Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Inevitable Post about Signalling

Background: This is the fourth piece in a series on understanding conservative intuitions, for liberals; here are the first, second, and third. Second is optional, and just discusses current events.

The zombies piece hypothesized that liberal instincts are evolutionarily adapted to a world of abundance. It also mentions "what would no doubt be the main pastime of the people of this world: signaling". In order to talk more about how conservatives see the world, and especially how conservatives see liberals, we need to cover some background info on what that means. In particular, we need to talk about moral signalling as a memetic penomenon. Hopefully, this will help you understand some of your own thoughts, even before next post's discussion of conservative perceptions.

Let's start with a rich person, who wants to signal their wealth. Oldest signalling problem in the book: the rich person buys something very expensive, and utterly useless, which no one would possibly bother buying unless they had lots of money laying around.

Now let's crank it up a notch. The first rich person was the standard nouveau riche, flaunting their money about. The old money families want to signal that they are NOT the nouveau riche; they want to signal their social superiority. Thanks to years of expensive schooling, they are in no danger of being mistaken for poor, so they signal their old money by NOT buying useless expensive things. This is the classic example of countersignalling.

But it doesn't just stop with signalling and countersignalling. Perhaps the "old money" is only old by American standards, and European aristocratic families want to signal their superiority to the both the nouveau riche and American old money by buying even more expensive things. And then there's people even higher up...

We can extend to a whole continuum of wealth or status. At each point on the continuum, people try to signal slightly higher status by acting like the people ranked just above them. If we remove external constraints, e.g. wealth, then it becomes purely a game of acting like the people a few steps above you on the social ladder. The people at the very top act as trendsetters, and whatever trends they decide to adopt wind up propagating down the line. If the people at the top start wearing funny hats, it propagates down the line, and pretty soon everyone is wearing funny hats. Now imagine that status is not a simple line, but a complicated web, perhaps even an *inter*web, and you start to see how signalling games can propagate around memetically.

But we're not here to talk about games of signalling wealth. We're here to talk about games of signalling moral superiority.

Once upon a time, there was the LGBT community.

One day, someone came along and said "You know, we should signal our support for queer and questioning people too. How about, rather than just LGBT, we use LGBTQ?" Well, certainly nobody wanted to signal a lack of support for the queer and questioning communities. "LGBTQ" was clearly more inclusive of marginalized groups than "LGBT", and therefore morally superior. And so "LGBTQ" began to propagate through the memespace.

Now some people came along and said "But wait! There are other alternative sexualities too. What about asexuals?" And so "LGBTQA" entered the lexicon.

Around this same time, "intersex" was also added, and after a brief issue with a race condition, "LGBTQIA" appeared.

When I was writing this, I thought about writing "LGBTQRSTUV" as a joke. Fortunately, I did a google search beforehand, and found out that "LGBTQIAPK" is somewhat standard, although competing standards include "LGBTTQQIAAP" and "LGBTQQIP2SAA". Unfortunately it does not appear that NIST has addressed this yet. I'm poking fun a bit at the end, but I don't want to criticize too much - an awful lot of value comes about from moral signalling. The goal, for this post, is just to provide a little intuition for what moral signalling memetics look like. In a sense, it's intuition for your intuition.

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