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.

Social Justice's "Hellenistic" Turn?

I'm finishing up Robert Wright's "The Evolution of God".  Right now he's going over Philo's influence on Judeo Christian theology and thought. In particular he is talking about how the Isreali/near-eastern goddess Wisdom was subsumed into the idea of Logos.  However, what is really interesting is how, this purposeful shift also included a karma-like reasoning about practical religious truth. This is the idea that Wise religious truth reflects probabilistic consequences which reflect practical reality (in the D.S. Wilson sense). For example, stealing may do nothing to any one individual. But, it increases your chances of having something bad happen to you. It also has societal level effects via probabilistic aggregation.

While these ideas are fairly basic points for anyone studying the science of religion from an evolutionary point of view, they do make one think about the population level rhetorical turn taken in social justice over the last few years.

Here's the rough parallel.

Pre-axial religion usually had "sin" as something that was offensive to a deity. It wasn't morally wrong in our sense of the word, rather it just ticked off some animistic deity who happened to notice it for some reason*. But Philo's Hellenistic turn started to see sin in more practical terms. Sin increasingly became something that probabilistically led to bad outcomes, both for the individual and for society-as-a-group.  It was a shift from individual actions which may or may not have been noticed to probabilistic results which were always wrong whether or not they were noticed.

I suspect we have a similar shift in Social Justice. Racism used to be individualistic. What largely mattered was how you treated an individual. But the idea that words could cause group or population level attitudinal changes became increasingly important. You then had the "words = violence" and "structural racism" turn.

These modern sins are now seen as population level probabilities.  They aren't wrong because of any individual consequences they may or may not have. Indeed, there is a shift away from materially observable actions produced by individuals (the pre-axial, its the consequences that are bad - actions are just risky, not "sinful") to theoretically imaginable effects based on population level aggregations and inferred causality.

This "Hellenistic" turn match is neat in a couple of ways. It:

  • diminishes the role of material effects, 
  • shifts the loci where quasi-factuality occurs (away from arbitrary deity attention into population level aggregation),
  • increases universality (sin effects are "real" regardless of your parthenonical theology)
  • shifts sin's zone of analysis from an individual to a group.

As a whole, this produces a very neat memetic shift into abstract universalism. It also affords  scientific imprimatur.  This makes it rhetorically and memetically fit.

*Of course there was also civil law. Murder was wrong in this sense. It was something that was societally punished. Was it also "sinful"? Probably. But, from my own thinking it probably didn't tick off the gods in the same sense. It was something that, instead, ticked off people in the society reliably enough to be guaranteed to ticked of governing bodies.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Part 4: Policy Fable Tests

The last few posts I've been trying to explore how the re-intertwinement of government and quasi-religion is operationalized via meta-narrative vignettes which compete in a memetic and gene-culture co-evolutionary space*.

   Part 1: Divine Victimhood Fight Clubs

   Part 2: Competing Fabilized Meta-narrative Vignettes

   Part 3: Labelling Polytheistic Culturegen Vignettes

For now I think I'll try out the term "policy fables".  I'll use the term "governing mythtoricity" to discuss the meta-narrative "policy fable" aggregates produce.  (There's probably a much better term already in circulation, but if so, I can't think of it)

So now I need to test what does and doesn't fit this proposed categorization.

Here's the summary so you don't have to read the details..


Green New Deal
The idea itself is simply a policy amalgamation. The ideas, however, are tied together with an underlying social progressive morality. And while I haven't followed the memes on this topic much, it hasn't yet latched onto any Moral Big Brother (group agent appeal) for its exposition. This certainly could happen. People could present the Green New Deal in moral imperatives. But, I think you need a physically real anecdote or two in order to really operationalize it as a "policy fable".  Thus, it misses out on a couple of key levels. It does, however, have the right level of quasi-factuality. I don't think anyone expects many of the Green New Deal tenets to be actually implementable. Rather it is "pushing things in the right direction".

New Deal
The 30's New Deal certainly had a moral imperative to it. The move to worker's rights and a social safety net was a major turn in governance. It brought moral responsibility into the realm of American governance. It also had lots of very real personal interest stories for its face. Many of these stories, like The Grapes of Wrath, persist. But, again, they didn't persist in terms of a moral group agent. You only get a rough sense that "the people" grew concerned about the poor among them and chose to move in the direction of a social safety net. Whether or not this fits, depends upon how "embodied" one feels the idea of a social safety net is (in terms of a moral big brother / group agent). I don't feel it is overly embodied. The idea is too generalized. It doesn't have the right level of pagan quasi-factuality to it.

It may certainly have been more embodied during its initial role out. Roosevelt was certainly the prime figure associated with this idea's embodiment. But today, for whatever reason, New Deal mythology is weak. There is a minimal sense of any List & Pettit "group agency".  Among the laity, it seems to be largely viewed as something nice but inevitable. For instance, how many people remember how close the US was to another civil war during the immigration crises & robber baron era of the late 1800's which preceded the New Deal shift? Not many.

Slavery Abolition
On the other hand, slavery is largely seen as a noticeable, delineable, purposeful choice against the grain of human selfishness. Abraham Lincoln's mythologized narrative is currently fairly ingrained and stable. To me, the juxtaposition between this and the New Deal is a little bit ironic. Slavery's demise trajectory was probably at least as inevitable as New Deal socialism. The environment which set the New Deal's stage was based upon some not necessarily certain sacrifices within the elite class. In some ways the New Deal would have been similar to plantation owners giving large humanistic concessions to slaves. But, for whatever reason, slavery is seen as much more of a moral fork than the New Deal. I would suspect this has to do with its moral weight and much starker on / off transition.

So, to me, slavery fits a "policy fable" categorization. It has a significant, somewhat embodied meta-narrative associated with it that has significant governance and moral-religious aspects to it. It is a fundamental part of America's meta-narrative. It is also used, fairly quasi-factually, as a single-cause silver-bullet explanation for the Civil War.

Gay Rights
The major inflection point here was California's 2008 proposition 8 battle. There is certainly a sense that a committed group of activists rallied a cold public by way of progressive allies (media, hollywood, etc). This turn is seen as a highly moral issue. It is framed in terms of Civil Right era wrongs. It is tied to slavery, Jim Crow, and ERA (equal right acts) history. It is minimally quasi-factual at this moment. However, the rate of change has often been presented as astonishing. However, it isn't presented in terms of mild unbelievability (in the technical sense). It's likely that in the future you'll get a Rosa Park moment or two. Right now you mainly have the Harvey Milk framing for its fabilization. So, from my point of view, this meme has lots of potential for Policy Fabilization. But right now it's missing quasi-factuality and a more clear cut Big Brother embodiment.  But, once it is seen in historic terms, I suspect it will be a fairly strong Policy Fable.

(Canadian) Multiculturalism
You may have to be a Canadian to understand how purposefully this idea was engineering back during the 80's. It came about in response to the Quebec separation issue and Meech Lake (constitution) challenges. The idea was framed in terms of the multiculturalism of Canada's two founding nations (yes, it largely left out the third "founding" nation consisting of indigenous treaty partners).  There was no overt turn to accept or reject this idea. Nor where there any personalities upon whom this idea was hung. Rather it was purposefully designed to infiltrate the public conscious so that it appeared as an omni-present aspect of Canadian identity. Thus, its a great meta-narrative and great fable. But from my categorization, it is missing overt group agency. The Quebec referendum fail is rarely cited as part of Canada's multicultural vignette policy fable. Thus it doesn't meet my standards for a Policy Fable. 

But, it does show I need to add some idea of group agency into which ever term I end up using for the "policy fable" concept.

Open Borders
Both the pro and the anti sides have highly moralized this issue. Both sides have a lot of quasi-factuality associated with them.  For example, "many illegals are violent criminals" is perfectly quasi-factual. As is "all immigrants are a gain to society". The pro side has sacralized this issue. That almost guarantees operation of a moral big brother. That may be as vague as humanism, or as embodied as POC (people of colour) worship.

On the anti side, nationalism is vaguely embodied. You might have a few fundamentalists embodying their position via founding father figures, but that's probably more an appeal to authority rather than any actual group agent at work. The physical grounding is strong on both sides. The meta-narrative value of this vignette is also strong.  In general I see the pro open border side operating via policy fabilization, while the anti open border side probably doesn't. The open border side needs a bit more group agency and perhaps a bit more quasi-supernatural morality associated with the issue.

Speech Censorship
This hate speech side probably has framed this as a policy fable.  You've got the quasi-factuality that an individual's speech offences will cause real violence and real deaths. This idea is sacralized and reflects adherence to a definite moral narrative (agent). Physical grounding is strong but not perfect. You don't have too many stories of where offensive speech led to real crimes. You have a bunch of folk tales in this regard and lots of anecdotes and bad stats. That fits quasi-factuality, but is, at present, minimally physically grounded. If hate speechers win, and the narrative can then show how this benefits the country and POC, you'll probably have a strong policy fable. Right now, it is still nascent.

Free speech absolutists are just on the cusp of a policy fable.  Their belief that speech limits will destroy the foundations of Western society reads as quasi-factual**. There is certainly a moral and almost sacralized value associated with free speech. The meta-narrative value and physical grounding is pretty clear. The level of moral agent embodiment is the major source of weakness. I just don't think free speeches's have a sufficiently flushed out moral agent created in this respect.  There is no mythology to it. You've got the Skokie march vignetter. You've got some sacrificial free speech lambs. But there's no good quasi-religious agent or semi-embodied Big Brother to point to.

At this point it's interesting to see how open borders and hate speech parallel each other in their memetic and rhetorical battles. Pro open border'ers would seem to see their narrative in more transcendent terms than their opponents. Trump has made big changes to this among closed border folk. But, closed borders lack a solid moral big brother unifier.  Hate speech suffers from a similar fate, albeit with the left/right political spectrum reversed.

According to my Policy Fable theory, pro-open borders should have an edge in their memetic duels. Free speechers should have an edge in theirs. This seems to fit what is actually happening.

The policy fabe idea seems to work in general, but is certainly not especially strong. I suspect I need to merge "Embodied Big Brother" with "State Meta-narratives".  Based on this post's analysis, what seems important is the extent to which any particular idea fits into a broader directional arrow which resonates with a state's established (but adaptable) meta-narrative.

If I'm correct this implies that alignment to state meta-narratives are probably more important than we might otherwise think. They key for any policy fable is therefore to make itself seem as if it was always a direction the country was headed in, and that said direction was indeed moral and morally meaningful.  In this sense, I think the policy fable idea fits exceptionally well with the evidence we have from Wright's "The Evolution of God" and evidence he presents when describing the gradual transition from polytheism's parthenon competitions into subsuming monotheism.


*co-evolutionary not because these ideas change genes, but because they play out in a landscape that selects for genetically influenced behavioural expressions which both smooth and hinder certain types of culture level memes and cognitive (group and individual) processes.

**despite the quasi-factuality of speech censorship leading to societal destruction, I personally see it as a legitimate worry. As UK demonstrates, it won't kill society, but it sets the stage for some worrying precedents and adjacent-possibilities.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Part 3: Labeling Polytheistic Culturegen Vignettes

Baal & Elijah
This week I've been really interested in how pre-axial age polytheistic governance / religious meta-narrative memes were wielded in the cultural evolutionary space. Wright's book "The Evolution of God" has been fantastic here.  In terms of cultural evolutionary dynamic insights from first hand sources during great moral awakenings, it's is a solid companion to Chris Beneke's "The Religious Origins of American Pluralism" and Alan Taylor's "American Revolutions" series.

Wright has made a compelling case that pre-axial post-Tobleki era religion / governance policy was operationalized for the masses via polytheistic priesthoods which were nationalistic in nature and functionally focussed on national meta-narrative formation. These narratives and priesthoods functioned similarly to the intersection of modern political parties, journalistic partisan narratives, partisan policy oriented think tanks and populist rabble rousing.

While this intersection is, on its own, fascinating, these fabilized vignettes were more than just memes. Deity stories explained a nation's past, situated the state via polytheistic parthenon positioning, shaped foreign and domestic policy, and provided existential angst expression which embodied populist concerns. But, these narratives are more than simple memes. They only exist in a highly moralized adaptive group space. The connection between narratives and actual policy and action was strong enough that these divine memes were also constrained by pragmatic concerns about proximal zones of action. For example, a divine expression of frustration with your neighbour likely represented some very real policy orientations - both for you and your neighbour. This wasn't idle supernatural fantasy. It was an expression of "diplomacy", especially if you see diplomacy from a lens of Trump-like subtlety.

While it's easy to explain duelling supernatural narratives in religious language, doing so in a secularized quasi-religious frame is much more difficult. For one, I'm not sure how many people are going to view quasi-religious group agents as having any role in modern moderately moralized socio-political rhetorical space. Of course, I think people are totally wrong here. I think the dynamics are VERY similar, and are getting more and more similar as the level of moral loading, socio-political polarization and identity based tribalization increases.

So what to call this? It has to be more than a meme. As discussed, these memes have some necessary adaptive behavioural conditions associated with them. Furthermore those behaviours and the cultural space they inhabit have a genetic component to them*. Thus Richerson's culturegen concept may be more relevant. But, that tends to miss the religious, quasi-religious, and moral aspect of the idea.

Here are some possibilities for these fabilized moral meta-narrative quasi-factual vignettes

FMNQFV's - fabilized moral meta-narrative quasi-factual vignettes (just kidding)

FMQFV's - fabilized moral quasi-factual vignettes (maybe I'm not kidding - guess the LGBTQ+ movement makes anything conceivable!)

Socio-political Policy-gens (a bad nod to Richerson's culturegens)

Fabilized Policy Narratives

Policy Fables

Moralized Policy Vignettes

Policy Parables

Meta-narrative Policy Parables

Meta-policy Parables 

Existential Policy Fables


Mythtoricity (a bad nod to historicity)

Governing mythtoricities

Governing Meta-fables


And, that seems like a good place to rest on...


*I'm assuming they are genetic because they are highly associated with polity size changes and stabilization issues. This has lots of fitness implications, is selectable, and as we can see from civilization birth places, has at least some lineage tied behavioural consequences whose affects are still visible today.

Part 2: Competing Fablized Meta-narrative Vignettes

Last post I did some speculating about what religion's could have done to compete with Social Justice's emergent victimhood narrative. The interesting tangent that came out of that was the idea of meta-narrative vignettes that took the form of mini-fables but which were grounded in both morals and national policy.  This idea was inspired by Wright's "The Evolution of God" and how this type of memetic-battle was routine during the post-Tobleki pre-axial age polytheistic inter-competition era.

Wright illustrates this with multiple Bible references. For example, he shows how the showdown between the priests of Baal and Elijah wherein each tried to burn a bull with their god's power is likely a metaphor for inter-state meta-narrative competition. Yahweh subsumed the essential characteristics of Baal. Thus Baal as a deity was no longer needed. Yahweh could do everything Baal could do...

Wright leaves this type of meta-narrative memetic completion here. These stories reflect vignettes of nation-state policy wrapped in a cloak of group moral meaning but which also express said group's hopes and political ambitions at the optimal level of quasi-factuality. Thus you have ideal supernatural quasi-factuality levels intersecting with ideal national policy hopes. The supernatural can't be separated from political policy. Why? In this era there was really no separation between the two. Church state separation hadn't evolved yet. A given deity's temple and their priesthood was functionally equivalent to today's political think tank and lobbyists (when the duo has moderate to high morality and is adaptive enough to have a moral Big Brother or group agent).

Today this isn't so. We have think tank, political parties, religions, and special interest groups. While think tanks may be closely aligned to a political party, they aren't the party. Neither do religions control political policy or vice versa. The idea that politics can control one's theology is a bit far fetched. And yet today, that seems to be happening more and more (e.g. homosexual theological change).

To see this, think about how intertwined radical Social-Justice-as-religion is with government. Such intertwining and fabilized meta-narrative vignettes may go hand in hand. But, in our secular age, just as supernaturalism is no longer a key determinant of religious dynamics, the supernatural basis of the fabilization of meta-narrative vignettes is similarly no longer needed nor appropriate.

If this is accurate, you should be able to see Social Justice rhetoric competing with grand meta-narratives and technical policy on the level of moralized vignettes expressed in terms of some quasi-embodied Big Brother group agent.

Hashing out this new type of "deity" seems to me, to be rather important (and fun). I suspect the solution space for this rhetoric is so fit we may already be seeing it emerge elsewhere. In fact, I would wager a guess that major Great Religious Awakenings all tend to this type of inter-group narrative competition. This certainly seems to have happened during the Civil War, the American Revolution, The civil right's era, and the 1820's Great Religious Awakening etc.

However, most of these great moral awakenings / unfreezings didn't co-incide with the evolution of a potential major evolutionary transition in religion / governance. As stated before, I suspect Social Justice likely reflects such change. Indeed, I suspect that the heightened moral associations now being placed into politics mean we might be in a new era of secular "polytheism".

This certainly seems crazy at first blush. But if you accede that religious dynamics no longer require high levels of supernaturalism, then how do quasi-religious governmentally intertwined narratives compete quasi-supernaturally (memetically)?

The highly fit solution seems to be what we see during the post-Tobleki pre-axial age polytheistic inter-competition era. And, if this is the case, we may see Social-Justice-as-religion quickly evolving into a "monotheistic" direction as it subsumes other late-emerging quasi-religious political level priesthoods. (And here by priesthoods I mean temples of thought such as you get with close alignment between think tanks and political parties when they are taken quasi-religiously).

One thing that seems needed here, is a less religious way of talking about these socio-moral dynamics. Next post I'll try to do that..

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Part 1: The Divine Victimhood Fight Club

Clark's recently raised an interesting question on Mormon Metaphysics with respect to a twitter thread about how the Israeli exile during the middle of the 8th century BCE facilitated a grandiose religious narrative to explain national destruction (and how / why Yahweh could have allowed it)

This seems to me how opposition and persecution, particularly in an isolated location like Utah, led to big group cohesion in Utah. This siege mentality of Mormons didn’t really end until Pres. Hinckley started engaging heavily with other Christian religions. By the late 90’s that siege mentality was mostly over. While there are definitely other factors, it’s also around this time that Mormon growth starts to slow. Is it a coincidence that at the time of Mitt Romney’s Presidential run when Mormons are most accepted we start seeing the biggest slowdown in Church growth? - Clark

The interesting question is what religions, particularly North American based religions like Mormonism, could have done to rationalize and offset the memberships costs that occurred with the 21st century's "rise of the nones".

After reading Wright's "The Evolution of God", I'm increasingly inclined to view moral and moderately moral politicized groups from a lens of inter-deity meta-narrative competition*. While many people get caught up in policy differences or political party delineations, I suspect those units of analysis are, respectively, either too fine grained or too coarse grained. The salient unit of analysis for moralized groups, seems to be the moral vignettes which frame a Big Brother's (or "god's") action.

This idea reflects a lot of List & Pettit, and a lot of Jordan Peterson (see this post of mine for JP particulars). Basically, inter-group competition between moralized adaptive groups functioning in a political or governance landscape occurs not at the level of meta-narrative stories (e.g. the RNC is racist), but at the level of morally significant policy-like ...fables or vignettes (e.g. and it came to pass that Kavanaugh overcame the false assertions against him revealing the hysteria of #MeToo 'ers).

The fable word isn't quite accurate, but as Wright's book suggests, chiefdom and early empire state meta-narratives were operationalized via mythical vignettes that were tied to very practical narratives about on-the-ground political realities (dusted off with a bit of shamanistic angst explaining / embodiment). So fable gets at the right idea. It's something more than an idea or policy, but less than a narrative. It's a type of condensed meta-narrative vignette with a bit of group-moral meaning, national dynamic narrative, and just the right-amount of counter-factualness for memetic virility.  Examples might include:

  • why another nation gained the upper hand in battle,
  • a functionalist explanation about why a famine came about,
  • how / why international power shifts occurred or will occur etc.

All these things were expressed in polytheistic deity episodics. If I'm piecing my history together right, the time frame over which this type of vignette would have dominated thought would have been during the polytheistic pantheon era (my term: i.e. post Tobleki temple, pre-Christianity).

In the monotheistic era though, the particulars of this type of competing mini-vignette game mostly died out (at least in religious spheres). Instead, you had grand narratives and technical theology/policy.**

But since the 90's, grand narratives have seem to become a bit too.... imperialistic? Technocracy too has reached its Manchurian peak. Its death throes are obvious to populists of any persuasion. Rationalists though, still seem to be searching for politicians with just the right policy combinations. In my mind that's an increasingly futile endeavour.


Adaptive group size changes have produced a landscape where the old mini-narrative fabilized vignette with practical policy and existential angst grounding has re-emerged as an optimal political-cultural memetic solution and unit of analysis.

So how does this framing relate to what churches could have done with respect to membership decline?

The explosion of Social Justice since the post 2008 Prop 8 inflection point demonstrates that traditional oppression rationalizations, similar to what Israel did post Babylon exile, have power. Vulnerable minorities can gain power via oppression narratives.  Clark's persecution speculation definitely hits this point. So could Mormonism or other similarly positioned religions have beat Social Justice to the punch?


Social Justice has leveraged identity to an astonishing degree. While I find it largely racist. It has worked. I suspect competition with it would have required an equal degree of identity based racism. But how do you universalize such (deplorable) things?

To effect plausible competition from an oppressive narrative, imagine what would have happened if Mormonism, or any other similar religion had locked into one of the following narratives at the right time:
  • It's OK to have arbitrary standards
  • It's OK to respect tradition
  • It's OK to be religious - it's practical
  • It's OK to prioritize the family unit
  • It's OK to be white (or male or both)
  • It's OK to be a brown female Mormon
Which one, in hindsight, sufficiently leverages the victim narrative? Which one has a thread that can get beaten down, but which, if it's adherents survive, proves the narrative's original point?

The only point I can think of, that survives Wright's summarized tests as stated above, seems to be the one based upon identity. The other narratives are too malleable and, in a sense, too universal. They don't have the right quasi-factuality to them. Identity on the other hand does...

Now, please, please, don't take this as some alt-right, supremacist, dog whistle. It isn't. But memetic competition against the classically racist premises of intersectionality at the meta-narrative vignette fable level would, according to Wright, require subsuming that narrative (or their deity-family's embodiment of it). It is not enough to have a different idea that is more attractive. Nor can you try to poke logical holes in the narrative (Sam Harris style). Those just don't work.

You need to think in terms of "deity" on "deity" competition.

So have another look at how "equity" as an oddly embodied "deity" works. Doesn't structural racism impregnate everything?

Oh, you've got a god of wind? Well my god's actually in there controlling your god's wind. Your wind's got structural racism! Structural racism is in everything! You can't deny that, can you!

Pretty funny, eh?

Well, actually its not.  Why?

What is always the solution?

Our "god" Equity can fix that structurally racist wind. In fact, Equity is only permitting the expression of your structurally racist wind  as a lesson for us to learn from. We need to admit our guilt and embrace Equity.
That is exactly how things seem to be working now days. According to Wright, the subsuming of gods is how polytheism gave rise to monolatry (lots of gods, but there's one big one that matters). This then gave rise to monotheism which, when combined with moralizing universalism, was a MAJOR evolutionary step forward in religion governance space.

How do you fight it? Not with another god that is tougher or more omnipotent. Why?

My god is so omnipotent they can get rid of hunger (if everyone just listened to him/her). 
Oh yeah? That sound a lot like equity...


So why does your god Equity permit inequality in the world? 
To show us how bad things would be without him. Our natural state is awful!

You fight this "divine" subsumation with a competing narrative. But, it should be a narrative where all you have to do for your narrative to be vindicated is to survive  And, you show triumph not through one-upmanship, but with cunning Kafka traps.  "It's OK to be white" (or "a coloured Mormon", or a "male Adventist") seems to do this.

ex. You're attack of my identity shows that I am still oppressed. But I know bigots like you will eventually die out. [Insert identity here] like me will never die. Why? Because it's OK to be [Insert identity here].

Here you have a "you're OK" god competing with an "Equity" god. That is a fair fight.

I think, if church's had latched onto identity politics, they may have been able to leverage a grand oppression narrative that would also have vindicated adherents as a chosen people. For many people such purposeful status loss would have been off-putting. After, all, Mormons at least were very proud at being almost mainstream enough to have Romney taken seriously. The victim card would have forsaken mainstreaming for the recruiting power of an ultimate (if delayed) meta-narrative.

Of course I think such identitarian tactics would have been horrible. They would have eventually blown up in everyone's faces. They would have created lots of potential fork-in-the-roads for German level ethno-centrism. But of course, I see radical intersectionalism as doing no less than this... It just gets a pass in much the same way German ethno-nationalism did - it is useful and "well-intentioned".

I think the draw of identity based "religion" is a landscape well. Moderation enables long-term survivability, but at the expense of virility. New, highly virulent strains always come into the picture, outcompeting old strains. Eventually they moderate or die. But during this process, old things whither. Competition requires capturing the invader's hosts and being similar enough trump invader processes.

The ingenuity of Social Justice's grand narratives should not be underestimated. They are a very fit solution to moral governance issues within a secular paradigm.


*hopefully it's obvious that I'm not referring to any real physical deities here. Rather, I'm using that term in the sense of List and Pettit's (moral) group agents. These are functionally real embodiments of a group's decision patterns which then become moralized for fast and frugal heuristic functions. Thus competition is almost more memetic in nature. There is definitely not any real supernaturalism implied. But I'm certainly purposefully connoting moral-based action. Norenzayan's Big Gods is probably needed to make sense of how I'm using "deity".

**Maybe the medieval exegesis renaissance was an expression of the draw of this nice mid-level unit of exposition. Maybe not.