time re-framing. I had anticipated that it would. That could, of course, change if Trump becomes something other than a bump in the road. Right now I think people are still a bit deluded in this regard. Hence part of the reason for so much Trump derangement syndrome, even among otherwise rational people. If he wins in 2020, that might change.

Defeat severity does seem somewhat correlated with post-factor doctrinal rationalizations. But it is really hard to tease out whether that is really happening in a post-facto way as Wright says happens with Judeo-Christianity, or if it simply acts as a selecting force between a wide range of doctrinal options.

One possible connection this chart brings out is that repeated losses, like women presidential candidates and hate hoaxes, do seem to affect meta-narrative time frame changes. Losing a battle may make you shift the details of your moralized story. Losing a war makes you re-frame your plot, and in extreme situations, even your themes.  Right now progressivism is still viewed as inevitable writing-on-the-wall.

Progressivism has suffered no real existential losses in the West's modern era. Trump and the rise of right wing populism has changed the rate of pace people expect progressivism to happen over. But, it has caused few major meta-narrative shifts. Perhaps it has brought out a a more fatalistic view of the structural embededness of the "patriarchy".  But there hasn't been any solid movements to a new level of supra-ordinance. There are certainly fringe populations ready to sell supra-ordinate narratives here. Some radicals truly believe it will take decades or centuries of feminist dominance to undo patriarchal effects, but these are fairly fringe players.