Sunday, August 13, 2017

Well Intentioned but Naive Polarization

Here is an example of well intentioned sentiment (violence is bad and thinking other people are inferior is nasty).

The problem is that the sentiment is rather naive of what is actually happening on the ground.  I certainly excuse politicians for this.  They get excoriated if they don't represent the right sentiment.  But, academically minded can and should do better.

The problem is, as I understand years of twitter feeds and youtube feeds, some of the protesters are protesting agains racism and demagoguery.  However, the racism they are protesting against is in terms of classical racism (based of skin phenotype) rather than new racism (based upon punch-down intersectionality).

How else do you explain "Nazi's" who are proud to have Jewish friends, who overtly stand against classical racism towards people of color, and rally around equality under the law, etc.  While there are certainly some (perhaps many) full on white supremacists, and while I fully understand the value of condemning anything associated with such movements, the problem is, statements like Notley's are likely to come across as exceptionally hollow to those who may have been protesting these exact things but are now condemned as deplorably racist Nazi's.

Thus the situation is sort of like how Evergreen professor Brett Weinstein was condemned as a racist for complaining against racism.  Perhaps the main difference being there was a crazy supremacist prof down the hall who did the same act for different reasons...and plans weren't in place for distancing and denouncing.  Perhaps that means the protestors are in fact soft of Nazi styled white supremacy.  That is a very logical point to consider.

My main worry isn't about how "Nazi" the group was - I think with current polarizations, accurate assessments would be hopelessly flawed.  My worry is that calling people racist who, in their minds, were protesting racism (even if just against whites) diminishes the social stigma of racism and creates a backlash that needn't have been created with a bit of wisdom.

But I certainly understand how people view the condemnation of anything associated with supremacist groups more valuable than any potential backlash.  I just worry that the backlash calculus has been underestimated and hence outcomes may strengthen rather than weaken racism.


I've long predicted that the popularization of privilege based identity politics would prove to be highly cancerous to civil society.  While the issue is now endemic to the US, there are likely still a number of turning points that need to be crossed before its (unintended) consequences fully metastasize.  #Charlotesville is one of those turning points.

For the unaware, alt-light groups have started trying to match the left's success at community organizing.  The Charlottesville protest centered on the removal of historical symbols.  Basically one side is purging history Taliban style in order to clean up the symbolic messaging government condones within the public sphere.  Obviously this hasn't gone well.  The car ramming is absolutely devastating both for the people killed and injured and for political discourse in the US.  Civil War, as I've long predicted is a real possibility.

I'm quite proud of Alberta's Cree nation approach to this same issue.  In Edmonton, rather than remove offensive illustrations of the traumatic Residential School era, they made offensive pictures into part of a larger story about the evolution of our people's understanding of Residential issues.  I have to say I was very proud of our Cree treaty partners in this regard.  Of course Cree philosophy evolved along a process philosophy line of thought which makes such approaches both likely and natural.  Good on them.

But US progressivism seems more inclined to follow a purge model rather than a multi-cultural model.  I won't speculate on cultural evolutionary reasons why this might be so.

Despite the popularization that all the marchers are Nazi alt-right white supremacists, such generalizations strike me just as hollow as the idea that protests involving antifa's automatically means all marchers were fascist rioters.  Both sides have their shock troops, their crazy troops and people with legitimate and often nuanced grievances.  Nazi's were prominent in the march, but unless one calls all white nationals Nazi's the crowds make-up and political intents are almost certainly more mixed than twitter and media mobs suggest.  For instance, I am certain to be labelled a Nazi for even suggesting this.  Think about what that implies for a moment...

Conveniently progressive doctrine has a solution - nuance in racism or any other sin doesn't matter.  Just like there is no legitimate way to draw the prophet Mohammed, from what I understand, Trumpish whites feel like they have no way to express or celebrate their identity.  From what I gather, they seem to feel their only permissible role is as a punching bag.  Social justice confession, and acquiesce to any and all intersectionality comes across as a new Nicene creed to which every knee must bend.  As a cultural evolutionist, I suspect this primes dynamics similar to those which occurred during medieval Christian-Barbarian confrontations.  Perhaps I'm wrong.  I doubt it though.

So, in an attempt to understand what is happening, here is my outsider sense of the sides...


My sense is that the alt-right and nazi groups represented in Charlottesville are probably better defined as nationalists than supremacists.  There are undoubtedly many supremacists mixed in.  But I confess ignorance here.  I have no interest delving into that world.  Nor would it be productive in our polarized world to tease out distinctions between direct supremacy and "failure to support-intersectional" de-facto supremacy.  Heck, even talking about these issues in a nuanced way is likely to get me labelled Nazi....  And people wonder why many scientists worry about the Stalinesque effects of political correctness has on academic discourse. and research....

But I suspect after Charlottesville, the minor racists will have to decide whether they are cursed no matter what and go full nazi, or purge for more mainstream positioning. I'm not sure which way they will go.  So the easy answer is to assume that the population will bifurcate.

To figure that out, here are the two competing narratives.  The car attack all but ensures narrative 2 has the moral high ground.

  1. These are people, almost certainly somewhat racist by todays standards, who are expressing a legitimate right to assembly.  They are protesting attacks against them and their history which are based upon their physical identities.  These attacks are verbal, job related (doxxing), economic (affirmative action discrimination and changes in government focus) and cultural.  They want individuals to have equal opportunities.  But ironically, group derived benefits are fine and should not be penalized.  Equality of group opportunities should not be forced.  If some groups are more successful than others, that is fine.  Group effects can accrue as long as individuals are not penalized (i.e.  classic affirmative action is fine - if there are two equal choices you're fine supporting your own group, but current affirmative action is wrong - by advancing a minority individual you necessarily penalize a majority individual).  Thus the protest is over their right to function as a group.
  2. These are supremacists who want to keep minorities down in order to maintain their own privilege.  They try to spin supremacy under a guise that "group-level benefits are fine". This is obviously problematic as it leads to or perpetuates systemic racism.  Worse than this, it leads to exponentially increasing systemic biases.  In exponential growth systems anything slightly racist is like a growth rate greater than 1. Hence, the validity of intersectional concerns.

Now I am not sure I fully captured each idea.  They both have logical problems.  But I did try to do justice to each side (at least using terms I understand).  What this does highlight though, is that the battle lines are likely to get drawn into a classic "individuals" vs. "group level" battle. 

Is the country a bunch of groups?  Or is it a bunch of individuals?  Both solutions are problematic.  I would hope groups as defined by phenotypical markers will be unstable.  It is incredibly racist in an #EvergreenStCol sort of way.  But I think it will take a long time for this to sink in.

I think the libertarian approach where everyone is an individual who is treated equally is problematic because group-level adaptations are natural and truly beneficial (for group members).  Because they are so beneficial they are inevitable.

Thus I think the current trajectory where a "white" majority is hindered from assembling and organizing remains likely.  The hypocrisy will frustrate this group immensely (from what I understand it already does).  Many will see the fight as an inevitable losing battle.  More and more will go suicidal because of this. Violence levels, like the car attack, will increase.  The other side will match the violence and polarization will increase.  A targeted-assassination level civil war will ensue.  A Trump removal from office (impeachment) or re-election will exasperate the conflict.  

Unfortunately I'm not sure of any valves that will prevent this from happening.  If the population can let "nazi's" march without violent attack, perhaps enough energy would be dispelled for the system to survive.  But I think the risk that such organization would get out of hand is too great a risk for the establishment / people to handle. 

Immigration and the creation of scarcity within commoners is another possible way to escape the civil war trap.  But as Turchin suggests, it is elite over-population rather than commoner immiseration which is the problem.  Immigration locks helped prevent the 1920's civil destabilization from getting out of hand.  But it was combined with elite class philanthropic competition.  I don't see that happening today.  The elite class is too large and nationalistic sentiment too low.

Thus, I am rather sad about what Charlottesville portends.  Not because it shows how many "Nazi's" there are.  But because I suspect there is no way out of the trap it reveals. The US seems incapable of escaping a purge-like mentality to social conflict.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Fake News Science

One thing the Google Memo Gate is sure to do is make a lot of geneticists take a hard look at the post modernist social justice genie.

For instance you don't need to be a high-level population geneticist to spot the obviously fake news in this headline...
Of course those steeped into cult like dynamics of of this in-group may be blind to the hyperbole (the headline is just presenting the zeitgeist - type of rationalization).  Educated people who actively seek out alternative viewpoints and enjoy associating with people of different ideological perspectives are likely to have a fairly different perspective; The headline in no ways mirrors anything that the memo actually said and even a liberal "zeitgeist" interpretation can't reconcile the error.

The history of the social destabilizations of other Great Religious Awakenings shows that pluralism (re)emerges when people see the evilness ascribed by their priests as demonstrably false.  Pat walked 1km on the Sabbath and so must be absolutely evil.  GoogleMemoGate and EvergreenPurge are but two of the latest examples of this.  Well informed people who lean to heterodox interactions tend to see the banality in fire-and-brimstone sin ascriptions.  Simple interaction with the people under attack show sin implications to be patently wrong. Pat is a kind person who loves church and just likes to walk.

At some point the priests lose their authority.  At that point you either have a critical mass for pluralism or you have a critical number of zealots for a hot civil war.  It is really hard to predict which way our current Great "Religious" Awakening will go.  We have the education and social tools for another pluralistic solution.  But we also have hordes of people with little religious conditioning, no experience with inter-denominational conflict, and little hope of smoothly navigating sacred value breaches.

There is one thing that seems certain though, media priests keep walking themselves into insignificance. They are quickly becoming as impartial and trustworthy as The National Enquirer or The Daily Show.  The main difference is that the MSM has many more pockets of objectivity.  But the baby is getting thrown out with the bathwater.  Trump may have egged them on, but GoogleMemoGate shows social civil war lines are inevitable. You can't just keep your head down. Most every institution is subject to diversity priests (professional and lay). Social media ensures this is so.


Google fired an employee who sent out a memo based on a standard evolutionary social science explanation of differences between groups.  This class of argument doesn't change much whether the groups were determined arbitrarily, randomly, or via self-selection.  As usual Slate Star Codex does a good job explaining the science to a non-specialist audience.

Aside from the obvious take-a-way that we are indeed in the midst of a hot culture war and cold civil war, it is interesting to see:

  1. how this pushes the formation of adaptive groups (groups where members offer true protection to their in-group from any out-group attack, or more generally, offer a probabilistic fitness advantage over long-time frames)
  2. how important framing is for the way people understand the conflict.

I've talked for years about how essential a correct understanding of adaptive groups are in the study of human social dynamics.  It is very hard to understand such dynamics unless you invoke multi-level selection.  One can certainly argue that the ephemeral nature of human groups makes fitness based perspectives over-extended.  However, GoogleGate shows that a number of evolutionary biologists are realizing just how threatened their branch of science is to social justice activism.  As a result, you're seeing prominent figures pulling together against Blank Slate Post Modern religion.

I suspect we'll continue to see such dynamics increasing in intensity.  The well this creates was one of my big worries against the nascent trend to academic creed statements.  Because formal creedal statements will eventually be needed for full academic protection of many minority or non PC positions, the risks of catastrophic tribablization increase. This type of thing is just too destructive of social asabiyah.

Here's one way I see the importance of framing in terms of the dynamics around GoogleGate.  

Someone in your family says you can never be attractive because you take after parent X and are likely to have sever acne. Versus, let's figure out why some parts of our family have acne and see what we can do to figure the problem out.

The Google diversity memo strikes many as an overt attack which reinforces bigoted positions.  But it also strikes others as a valid attempt to understand the problems.  Large group problems are ideally confronted via a mixture of utopian transformation and pragmatism. Unfortunately, the stability of heterodox solutions are sensitive to social asabiyah and exquisitely sensitive to changes in social asabiyah.

While I suspect the memo arose in the context of finding a solution to gender disparity (via accurate strategical analysis), I don't think there's much question that this is not how the opening paragraphs framed things.  So I see both sides of things here.  There is really no way to pull the sides together.  One side is taking the path of utopian transformation (which is indeed necessary in social change).  The other side is taking the path of hyper-objectivity (which is indeed necessary for change sustainability).

Monday, July 31, 2017

When Diplomatic Nuance Resonates within a Liturgical Well

Diplomacy’s highly refined language and language norms seem culturally adaptive.  They minimize conflict by creating numerous language graduations. This enable groups to more easily understand each other.  This stands in direct contrast to Trump’s rather polarizing black-white “diplomacy”.  

Historical caricatures of the coutier era (16th to 19th c) make etiquette hyper-sensitivities easy to imagine. Of course, at that stage of cultural evolution such sensitivities certainly may have been required for the borderless world in which people lived.  Now that the idea of the nation state is taken for granted (i.e. the cultural evolution of the idea has stabilized and selection of requisite behavioural norms has become broad & deep enough to surpass criticality) and the cold war is over, I wonder to what extent hypersensitive-etiquette is still needed?

Are current world leader hyper-etiquette levels now mainly: 
  • an artifact that enables class delineations (i.e. keeps common riff raf like Trump from jumping into governance circles)?  
  • a cheap way to further minimize conflict risks, albeit with lower marginal gain rates that once occurred?
  • a spandrel of evolutionary tendencies which select for significance-loading?

LITURGY  (i.e Significane-Loading)
Religion tends to evolve rituals highly imbued with meaning. A change from a one deacon sacramental act to three deacon sacramental act can leave parishioners contemplative about intended meanings.  Just think about the depth of symbolism associated with smoke in the Catholic faith.  Or the order of colours in a plains Indian medicine wheel.  

Of relevance here is the interesting psychological finding that monkeys and other animals tend to copy the intent of an observed action while humans tend to copy seemingly meaningless actions.  Functionalistic evolutionists seem keen to find adaptive reasons which can explain why this might be so.  Since I don’t like functionalist post-facto reasoning, I have little interest in why this might be the case.  I’m content accepting that it is the case.

Hyper-active agent detection systems synthesize casually unrelated items to produce plausible explanations.  Once a set of (real or non-real) causal-links achieve a memetically optimal solution, changes to the parts (actually significant or not to the causal solution) become potentially noteworthy.  After all, its not the intent that is copied, but rather, the minute of the parts are copied and then an intent is re-deduced.

But, the evolutionary landscape of religion suggests even more.  People seem inclined to need a certain “depth” to their belief.  Beliefs can’t be too simple, nor too obfuscated. They can’t have just one layer, nor can they have impenetrable depth.  Basically, case study analysis shows that over time religions stabilize at a place where ritual and ritual associated acts are ascribed great depth.  The way we copy information suggests that even potentially insignificant points can be ascribed great significance when they are changed, omitted or introduced.  The sacralization of mimetically fit rituals ramps up the potential significance of any change. Even minor changes could ruin divine perfection.  And who is to know what unintended consequences our own vanity/hubris could unleash via the butterfly effect.  Only God knows.  From an evolutionary perspective, one would probably just say people are very sensitive about norm breaking in group endeavours, especially highly sacralized highly implicit norms which are designed to ferret out free-loaders and out-groupers.

Now I am not going to say that diplomacy is a spandrel of memetic well (specifically the co-evolutionary fitness of significance-loading).  Rather, my point is a more nuanced.  

Once diplomacy is fairly settled and real conflict is fairly unlikely, people still seem to have a desire for highly nuanced highly significant diplomatic language and affects.

What are the chances of Germany and the U.S. going to war?  Pretty slim.  So why do we need sophisticated diplomatic language?  I suspect there is a reasonable amount of wire-tapping going on.  People are not clueless about the other side’s interests.  It is fairly easy to understand each other in relation to things that matter.  Maybe nuance can help a few trade deals here and there, but I suspect fairly frank language would, in most cases, work just as well. The chances of war-level offence occurring if the wrong adjective is chosen is probably pretty small.  Trump is, of course, testing this out, much to the chagrin of many elites and wanna-be elites on both sides.

Rather, what I am suggesting is that people like their leaders’ affects to convey a sense of liturgical depth; a sense of sacred significance ascribed to a certain percentage of actions, to a certain percentage of language.  

My sense is that this is one of the reasons Obama was so loved.  He conveyed the right sense of gravitas.  His eloquence mixed with an affect of searching for just-the-perfect-phrase perfectly conveyed this.  There was something more to what he said. There is something less to what Trump says.  Perhaps true.  Perhaps not.

Do we really fail to understand what Trump is saying? From the hate levelled his way, it would seem people understand enough.  The hate isn’t about uncertainty.  Their is purposeful mockery of the lack of linguistically precision.  Mockery of gestures which really do seem to convey at least as much information as any well-crafted verbiage.  They is a hate of brutish frankness.  Perhaps it is because brutishness is truly offensive and can really cause wars.  But perhaps it is just because such affects are simply uncouth, boorish and ugly.  In essence, they are too coarse and so overstate things that could be understated while conveying similar-enough ideas.  One is yelling in your ear, the other is saying, excuse me, would it bother you to….

This is certainly likely.  But what I also wonder is if people have a natural tendency for liturgical depth do elite classes operate within this landscape in such a way as to produce clear delineations between those that can be entrusted with leadership (the elites) and those that can not (the commoners).  In other words, does it evolve into a demurrer of a priest class that supposedly has the training and skills to successfully navigate inter-group relations?

So let’s recap and take a look at our data points.  People have:
  • A seemingly natural tendency for elite class to resonate around discernibly different behavioural expressions
  • A natural tendency for religious ritual to be imbued with extra significance
  • Diplomatic affect & language as a successful tool to minimize inter-group conflict.

My sense is that diplomatic affect, a fully rational solution to inter-group conflict minimization is subject, like anything, to the natural tendencies just listed.  As politics becomes more religiousized (& polarized), I’m not sure why it should escape the dynamics associated with moralized adaptive groups?  

Those dynamics suggest hypersenstized in-group out-group demarkers.  These demarkers are more about internal policing than they are about external relations.  However, they do limit who gets to lead out-group relations.

This leaves some questions which I don’t think are really answerable (without just-so functionalism).  Do we “want” superfluous depth because:
  • it just feels right
  • it is a good way to distinguish true elites from forgeries
  • it minimizes the risks of uneducated brutish commoners starting inter-group conflicts
  • it is a small cost add-on which can further reduce inter-group conflict probabilities
  • it feels like the right memetic solution because it produces the right amount of mystique
  • the right amount of mystique it creates eventually produces priest-like dynamics which is probabilistically fit evolutionary success formula (i.e. it usually produces adaptive groupings)

Regardless of the answer to his functional question, I don't see how we can reject the idea that our religious tendencies bias us toward imbuing important inter-group relational rituals with extra depth and significance.  The bias effect may produce "just the right" amount of diplomatic sophistication. But, in a world where nations, especially Western ones understand each other really well and where existential conflict is increasingly unlikely, perhaps it biases us past what is needed?

Perhaps this produces minor gains for fairly inexpensive increases in affect nuance.  But perhaps it produces religious-like dynamics that we post facto rationalize as necessary where in fact a much rougher job would be just as good?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Priest Class Craziness Facilitates Pluralism

One of the interesting insights from Chris Beneke's book on the rise of American religious pluralism was the observation that pluralism emerged once ministers' hyperbolic rhetoric about other denominations was seen as both toothless and sensationalistic.

Priest classes exist in an interesting landscape.  To increase their power and reach they must stir up the populace.  This is usually done via rhetoric accentuating existential fears.  That tribe down the road is pure evil.  Or, this practice/behaviour is destructive and evil.  Of course this creates a competitive cultural landscape.  Reach is directly dependent upon virility.  Sensationalism is selected for.

But as Nowak's virus simulations show, too much virulence is counter-productive.  You lose your hosts.  But if you're too weak, you can't expand. Over long time scales moderate virulence stabilizes.  The moderation of syphilis is a classic example.  This solution balances both long-term and short-term selective forces.  (Another improbable solution is spasms of extreme virulence).

Priest classes face a similar quandary.  Once "everyone-else" is labelled an "egregious sinner" it is pretty hard not to see through the holes in this cloth.  Is your neighbour you've known for years really that evil?  Doubtful.  Is that person you trade with once a year really a sub-human? Doubtful.  Populist based priest classes are pressured into self-destructive virulence.  Here's a modern example.

A common path within this descent processes is the move from sins of commission to sins of omission.  Enemies become not just anyone who is against, but rather anyone who is not explicitly for us.

This is a high risk high reward strategy.  The mob mentality it relies upon is great for purges.  There is, after all, a reason why a number of people now liken this evolution in social justice activism to the dynamically similar 20th century communist purges, especially those by Mao.

Fortunately it takes a really nasty despot to successfully control the backlash engendered by the move from sins of commission to sins of omission.  Human's evolutionary past suggests the move to kingdoms was unstable precisely for these reasons.  Chiefdoms might temporarily ally during times of severe existential-level threats.  Power was usually divided between religious leaders and war leaders.  Occasionally though, the temporary war leader/coordinator and temporary spiritual leader/coordinator might be the same.  The temptation to maintain power over this new higher-level (temporarily) adaptive unit was sometimes too much to give up.  For a long time though, such leaders were routinely assassinated.  The supposition is that they could not muster a large enough, loyal enough force to provide adequate 24-7 protection.  Multi-level selection theory is a good lens from which to understand such dynamics.

Eventually though, after enough cultural selection and presumably enough cultural evolution transmission biasing epigenetic or genetic level stuff, the god-king solution stabilized.  However, from what I understand of the archaeology, it took a long time for the god-king solution to stabilize over any substantial period of time.  Egypt, China and the Indus valley are early examples of where individual god-kings broke into multi-decade stability.  One assumption is that stability started to occur as despot levels decreased and the fitness sacrifices of the plebes was offset by state benefits.  Basically, god-kings found out how to provide benefits while at the same time herd-like characteristics were selected for amongst the population.

What does this imply for today's crazy priest class activists?

  • They will likely bifurcate into high-despotic and low-despotic solutions.
  • Successful solutions will amalgamate religious-like leadership with war-like leadership.
  • Heterogeneous interactions are required in order for people to learn that the "other's" evilness is usually priestly hyperbole (at least between similar-enough groups with generally altruistic and liberal tendencies).
  • Populist priest classes have a very narrow solution space to stabilize.  High virulence is self-destructive.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Meme Wars

The culture wars are over.  The progressive wars are ongoing, but slowing down and morphing into a number of distinct battles.  For instance, they've split into tactically distinct strategically linked campaigns like:

  • Immigration
  • Trump impeachment / marginalization
  • BDS (Israel boycott), anti-BDS 
  • Gay inclusion vs gay political purity (i.e. Chicago dyke rally & Gays for Trump bans)
  • Post-secondary progressive cults (i.e. Evergreen & post-modernist religious extremism)
  • Main stream media over-the-top punditry vs. fake media
  • etc.
In the midst of this comes an example of the "Right" adopting the "Left's" long held arms advantage with respect to "hate speech".  In most cases, hate speech is simply any type of heresay against major progressive values.  It ranges from actual attacks based upon identifiable group characteristics to micro-aggressions to any non-supportive stance against intersectionally disadvantaged.  But a good example of the meme wars is the current brouha-ha over Linda Sarsour's Jihad comments (for those unfamiliar with her she fills a Milo Yiannapoulos like niche for the left.

Here's some anti Sarsour stuff

the money quote

And the context which indicates she is using Jihad in its moderate sense as any struggle against evil.

The interesting thing, is of course not the polemical battle ranging, but rather the obvious attempt to normalize / re-appropriate "Jihad" and the even more obvious attempt to hate-speech it like both N words.

In terms of the meme wars, this is a pretty big shift.  Up to now the right has usually been at a substantial disadvantage in linguistical re-appropriation tactics.  It is a prime reason the culture wars ended up as such a rout.  The "rights" obvious tactic is to prevent any normalization of jihad, or presumably many other Islamic in-group terms.  Thus it would seem there is a reaction to fully "other" the intersection of progressivism and Islam.

In terms of battle lines, this probably makes sense.  On the cultural evolution front it is interesting to see how both sides are becoming so structurally similar - at least on the tactics & weapons fronts....

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'être 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'être.

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