Notes June 2020: (1) Thank you to whoever provided the link from rooshvforum.com. (2) Revised for length.
A holiness spiral occurs when a group of people try to outdo each other in expressions of ideological piety, i.e. “holiness.”
The US’s current holiness spiral is a leftist one (they usually are). A key part of a spiral is that participants are expected to attack those to their right as an expression of piety, but not to their left.
HSs have an inherent tendency to accelerate (as explained below). An example of the leftist acceleration:
• The time from gay marriage first being mentioned, to the moment leftists started calling opponents of gay marriage “bigots,” was about 15 years.
• The time from the start of Transvestite Lib to the moment leftists called a man who refused to kiss a tranny a “bigot” was about 3 years.
The process was summarized and intensified by whatever asshole leftist came up with the slogan pas d’ennemis à gauche: “No enemy to the left.” This explicitly created the incentive to attack people to one’s right only, thus created the incentive for every leftist to try to get to the left of— to out-holy— other leftists.
There’s only one way that ends. If everyone is rushing to get to the left of everyone else, obviously there will be acceleration to the left, which won’t stop until it hits the most extreme possible situation: Genocide or a civil war.
We are not at overt civil war yet [I wrote this in 2018], but we are at the start of it.
The Game Theory
The central problem of a holiness spiral is that the advantage is relative. What determines whether the mob attacks you is not your absolute position, but your position relative to everyone else in the mob. That’s what creates the leftward acceleration.
If some holiness spiral participant, call him Fred, notices the rapid leftward movement, he has an incentive to move leftward too, to stay in the middle of the group. In fact, to be safe, he has an incentive to move left a little faster than he expects other people to move. That gives him a margin for error, so that at worst he stays in the middle of the crowd, and at best he’s a little to the left of the average, so he’s somewhat more holy than average.
So if Fred thinks the leftist crowd on average will move leftward at 10 miles per hour, his optimal move is to move leftward at 12 miles per hour, to give himself a safety margin.
If everyone catches on and thinks like Fred, then a common belief that everyone will move at 10 mph means the crowd actually moves at 12 mph. Thus the acceleration.
It gets worse. Once everyone catches on to the incentives, their optimal leftward movement rises to 14 mph: Suppose everyone at first expects movement of 10 mph. Then their reasoning process tells each individual he’d better move at 12 mph. But it occurs to each one that other people might also reason this out and move at 12 mph, so he thinks, “Hmm, actually I’d better move at 14 mph.” And so on.
Plainly this process has no sane limit.
A holiness spiral continues until it is stopped either by civil war, someone seriously stepping on the brakes with hardcore punishments for trying to out-holy everyone else, or until everybody goes as extreme as possible. The most extreme possible position is that everyone who’s a “sinner” must be tortured to death immediately, and indeed, that is where these things often end up. E.g., various Communist states’ purges in the 20th century.
Killing a Spiral
There are other possibilities, of course. For example, if I recall correctly, at some point the Salem Witch Persecutions simply became too extreme, with everybody at risk because anyone could accuse anyone else of being a witch. And it became obvious that some innocent people were being executed, when people on the gallows refused to confess and recant, and went to their deaths instead. So the thing was stopped, apparently by a sudden public agreement that the entire thing was BS. And the incentive to speak up became overwhelming, since you were likely to be called a witch and sentenced to death even if you remained silent.
It would be good to try to push things in that direction. The most obvious example is to make it clear to white people that this is tending toward the most holy thing of all, as leftists currently define holiness, which is torturing all white people to death. They won’t succeed, but the civil war they’ll force upon us will certainly create an astoundingly large pile of bodies on both sides. Getting white people to see where this is headed is one way to increase the number of people pushing back. Important: Spreading the idea of the holiness spiral increases the incentive for those participating in it to move leftward faster, but it increases the incentive for everyone else to resist.
The reason that participants in a spiral participate in it, beyond a certain point, is that they perceive it to be their safest option. As more people oppose the HS, it becomes safer to exit the HS. That’s crucial.
It is, in fact, one reason the left tries to prevent people from realizing that there is widespread opposition to left-wing ideas. They know that a preference cascade can ruin their entire plan.
Preference cascade is indeed a kind of equal and opposite dynamic to a holiness spiral. It’s an important part of our conceptual and practical toolkit as we try to fight the HS.
A preference cascade is a critical mass of people saying, “The orthodoxy is bullshit,” which encourages others to join in, until the orthodoxy is destroyed. Preference cascades can occur in an environment where everyone lies about their preferences. It could be because you’d damn well better lie – e.g., in 1940 in the USSR, you’d better say that Stalin is wonderful, or else. Or it could be just because you don’t want to say things you think will make you unpopular, etc.
Such a cascade is exemplified by the kid shouting, “The Emperor’s not wearing any clothes!” This can lead to some other people saying, “That’s true, he’s not wearing any clothes!” Then more people chime in, and so on, until the explicit consensus has converged to the truth, that the Emperor has no clothes.
Note though that there are always evil people who actually enjoy attacking others. That’s who starts a spiral in the first place. So just pointing and laughing at leftists, even after the preference cascade, may not be enough. It is very plausible that some sort of firm incentive will be necessary to robustly discourage continued participation in holiness signaling.
Follow-up post: Holiness Spirals and Wars of Attrition: