Insurrection Bandwagon

There was a recent insurrection at the United States Capitol building in Washington, DC. I won’t take any more time discussing whether this is hyperbole or real. In the end, it doesn’t matter. It’s not relevant to the solution.

From the perspective of propaganda, it’s been an effective message. It’s gotten Trump haters and supporters to view Trump as a common enemy—some of them anyway. Some people and entities can’t performatively distance themselves fast enough or scapegoat him loudly enough.

Whilst I do feel that much of the hullabaloo is performative, I’m not going to focus on the performative aspect. This serves to amplify, but it’s not the central message. Instead, I’d like to frame this through the lens of René Girard’s mimetic theory of conflict and resolution.

Adopting Girard’s vantage, we can see each of mimetic desire, scapegoating, mimetic crisis, ritual, sacrifice, and culture.

Mimetic Desire

In a social context, mimetic theory is about creating in-groups and out-groups—and intentionally so. Groups have rules, by which membership is governed. Symbols are employed to amplify belonging and compliance. At it’s core, mimetic desire employs mimesis—imitation. Monkey see, monkey do.

Here, society is the prevalent in-group. From their perspective, this is the us of the in-group versus the them of the out-group. Girard noted that us versus them is evident in many contexts—whether in the wild or otherwise—, and it can be exploited. It’s about creating a flag to rally around—in this case literally, figuratively speaking.

The mechanism of mimetic desire is to coalesce the focus on some object. From the positive dimension, the desire is to belong, but mimetic desire doesn’t have to be positive. As in this case, it can be negative. The masses have assembled for a common cause of vilifying one Donald J Trump.

Mimetic Crisis

The insurrection is the mimetic crisis. It broke the rules. It’s unclear how all of the many rules that were broken in the four preceding years were able to fly under the radar. To some extent, the US government is constructed of two nearly equal in-groups. They each belong to the institution of institutionalised government and so-called Republican ideal as an expression of modern Democracy. They share some common beliefs, but this sharing diverges dimensionally and methodologically. The telos are multi faceted, and each group prefers different facets—and the facets desired by the public are different still.

At first—to borrow from Kübler-Ross—, there was denial by the Trump-aligned party of sycophants. These Trump-aligned Republicans (read: Neoconservatives; UK: Tories) were also aligned with the outgroup, leaving them vulnerable to ostracism. Meanwhile, the Democrats (read: Liberal/Neoliberal; UK: Labour) secured the moral high-ground and control of the larger in-group. They painted themselves as the adults wearing big boy trousers (over their Pull-Ups).

Scapegoating

Scapegoating is instrumental in mimetic theory. It’s a mechanism to build solidarity and cohesion through exclusion. Narratively, it operates to distinguish acceptable behaviour versus unacceptable. In almost all instances, scapegoating is an object to project blame.1 The remaining members have received the signal.

Here, we have two entities to scapegoat 2: the insurrectionists and the Instigator in Chief, soon to be ex-president, Donald Trump.

Ritual

Ritualistically, scapegoats need to be bear the brunt of the anger of the in-group and associated friends and family. There are procedures to follow. These rituals play out in the House in the form of impeachment, and in the Senate in the form of conviction. For the uninvited guests, the traditional court system ritual

Part of the outrage is performative ritual. Certain entities are checking the boxes suggested by their PR teams. These same entities had nothing to say for the past four years as they’ve enriched themselves at the expense of the American public and world, but this was the last straw. They vowed to cut off support and funding —until they don’t, but by then no one will be any the wiser. People have both short attentions spans and memories.

There is no requirement whatsoever that rituals produce anything. As hard work is its own reward, ritual for the sake of ritual is all that’s necessary. Rituals needn’t be authentic or heartfelt. Simply mime the parts, and you’re all set. Plus, you get full credit—participation points just for playing.

Sacrifice

One ritual is to sacrifice the goats, but we need only exile the offending members. In Christian lore 3, there are actually two goats—a sacrificial goat and an emissary goat—the scapegoat. The sacrificial goat is, obviously, sacrificed—burnt offerings—, but the emissary goat was released into the wilderness, taking with it all sins and impurities. This is the excommunicated, the shunned.

Culture

Where performatism really comes in, is cultural signalling. People and other entities work overtime to signal they are on the winning side. This includes everything from Oscar-winning performances to cringeworthy Razzie-candidates. Those in the public eye tend to go overboard. It’s good to remember that an empty vessel makes the most noise.


  1. The notable exception to this scapegoat-blame relationship is the Christian Christ myth, where Jesus acted as a scapegoat but was without blame.
  2. Trump and the Scapegoat Effect, The American Conservative, David Gornoski, September 1, 2016.
    An interesting article discusses the Trump-scapegoating phenomenon that also mentions René Girard’s work.
  3. Leviticus 16:21–22

Cultural Diversity

Humans seem to be hard-wired to prefer in-groups over out-groups, family and tribe over outsiders. In the business world, we hear about corporate culture. But these days, diversity is all the rage. Companies strive to convince the world that that have diverse and inclusive cultures, but what does this mean? Is there such an animal as a diverse culture? And how does one balance the familiarity of in-group homogeneity versus out-group heteronormativity?

you can’t spell culture without ‘cult’

In corporate-speak, there is the concept of cultural fitness. Afterall, we want efficient and productive humans and processes? People who don’t fit this mould are disruptive, right? So, we are justified in excluding people from the group, right? Remember, you can’t spell culture without ‘cult’.

Although the United States brand themselves as a cultural melting pot, this is only partially correct, and mostly in more populous areas, and even this occurs in pockets.

Diversity—in hiring and otherwise—is only accepted if it is along approved superficial dimensions—skin colour, national origin, sex, religious orientation, maybe gender, perhaps some latitude around lifestyle choices. But more substantial diversity need not apply. They are interested in hiring conforming normies. The gay guy is OK, so long as he toes the rest of the line. That woman: ditto. That Muslim: same. That black person: so long as s/he acts white in public.

everything needs to distil down to the white male ethic

Performatively, they’ll accept the diversity proponent as a PR prop. This person is proof that they hire [target group]. This person broadcasts how s/he can wear their cultural garb, bring cultural dishes to potlucks, put up posters and advertise about support groups outside of work. But in the end, everything needs to distil down to the white male ethic.

Talk about work-life balance is fine, so long as work gets the upper hand. You need to be able to talk about charity, but you need to be motivated by money and status. There are exceptions to this motivation, say, public health and healthcare, education, and so on, but the boundaries in these professions are narrow, too. Not acting ‘professional’ is a key criticism. So, if your diversity counters some perceived professionalism, your diversity is not welcome.

not acting ‘professional’ is a key criticism

If the company hires people who routinely put in 60 hours for 40 hours of salary, they are not interested in the person with boundaries, insisting on 40 hours of work for 40 hours of salary. They aren’t interested in people who might question the ethics of the company’s business practices. Companies aren’t generally interested in rebels.

You need to be Sartre’s waiter. You’ve got a role to perform. In fact, you are evaluated specifically how well you perform that role. So, whilst you may be a singing waiter or a dancing waitress, your boundaries aren’t much broader than this. It’s easy for an observer to dismiss the call for diversity. S/he’s a waiter, right? Why should I expect anything different to that? And this is what locks in a lack of diversity.

DISCLAIMER: This ended up more of a meandering rant, but I’m distracted and out of time. And so it goes…

Unintentional Indoctrination

Fiction in the form of film, television, and books has an insidious propaganda effect. This effect is not necessarily conscious or intentional. In practice, it may simply be a meme as a result of prior programming.

I don’t tend to engage with much fiction, though I have in the past. I hadn’t really considered the indoctrination effects at the time. Lately, on account of my significant other, I’ve been consuming fiction via Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, Starz, and the like. It’s mostly drivel, in my opinion, but I like to spend time with her, and we can connect discussing plot lines and such over a shared experience.

I find the repetition of facile but culturally prevailing themes such as right and wrong, good and evil, heroes and villains, the power of community and the detriment of the individual, except for the rugged individual, who prevails against all odd.  

These shows propagate pop-psychology beliefs and over-simplify complexity to create a digestible narrative, but which is the equivalent of eating refined white bread instead of whole grains.

My point is not that the writers are seeking to influence the masses, it’s just to point out that this is the case. People view this, and use it to calibrate their own believe systems, but it’s a recursive, self-referential model—an echo chamber. I haven’t done any investigation or research into whether people have already made this connection. I will if I get the time.

One might argue that a counter model would not be well-received, and a goal of most fiction is to gain an audience and earn some money, so give the people what they are asking for and don’t make them think about their worldview. Besides, a single film or series is likely to challenge ones prevailing filters anyway. Even if someone were to create an anti-theme, cognitive dissonance may just rationalise it as a statement, so satire rather than objective criticism.

We do have Absurdist authors, like Franz Kafka, Donald Barthelme, or even Kurt Vonnegut, who rather point out absurd situations in life and some possible speculative fictions, but these Post-Modern writers are accepted, though arguably not widely consumed, save for intellectuals and their quasi-counterparts.

If I had more time, I’d document a few examples, but these shows are typically difficult to sit through once casually let alone carefully dissect. Perhaps, I’ll do this for the sake of science.

Character Arc

The US government are a crime syndicate, a veritable mafioso family. The current Don, quite literally, Donald Trump, The Don, is a conman at all levels. Some forget that conman is short for confidence man. About a quarter of the eligible voters had confidence in him–or at the least had more confidence in him than in his rival.

The US don’t have a vote of no confidence, but the impeachment process may serve as a worst case proxy. Watching the news, much f the political theatre and grandstanding revolves around the issue of character. It all sounds so tidy. A particular legal defence tactic is to impugn character. He’s got character; she doesn’t. One can’t trust that bloke even though he’s in a position presumably predicated on this character thing.

Character is a quaint notion, remnant of specious Virtue Ethics. The warring families–let’s call them Republicans and Democrats–attempt to secure the moral high ground by making a claim on the impeccability of their character pedigree. But what is character?

Character is another weasel word mired in cultural relativism. Essentially, it’s an asymptotic function wherein a person approaches some archetypal ‘good life’, as in eudaimonia. In the end, it suffers the fate of a no true Scotsman logical fallacy.

Criminal Conservatism

A few years ago, I shared with a colleague that I had noticed that my high school classmates who seemed to be the most non-conformist (or perhaps the most anti-authoritarian), the ones most likely to have abused drugs and alcohol and most likely to criticise the Man, have by and large become extremely conservative on the political spectrum. Most are card-carrying Republicans, and dreaded low-information voters, continuing the trend of low-information acquisition and processing. He said that he had noticed a similar trend.

I still keep in contact with some some old mates who are Conservative Republicans, but who were high-information consumers then and still, so I am not saying that all Conservatives are low-information people.

A man who is not a Liberal at sixteen has no heart; a man who is not a Conservative at sixty has no head.

—Benjamin Disraeli (Misattributed)

The past couple of years, in a sort of nod to Bukowski, I’ve been researching or circulating among the underbelly of the United States, the veritable dalit-class comprised of drug dealers and users, pimps, prostitutes, and thieves. And I’ve noticed the same trend. These people might fear or hate the police and the system, and they may not vote or even be high-information seekers, but they seem to have a marked propensity to Conservatism. I admit that this is anecdotal and rife with confirmation bias, but this is my observation.

To broad brush any group into some monolith is always a fools errand and missing dimensional nuance, but the general direction holds. In my observation, these people are very black & white, and they want to see law & order (as much as they want to avoid its glance). They are interested in fairness, and call out being beat, as in being shorted in a drug deal or overpay at the grocery store–the same grocery store from which they just shoplifted.

When they see a news story, ‘That bank robber deserved to get caught’ would not be an unexpected response. Even if they got caught, they might voice that they deserved it. The received sentence might be a different story.

I am not sure why this shift from anti-establishment to hyper establishment happens. I’ve also noticed that even if they dislike the particular people serving government roles, they still feel that the abstract concepts of government, democracy, capitalism, and market systems make sense, if only the particular instance is not great.

One reaction I had is that some of these people feel that the transgressions of their youth might have been avoided only if there were more discipline, and so they support this construct for the benefit of future generations, who, as embodied in Millennials, are soft and lack respect for authority.

I’d recently re-discovered a Bill Moyers interview with moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, and there is some relationship. And whilst I could critique some of Haidt’s accepted metanarrative relative to society, his points are valid within the constraints of this narrative.

The video is almost an hour long and was produced in 2012, it is a worthwhile endeavour to watch.

I am wondering if anyone else has seen this trend or who has experienced a contrary trend. Extra points for an explanation or supporting research.

Cover image: Sean Penn, excerpt from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Brett Cavanaugh, SCOTUS and posterboy Conservative hack

The Problem of Rape

Last week, Motherboard published the full email thread in which Stallman wrote that the “most plausible scenario” is that Epstein’s underage victims in his campaign of trafficking were “entirely willing.” Stallman also argued about the definition of “rape” and whether the term applies to the victims.

When someone else in the email thread pointed out that victim Virginia Giuffre, who was 17 when she was forced to have sex with AI pioneer Marvin Minsky, Stallman said “it is morally absurd to define ‘rape’ in a way that depends on minor details such as which country it was in or whether the victim was 18 years old or 17.”

Vice.com

Richard Stallman resigned from several positions after these comments were surfaced.

The United States have a communication problem that transcends their petty polar politics, and this issue extends to the West.

The conversation around rape and Julian Assange became an issue based on Sweden’s characterisation of the crime as they see it, but this is different.

As with many jurisdictions, the United States creates age-based legal boundaries. This is expedient, to to sure, but we also know, rape aside, that people mature at different paces–not to mention the concept that the brain is not fully developed (whatever than means) until around age 30.

Age is used to delimit majority for contracts, marriage, sex (consent), alcohol, voting, military service, and so on, but it’s a weak tea proxy.

As a legal/social subject, rape is fairly categorically reviled, but it is hardly cut and dry, especially when one confounds the issue with the concept of statutory rape, which is where the systems strips the concept of consent from the equation, so that at 6,569 days a woman (because this is predominately applied to females over males) has no right to consent but at 6,570 does. This is further exacerbated because different jurisdictions have different ages of consent and loopholes, that are beyond the scope of my commentary and misses the point of communication.

Hot Button

Rape, race, and gender are hot button topics used to curtail and derail legitimate discourse and conversation. Whether Stallman’s comments exceeded the bounds of my argument does not invalidate the argument. Perhaps, he did overstep the bounds of civility, but that’s not my concern here.

To me, the question is, given I feel that the sole purpose of jurisprudence systems is to consolidate power to the status quo, how do we create a fair but ‘knowable’ boundary around things for which we currently rely on age, one where both sides of the consent equation understand the limit ex ante. But given legal systems are not designed for precision but for simplicity and expedience (albeit in a Rube Goldberg sort of way) and given that most people don’t question systems themselves, I don’t expect it change any time soon.

Neither do I expect the broader population not to be distracted by these same hot button topics. Distraction is a standard rhetorical device.

Good to Coöperate: Property

I happened upon an entry in Current Anthropology: Is It Good to Cooperate? [PDF] (Volume 60, Number 1, February 2019), wherein the authors claim there are 7 universal moral codes. The universality is suspect insomuch as they found a preponderance of observations, so unanimity was not always found. I am also concerned with the specificity of the definition of property.

The group studied ethnographic accounts of ethics from 60 societies, across over 600 sources. The universal rules of morality are:

  1. Help your family
  2. Help your group
  3. Return favours
  4. Be brave
  5. Defer to superiors
  6. Divide resources fairly
  7. Respect others’ property

It’s well past my bedtime, and I should be sleeping, so I just want to pick out one of these universals: property rights.


La propriété, c’est le vol!

What is Property? — PIERRE-JOSEPH PROUDHON

Property can mean several things: In the description of methodology, it appears that these authors are referring to property rather than possession, as a key identifier is the ability to transfer property intergenerationally. What is the scope of the definition of property. There is a difference between passing along a family home and passing along vacant property a world away. Is rent-seeking property ownership universal? Would all societies subscribe to the notion held by Western Capitalism, wherein one can own property that, theoretically, one may never have seen? In the United States, they have concepts like intellectual property, which is at best a subversion of the notion.


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There may be a problem with reading (or at least posting) at 2AM—and property is a hot button item for me. I may have been hyper-focused on the intergenerational wealth transfer. I’d like to read more about how other societies view this as well as which ones do and don’t. Of course, I’d like to understand how the interviewers couched the questions.

In the end, the summary was about possession and not property:

Private property, in some form or other, appears to be a cross-cultural universal (Herskovits 1952). Morality-as-cooperation leads us to expect that this type of cooperative behavior—deferring to prior possession—will be regarded as morally good .

Op. cit.

As an anti-Capitalist, I notice that no claims are being made into the morality of competition. I may may a few posts on my observations of the remaining 6 list items.

Baby, it’s cold outside

Nothing could underscore Barthes‘ proposition—adopted by Derrida—that the author is dead than Baby, It’s Cold Outside.

This Christmas/holiday season, a social media row rages in the shadows of the #MeToo movement, and a holiday classic penned in 1944 is reinterpreted for #today. The central claim is that the content stems directly from a rape culture in the United States. I am not going to argue whether the US have a rape culture or are forged from and tempered by violence—they do; they are.

My contention is about the reinterpretation of language, vilifying an author who is quite literally dead, deceased, demised, expired, no more—unable to defend himself.

The song is about a man and a woman playing a courting game. In my interpretation, she is being coy so as not to be slut-shamed, seeking plausible deniability as she worries about what her mother and father, the neighbours, her brother and sister, and even her aunt, might think.

The kicker for the revisionists is ‘Say, what’s in this drink’ as if it’s been spiked; she’s been roofied; he’s plying her with some date rate drug. This interpretation is preferred to the more period-probable scenario that she’s conveying a signal that she’s feeling a bit tipsy and giving him the go-ahead with a wink and a nod. The decorum of the day suggests that she ‘ought to say no, no, no’, but she wants to say yes and stretches the encounter with another cigarette.

Frank Loesser is dead. Perhaps this is merciful.