Sunday, October 9, 2016

Pepe as Quasi-Religion

If you've read other posts on this blog you probably are aware that I interpret quasi-religion in a functional way: a social structure characterized by adaptive group dynamics coalesced by morality and sacralizing acts.  I use List & Pettit's judgement aggregation work for morality and Atran's In God We Trust for sacralizing acts.

In practice this means I tend to interpret religion rather liberally: it's mainly constrained by the role of Big Brothers, Big Brother feedback, and resonating rituals and hypersensitive sacred value norms.

So with this in mind, I've been finding the emergence of Pepe fascinating.  What are the main things to watch for?
  • Does its satirizing provide group-level protections for individual agents?
  • Around what things will group level morality emerge?
  • What are its sacramental acts (if any)?
The most interesting thing about the Pepe meme is its ironical essence.  While many Pepe memes are downright disgusting, my academic interest isn't determining moral values or costs. Rather, it's seeing what dynamics a given social phenomenon captures or portends.

One thing Pepe introduces is a bifurcating phase change between social justice norms and individual independence norms.  This is representative of a classic-levels-of-selection tension.  In this particular case, one side pushes to eliminate discrimination (certainly a noble goal - although means definitely matter), the other side pushes against this (or perhaps for some sort of individual liberty).  The sacred values of both sides clash.

Social justice's sacred values seems to center on removing all quarter for discrimination.  Rituals associated with this revolve around social change acts, protests, & virtue signalling (individually and via mob action).  The sacred value on the Pepe side have yet to settle.  My suspicion is that it will settle down around acts of irony and satire: a very unusual, Volterian position.

It's unusual because pure acts of protest are parasitically dependent upon their host: conditions change and the core unifying act dissolves.

In terms of quasi-religion, mocking and ridicule will be the equivalent of social protest and action. The interesting thing here is that such satire is really easy to do.  Fighting against something is always easier than fighting for something.

Because low brow satire against things doesn't have as much unifying power as protests & rallies for something, alt-right satire is at a population-limit disadvantage.  In this dimension it can't unify as large a grouping as social justice.  However, satirical meme production has minimal costs.  On this dimension it has a slight population-limit advantage over social justice virtue signalling: finding someone or something to signal against isn't quite as easy as whipping up a piece of low-brow satire/offense.

Pepe also gets a slight population advantage limit because rebellion in the West is socially favoured over hegemony (within-group competition at the nation level currently seems to be favoured over between-group competition). So Pepe has room to grow as long as:

  1. Pepe meme costs are low (anonymity can be maintained so norm enforcement punishment is minimized)
  2. Existential nation-level threats stay minimized (between group selection pressure stays below within group pressure)
Point 2 is an interesting one.  Existential threats from tolitalitarian Islamic extremists are minimized by social justice values.  Existential threats from internal right wing extremist are maximized.  Pepe is set to receive high levels of norm compliance enforcement.  This should drive the group into protective adaptive group dynamics (which certainly can be facilitated by quasi-religious dynamics).

However, the most interesting thing here is the moral mission likely to emerge with Pepe: A duty to mock and ridicule.  This is a very odd religious value to have.  It very much reminds me of pre-revolutionary 18th century France during the time of Voltaire and the popularization of satire.  

It also reminds me of  D.S. Wilson's analysis of self-interest vs. group-interest in religions

mutual help
Table 1: classically religious "altruistic" groups

rational self-interest
blind desires
irrational values

Table 2: Randian "self-interested" groups

From this analysis, Pepe, is likely to turn into a self-interest weapon.  Ridicule is directed at those things an individual wants to take down, rather than those thing the group necessarily wants to take down.

Extreme individuality sews the seeds of its own group destruction.

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