Saturday, December 29, 2018

Part 2: Social Justice Sects

Part 1 laid out what I infer to be the most common trajectories of new religious movements. A small sample of tests cases were then compared to the categorization. Some gaps were found. Next a multi-factored behavioural rating scale was used to assess where things “start to be religious”.  A broad-brushed look at radical activist Social Justice categorized it as quasi-religious.

In this post, I’ll try to analyze radical activist Social Justice in terms of behaviourally differentiable sects. After doing this, I then compare social justice sects to new religious movement trajectories. Who knows what will come out?

People looking for some more background on cognitive approaches to religion can look at:

Posts in this series

Part Two: Social Justice Sects

  • These are largely academics who are concerned about getting the theory of justice and critical theory studies correct.  From a behavioural analysis, affiliation probably centres on academic curiosity (mixed with strong general desires to help marginalized peoples).  Affiliation does not seem to be about establishing a systemic quasi-theology. Affiliation is certainly concerned about shoring up a systemic theory of oppression and marginalization. But, many theorists seem to lack the sacred value hysteria and moral big brother focus that characterize other comparable social justice sects.
  • Sample character: 
    • your average, moderate, Critical Theory professor

  • This would include “Jack booted” antifa-like extremists and the more sanguine protest ritualists. The goals of both groups could be considered mostly political.  Religious behaviour is mostly expressed during protest events. 
    • Sample character:
    • your average antifa protest addict
    • the suburban soccer mom going to the their annual women’s march or anti-Trump event

Online Mobsters
  • This group suffers from the same sect spanning issues that the religious “cult” group did. While cults were characterized by the severity of in-group out-group gradients, online mobsters are characterized by the medium of expression and the net effect of individual intent.  Basically the group is characterized by virtue signalling dynamics and an intent to not let social justice sins and sinners stand unchallenged. Anifa is a violent, nihilistic, expression of this dynamic in extreme. 
    • Sample character:
    • your average twitter NPC (non-playable character)

  • No platformers and hate speechers.  These are strong adherent of hate speech restrictions. They tend to authoritarianism. Justification mainly involves the need for pure environments and safe spaces. Safe space work may be on behalf of another group. They differ from online mobsters due to the broader scope of action they’re willing to undertake and a more clearly defined zone of focus.
    • Sample character:
    • Alyssa Milano and Apple’s Tim Cook

(Cult of personality) Activists Organizers
  • This group is characterized by a focus on political operations. This may include people who work for established political parties, NGO-like political organizational groups, and some College and University activist professors and diversity officers.  For this group, activism is not an individual enterprise, it is a pyramid-scheme group effort.
    • Sample character: 
    • Protest organizing Evergreen/Mizou Critical Theory professors & diversity officers

  • These are the people playing deep state technocratic games. They’re the cabal who know how to push human rights legislation through using the decade plus strategies which are required to move chessboard pieces to ensure checkmate. They know the vision they want manifest and they’re not put off by the processes required to get there.
    • Sample character:
    • former Ontario premiere Wynn

Equity at any Cost’ers
  • This group is so focussed on equality of outcomes that they believe delaying progress to ensure equitable representation is a worthy sacrifice, no matter the cost. Diversity benefits are more valuable than a systemically prejudicial meritocracy. The benefits of patriarchal capitalism are ill gotten gains that come of the backs of people of colour.
    • Sample character: 
    • radical affirmative actionists like most Swedish government ministers

Chosen People
  • These would be your radical intersectionalists. They deeply believe that being a person of color enables one to not only understand the patriarchy in which everyone operates, but to also have access to the hidden insights a person of color’s unique experience creates. They ascribe sacred value to such insight and treat it as almost mystical. But, more than this, they act as if POC control (via their unique insights) would solve many of today’s problems.
    • Sample character: 
    • Ocassio Cortez

  • These are a general laity that supports social justice ideas in general, but is weakly affiliated to any single group. They may stand up in certain cases where no leaders are found. But, they generally view their role as supportive. They may often want to “let marginalized voices speak”.
    • Sample character:
    • Beta male feminist hipster

Obviously this list isn’t rigorous, nor is it meant to avoid prejudicial connotations. Let’s test how well it works with a very superficial analysis.

Cathy Newman
She seems more like an activist organizer, but she isn’t trying to lead a group of acolytes. She is merely pushing an agenda to affect what she sees as valid social change. If she gets lots of money doing it, so much the better.

Justin Trudeau


He is making social change for the betterment of society. Unintended consequences will get resolved over time. Their existence shouldn’t stand in the way of progress.

Ron Perlman


He is active on twitter, but his primary purpose doesn’t seem to be trolling or acolyte farming. He mainly supports the movement when and where it seems to be needed

Bill Maher


You could try to fit him as a structuralist, but I think his classical liberal values, which include letting people be themselves (despite heavily mocking them), preclude any cabalism

Linda Sarsour

Activist organizer

She seems to be much more focussed on creating a cult-of-personality to affect change than in playing structuralist games. She could also be a Chosen-Person sect. But, her defining characteristic seems to be popularity & followers.
Al Sharpton
Equity at any cost’er

It is really hard to place him anywhere because I think money and power are his main concerns. Social Justice for his “people” is a nice secondary benefit. Because I don’t think he really cares about system costs, I think equity-at-any-cost fits him much better than chosen-people. I see his black power rhetoric as more motivational than as religiously accurate.But chosen people might work.
Evergreen College's Naima Lowe
Chosen people

While she certainly seems to be about generating a cult-of-personality, and hence could be an activist organizer, I suspect she truly sees POC power in sacred terms.

Categories seem fairly weak with significant overlaps and uncertain definitional bounds. Inferred intent seems to play a large role in differentiating categories. This means the list is not very behaviourally oriented.

Activist organizers and structuralists seem to be weakly delineated. The difference is supposed to lay in the role cult-of-personality plays. I’m not sure how well this comes through.  What seems to occur is that structuralists are people who already have power while activist organizers are more focussed on producing followers to generate sufficient power. (top down vs. ground up )

The first thing analysis shows is a significant degree of overlap between many of the social justice sects.  From this one can infer that Social Justice has not yet solidified into traditional religious structures (or that the categorizations suck...).

Most New Religious Movements typically come into existence with a fairly defined set of behavioural expressions and delineate-able doctrinal differences. Social Justice clearly does not do this. James Lindsay has proposed that this has occurred because Social Justice is a religious like faith expression that has emerged, de novo, from a modern secular paradigm. It is not a break-off from religion, it is a re-invention of the cognitive wells that form religion. As already mentioned, I tend to view Social Justice as a major evolutionary transition in religion-governance gene-cultural landscape. This position is, perhaps, the middle road, between Lindsay’s position and that of traditional New Religious Movement break-off patterns.

Significant cross sect overlapping is a good critique for Social Justice not being a religion. I think the behavioural parallels discussed last post make this a moot point. But, it seems reasonable to believe that Social Justice's lack of coherent behavioural focus negates accurate religious classification.

Significant sect overlapping suggests looking for the sects which have and do not have the adaptive group characteristics necessary for religious-level binding over time.

In terms of adaptiveness over time, this table from last week which was used to characterize religiousness, is probably good enough start in relation to adaptiveness. I’ve added in a few items which characterize adaptive groups (from D.S. Wilson perspective), but which are not characteristic of Atran’s religious group behavioural characteristics. I’ve also removed some of the purely religious items, such as clean hands. I’m on the fence about my inclusion of identity fusion.
  • strong norm enforcement
  • freeloader detection & punishment
  • sacred values
  • useful common ritual
  • costly commitment
  • identity fusion
  • steep in-group out-group gradient
  • in-group reciprocity

Adaptiveness over time
Changes expected for 
Adaptiveness over time
Strong potential

Missing: sacred values, common ritual, and costly commitment.

Theoretically you should see an increase in costly commitments, say via increasingly ludicrous (quasi-factual) foundational beliefs which should be treated creedally. You also need some common ritual. University is probably good enough for common ritual unification as long as the departments associated with this sect provide an unique-enough experience compared to regular classes. This could probably emerge with a small number of activist organizers within the department, and expectations that theory be meshed with experience.

Interestingly enough, this seems to be exactly what is happening in practice.
Weakly associated protest groups are not adaptive, and have a long ways to go to be such.

Anita, is very adaptive.

No changes to antifa are necessary. It might need a bit more of a coherent set of doctrines, but clearly its anarchist roots resist this. Thus it is more likely to stay a cult that to evolve into a broader religion. It has found stability in a very challenging evolutionary landscape. But, it has done so at the expense of broad coherence and universality. It will probably never be more than a fringe cult. Deviation from this is likely to be very counter-productive.
Online mobsters

Missing: freeloader detection & punishment, costly commitments and steep in-group out-group gradients.

Spatially segregated adaptive groups are hard to develop and maintain. I doubt the unification online mobs create is sufficient for adaptiveness. How do you know who is a fellow mobster? This spells adaptive doom. Online mobsters are likely to evolve into Puritans. This evolution is likely to happen as zone of actions (e.g. non-playable character memes) get refined.
Moderate, but strong potential

Missing: common ritual, freeloader detection & punishment, and in-group reciprocity

The main change that is needed for group adaptiveness over time is a way to distribute group conferred benefits. A quid pro quo hiring system based upon meriticrital success in Puritan enforcement is one obvious structural solution. They also need to find some sort of common ritual. I suspect the easiest answer is to focus on outcomes rather than inputs. This makes for a broader entry point for new members. The crux seems to be freeloader detection. This is why I suspect a move into meritocracy seems likely. It would be interesting to see what methods emerge for showing one’s bonafides. I suspect online mobbing and protest participation as well as orange-man-bad vehemence are likely options.
(Cult of personality) Activist organizers

Freeloader detection to prevent usurpation seems to be an Achille’s heel

The key problems here are the same ones that other pyramid schemes and cult of personalities face. How do you provide enough return benefits to your members to prevent usurpation? How do you transition from one leader to another?

One should expect to see parallel institutional structures develop which can feed members, pyramid like, into a ready source of employment or position of influence. The development of Patreon-like subscriber bases seem likely.

Cabal like affiliations are extremely hard to develop and maintain. Perhaps, at very high levels you might have some backdoor networks develop. It seems like the EU bureaucracy has this down. But, this can never be a broad based religious group. At best it can be a Rosicruscianist like elite that is likely to not have enough day-to-day interaction to develop all the necessary components of a full religious adaptive group. Norm enforcement coordination seems especially problematic due to cost-compliance administrative issues.
Equity at any cost’ers
Weak but with strong potential

Missing: strong norm enforcement, freeloader detection, and useful ritual

This sect’s adaptive difficulties seem to stem around differentiating those who support affirmative action in a weak sense, and those who are so doubled down on its value as to accept almost Luddite like implementation costs. Thus, for this belief categorization to become adaptive it needs a way to differentiate degree amongst its adherents. An obvious solution is to require some costly commitment signal that acts as a ritual induction or routine. Luddites often do this with technological rejection and historical dress. Quasi-factual taboos, such as food abstinence, are another likely means of differentiation. One possible solution might be a move toward indigenous clothing and/or prohibitions on cultural appropriations.
Chosen people

No adaptive components seem to be missing. The challenge here is size expansion. How do you get non-POC to come into your movement? Ally-Ship is a good potential solution. You simply create a caste-based system based upon identity, then gradually loosen identity criteria. Religions such as Mormonism do this (to some extent) via their adoption-into-the-tribe-of-israel rituals.  But, as caste based solution is very adaptive for the power caste, even if it is really hard to pull off. You really have to sell the “hidden” or “esoteric” knowledge of the ruling class. Interestingly enough, we do seem to see this happening. Hence, you should expect to see lots of fighting around this issue. I’d expect to see lots of sacralization and blasphemy accusations here.
Lots of adaptive potential, but weak actual adaptiveness

The only chance this has of being adaptive is if ally-ship gives one some in-group benefits. Mandatory diversity statements in the job market are one way ally-ship can be signalled and rewarded. You might expect to see some other sort of signalling here. For instance, a Che t-shirt, rainbow necklace, or some other dress maker might work. However, there is also an equal chance of punishment by out-group members. Thus, you’d expect to see some fairly subtle behavioural or dress clues. For instance, wearing certain types of hipster dress that stays one step ahead of non-fashion oriented commoners. The adaptiveness of ally-ship seems to be determined by how much power and access to reward systems the targets of ally-ship can grab. In some sense, it is like Communist grifters who are weakly ideological, but see it as a useful means-to-an-end. If it works, great. If not, oh well, players still get some benefits, and are well positioned for their own power grabs. Peter Turchin’s elite competition model for quasi-elites fits well here.

Antifa will stay small and highly adaptive. They will probably recruit from more sedate protest group-members and from online mobster groups.  Antifa will probably stay the cultish end of any Social Justice religious movement. As with old Christian martyrs, the high sacrifice costs this group can leverage can make a non-linear difference in recruitment for the more sanguine versions of the generalized ideology.

Activist organizers and Chosen people are the most adaptive groups. You should expect these groups to grow based on the ally-ship they can generate. Activist organizers face the issue of staying one-step ahead of pyramid collapse. How can they mine enough rewards to prop the system up?

One way is through post-secondary accreditation benefits. Another way is through ally-ship provided returns. Who should I hire, a conventional english major, or an activist major who is committed to diversity?

Ally-ship is really the most interesting “sect”. But, it seems limited because it can’t reach autonomy. It is dependent upon an external-to-the-group material target of devotion. Thus, while it has huge potential, I don’t see ally-ship going anywhere. You could get an ideologically united group based on some form of human-rights via a some group agent based moral big brother. Perhaps such an ideological based system would be adaptive. But, my suspicion is that you need behavioural manifestations of such an ideology that would be de-facto re-inventions of the sects already listed.

Equity-at-any-cost’ers are an interesting group. They just need a way to develop their own communes. But the history of commune success is very clear - they very rarely work. They need a large-enough break away group size in order to self-sustain. A nation state might be able to pull this off. But, chances are small of any country having enough social coherence to resist the complete economic marginalization this would engender. Sweden seems closest to trying this, but even it seems unable to handle to costs their degree of diversification now imposes. Perhaps if their land-based migrant pipeline had remained closed, they could have run their experiment for longer?


The crux for social justice sects, who are also likely to stabilize and grow over time, lays in their ability to confer group benefits on their members. This ability seems related to capacity to co-opt existing state institutions. This capacity, in turn, seems dependent on their ability to generate allies.

Costly commitment displays by a radical semi-affiliated group, seems to be a leverageable way to increase recruitment and sympathy.  While antifa is well positioned to fulfill such a role, I doubt the individuals who make up antifa are well-disposed for such sacrifices. Is arrest, police brutality and getting beat up by right-wing extremists, enough? Perhaps today it is. But, perhaps it isn’t. The Charlottesville death certainly made a huge difference in ally-ship.  So did some of the sensationalized police-on-black deaths. Media channels are well staffed to virulize any narrative re-enforcing events.

1 comment:

  1. With respect to group conferred benefits.. It's not much in the grand scheme of things, but it sure isn't nothing...