Wednesday, May 1, 2019

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...)

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