Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Social Contract Breaks

Great religious awakenings tend to be associated with major social fabric breaks, particularly morality and its relation and applicability to different group levels.  One way to look at this is via social exchange theory.

The basic idea here is that there are tacit agreements between different parties.  I'll scratch your back here, if you scratch mine there.  In effect, you get non-explicit contracts which are largely mediated by intention rather that legalisms.

As a moral institution in bureaucratic wrappings, education has a lot of social exchange contracts (tacit contracts).  This is neither good nor bad.  It just is.

But, one implication is that major disturbances to social exchanges create hyper-sensitized dynamics. Things that were once a minor ask (arrive early to work) can quickly take on sacralized proportions (how dare they make me watch students on my free time).

The interesting thing is that once social breaks start to occur they have significant feedback effects.  We're seeing this in the states with intersectional post-modern activism and popularist nationalism.  Education is no different.  Social exchange breaks in school systems can lead to "great religious awakenings".  Teachers and staff now have the ability to question hitherto implicit social exchange contracts.  "Why do I need to arrive early?"  "What does all this marking really get me?  What does it get my students?"  Of course, these are great ways to rationalize norm-breaks (freeloading).  But this is exactly how the moral unfreezing associated with social fabric breaks proceed.  There is no guarantee that once the break occurs, that you will be able to control it or stop it.

Unfortunately many people associated with educational change are naive to large group dynamics and the quasi-religious behaviour that occurs in moderately moral institutions like education.  Well intentioned reforms can quickly escalate into "breaking-the-back of the resistance".  Business model approaches to education have had a very poor track record of success.  They tend only to succeed in break away factions that have a large enough population base to produce self-selected groups with a critical mass size.

There are a few more things interesting about a "great religious awakening lens" to social exchange contract breaches:

  • Some groups will be fine with superficial orthopraxy in order to free up some operational space.  Contrived compliance (individual and group) is all but guaranteed.
  • Groups will fight using moral language.  "Othering" is likely.
  • Relative minor acts are interpreted as strong signals.  Did you just mark papers on your "non-assigned" time?  "Did you just question the value a student might get from the sacrifice of your personal time to tutor them?"
  • Rational exchanges on sacred values are interpreted as highly offensive.  Do you know the sacred values of the other side?  If not, watch out!
  • It creates a high pressure selective landscape (in the ephemeral Darwinian fitness sense).  This creates all sorts of complex group arrangements and re-alignments. But group cohesion increases rather than decreases (just at a smaller group size level).  Everyone eventually needs a group for protection.  Alliances and micro politics increase tremendously.
  • As per social exchange theory, those who are the most committed to an ideal are often the most disillusioned once it breaks.  Your top teachers will usually flee en masse (if they can).
  • Old grievances and obscure history will get rehashed.  Ex post facto rationalization tendencies go wild.  "Look how evil that other guy is.  Remember is 1889 when...."
  • People tend to harken back to personified historical figures.  "Well John Dewey did....".  If things have really gone to pot, look for the emergence of devil and saviour figures.  If you see this, things are probably on the road to getting screwed.  One school system I know had as their school's panic word, the name of an old superintendent.  Expect to see names and obscure histories like these re-emerging as memetically fit insider jokes which are hard to challenge.
All in all, when social contract breaks reach the point of moral unfreezing, reformers often feel like their job is all but done.  In reality very few people are able to manage "breaking-the-back of the resistance" within a moral enterprise with any degree of control.  Such thinking is illusionary and misconceived at best.  You don't get to tell people what "religion" is best for them.  The "religions" people chose tend to be the ones specifically designed to resist control.

Of course education is a large, multi-nested system which exhibits has non-linear pressure to return practice to normal operation.  Only the most die hard martyr-like ed reformer can make much headway.  This is good and bad.  The fatalistic signals of martyrdom are usually easy to pick up.  
  • They are sacrificing "for the good of all".  
  • They are the only ones who really understand what needs to happen.
  • Everyone is just resisting.
  • Sunken cost heuristics kick in (need to go "all-in").
  • Burnout is detectable under the surface.
  • Planning worries less and less about actual logistics. "It doesn't matter anyway".
  • Resistance actually begins to energize them.  They are addicted to stress and the fight.
  • Proposed compromises and appeals for empathy are castigated as dangerous.
  • Negative sum thinking (even if it's bad for me, as long as it is worse for the other guy, I'm OK with it).
To learn more, keep an eye on the states Trump and antifa dynamics, social justice college cult dynamics and see if you can find any good civil war books that get into the mind of southern rebels (I particularly liked this one)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Religion of Social Justice Cults

The Evergreen fiasco is a watershed moment that, for many, has solidified the idea that social justice ardents express group-related dynamics similar to those found in extremist (new) religious movements.  This includes:

  • mob-like reactions to sacred value blasphemy
  • non-rationally extreme punishment for defectors
  • extremely clear delineations between in-group and out-group which can be tested by various costly commitment displays (physical and ideological)
  • shared rituals (e.g. protests, conversion experiences, "studies" degrees, etc)
  • appeals to authority (e.g. major authors  in various "studies" departments)
  • highly sacralized ideas & values not subject to rational negotiation nor compromise
  • proselytizing
  • sacred physical paces  (e.g. coloured only events, rooms, and dorms)
  • identity fusion
  • devil figure (whiteness - old powerful white cisgendered males)
  • priest class (studies professors and community organizers/ideologue leaders)
Any one element is certainly not enough to justify the label "religion".  But, taken as a whole, the aggregate paints a fairly clear picture.  Many social justice ardents express religious like behaviour.  But, more than this, I would argue that this new religious movement is in many cases following a cultish developmental curve.

New religious movements are usually started by charismatic figures who leverage strong in-group out-group dynamics to create resonating boundary conditions.  Polarization is self-re-enforcing.  This is often accompanied by the emergence of sacred texts/memes and a descent into ever more ludicrous counter-factual propositions.  In effect in-group commitment is continually tested.  While "sunken cost" heuristics come into play, rational actor logic struggles to explain the technical process of identity fusion.  Ardents are truly ready to give up almost anything to achieve the utopia of their movement.

In Evergreen and other colleges one example of this comes about via the horseshoe theory of politics (see the recent VICE interview for a taste).  We have supposed anti-racists reverting back to Jim-Crow like black-white spaces.  Only the "truly enlightened" can see how this is not racist - even though it goes against most everything I suspect leaders like Martin Luther King stood against.

The Need for Reconciliation
The current social landscape seems to be creating an "us vs. them" dynamic.  Groups on both sides want to fight it out.  Intra-national fighting certainly has the potential to send the U.S. into another civil war.  Perhaps not a hot one.  Perhaps just a series of targeted assignations and broad-based vigilantism which creates some new spatial boundaries. 

Stopping the devolution of society is a significant and very real problem.  Turchin's secular cycles work doesn't paint a rosy picture for success.  There may be so many resonating feed-back cycles that escape is improbable.  But, never go down with out a fight.... 

But fighting it out directly seems to exasperate not ameliorate the problem.  In military terms, you face the problem of radicalized insurgents in highly moral landscapes where any confrontation (or lack of full acquiesence) is interpreted as an existential threat.

Obviously the evolutionary background surrounding existential group-threats is very deep.  Real pluralism doesn't come easily.  One way to see past the negative-sum conflict scenarios is to look how religions in the past have made it past these points.

The Priest Class
To my way of thinking, one of the first ways to see what is going on is to look at the priest class.  These are the ones mobilizing and radicalizing the populace.  As I've previously explored, elite and priest classes are likely to stabilize either with 1) morals that justify freeloading of the commoners, or 2) morals which promote "purity" and facilitate norm detection via hard to fake commitments (think of selecting for politicians who would never take advantage of a tax loop less scrupulous people might).

It would seem like the religious social justice movement has been selecting for purity.  In academia, increasingly more sensitive expressions and detections of inequality and oppression are promoted.  In "studies" departments, you probably aren't going to get published nor hired by critiquing micro-aggression theory.  You'll get ahead by finding another layer to these issues.   Hence the purifying tendencies and increasingly hard to fake norms.  And, hence the applicability of horseshoe theory of politics.  Only the most "enlightened" can understand and justify how racially pure dorms and "whitey" bans are progressive.

Increasingly leaders within the moderate academic twitter sphere are coming to terms with the idea that many "studies" departments have fanaticized post-modern thought to such an extent that their activist raison d'ĂȘtre has made them into, at best, government funded quasi-religions trying to "balance" things (neo-marxism), and at worst, government funded cults which increasingly have the power to force profs and students into "re-education" pogroms.

To Reconciliation
James Lindsay has a quick video up on the tactical side of college cult take-overs.  It is obviously a bit polemical.  But understanding tactics is always a key to devising strategy.

The rise of religious pluralism in America has a tremendous number of lessons for today.  The first is that you have to leave space for the religions you don't like.

Everyone Gets Space
Just because you think Mormons or Moonies are going to destroy your society - give them space.  Violent death cults, are another thing, but luckily college progressive cults are there only in their most extreme forms of rhetoric, certainly not there (yet) in action.  This means some universities and college will become religious institutions.  Some very liberal colleges will, and should, revert back to religious institutions.  Its just important that they are upfront about what it is (appeal to authority quasi-religion & medieval-like exegesis) and what it isn't (science and critical thinking).

Call Out Title VI and Title IX Infractions
Laws are in place to prevent discrimination based upon gender, race and religion.  Use those laws.  Ion a court system appeals to the disadvantage created by systemic discrimination is unlikely to hold enough sway to justify purposeful oppressions to create "equality".  While it might be justified with some statistical views, discrimination by race gender and religion nullifies that type of coarse-brush bigotry.

Increase the Size of Religious Departments
Yes.  Increase their size by putting appeal-to-authority based disciplines in with religions.  Learning about religion, especially with the new generation's lack of familiarity and engagement with it, is and will remain important.  Learning how to deal with sacred values is important.  Just don't give the content false imprimaturs.

Move Away From Activism
The push to expand post-secondary enrolments has had some significant costs.  Activism pushes universities into vocational roles (the vocation of activism and social work and social engineering).  Playing with theory creates much different dynamics that playing with activism. And yes, I'm quite familiar with action research....  There;s no getting around the academic watering down of post-secondaries (in general).

Target the Priest Class
Hold the priests accountable for the Title IX and VI infractions which occur with their "hate speech". Make academics on both sides of the isle defend their positions via inter-disciplinary debates.  Make University professors work and engage with each other.  Refocus them on their common morality and raison d'ĂȘtre.

Cult Deprogramming
Put some cult deprogramming classes in "Studies" departments.  Heck, many places will even need a cult deprogramming officer to match their diversity officers.

Treat it Like a Religion
The most important thing is to treat these movements like a religion.  Instead of attacking people's talking points (who does that with a Jehova's Witness), politely say, that is not my religious belief, but I'm glad that it gives you meaning, and I believe, as with most every religion, there is someone who probably needs your perspective and the balance it might provide them.

For more information on the Evergreen flash point