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?