A Holiness Spiral in the Art World

In The Painted Word Tom Wolfe skewers art theory as it developed during the mid-twentieth century. A notable aspect of the affair was a holiness spiral. Once Theory became hip, if you were an artist or critic your best career move was to hop on the bandwagon. The whole episode is quite amusing – man, the pretentiousness! – and provides a good example of how people behave when they’re caught up in a holiness spiral, optimal strategy for rebels who want to attack it from within, etc.


Wolfe starts his account in the early 20th century, when realism in painting started to fall out of favor (some quotes edited for brevity):

The general theory went as follows: As Cubists and other early Modernists had correctly realized, a painting was not a window through which one could peer into the distance. The three-dimensional effects were sheer illusion (et ergo ersatz). A painting was a flat surface with paint on it.

Since “a painting was a flat surface with paint on it,” it should present itself as such. As the painter Georges Braque said, “The aim is not to reconstitute an anecdotal fact but to constitute a pictorial fact.”

Notice the bizarre notion that realistic effects in painting are somehow deceptive or dishonest. What, does anyone actually think, when viewing a painting, that they’re looking out a window? Does the painter intend to fool them? Is written fiction somehow dishonest because it depicts events that never happened?

The whole thing was stupid. But it became an intellectual craze in the haute art world in the early 20th century, becoming mandatory by the 1940s if you aspired to be a Name in that world. No illusory 3D effects! Flatness was In, baby; Flatness was It.


This business of flatness became quite an issue; an obsession. The question of what an artist or could not do without violating the principle of Flatness—“the integrity of the picture plane,” as it became known—inspired such subtle distinctions, such brilliant if ever-decreasing tighter-turning spirals of logic, that it compares admirably with the most famous of all questions of the Scholastics: “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

What we have here, folks, is the early stage of a holiness spiral. (Later, inevitably, black knighting arose in response, as we’ll see.) The new Flatness theory got serious traction when art critic Clement Greenberg used painter Jackson Pollock to push it:

[Greenberg] used Pollock’s certified success to put over Flatness as the theory—the theoretical breakthrough of Einstein-scale authority—of the entire new wave. “Pollock’s strength,” he would say, “lies in the emphatic surfaces of his pictures… in all that thick, fuliginous flatness… [I had to look up fuliginous. It means dark or sooty, in case you were wondering.] “It is the tension inherent in the constructed, re-created flatness of the surface,” Greenberg would say, “that produces the strength of his art… his concentration on surface texture and tactile qualities.”

One notices certain problems with this, like
It makes no fucking sense,
How can flatness be “thick” or “tactile”?
You slope-browed vulgarian! How dare you question an Art Theorist when he’s working up a good head of steam! You probably went to public school, you slack-jawed commoner!

[A] Washington, D.C. artist named Morris Louis came to New York in 1953 to try to get a line on what was going on in this new wave, and he had some long talks with Greenberg. He went back to Washington and began thinking. Flatness, the man had said. Louis saw the future with great clarity. The very use of thick oil paint itself had been a crime against flatness, a violation of the integrity of the picture plane, all these years. Even in the hands of Picasso, ordinary paint was likely to build up as much as a millimeter or two above mean canvas level! And as for the new Picasso—i.e., Pollock—my God, get out a ruler!

Louis took no chances violating Holy Writ:

So Louis used unprimed canvas and thinned out his paint until it soaked right into the canvas when he brushed it on. He could put a painting on the floor and lie on top of the canvas and cock his eye sideways… He had done it! Nothing existed above or below the picture plane. Did I hear the word flat? Well, try to out-flat this!

Wolfe notes,

A man from Mars or Chesterton, Pa., incidentally, would have looked at a Morris Louis painting and seen rows of rather watery-looking stripes. (The book’s photo of a Louis painting confirms this.)

Now the spiral has acquired serious momentum. A painter named Barnett Newman

spent the last twenty-two years of his life studying the problems (if any) of dealing with big areas of color divided by stripes… on a flat picture plane.

But the question that makes us ache with its urgency is… have we gotten as flat as we can get? Might there be frontiers of flatness we haven’t yet explored?

Why, yes. And this lets the new generation of younger artists leapfrog over the older guys. All without ever getting heterodox, mind you. This takes us to the 1950s and Pop Art icon Jasper Johns:

The new theory went as follows. Johns had chosen real subjects such as flags and numbers and letters and targets that were flat by their very nature. They were born to be flat, you might say. Thereby Johns was achieving an amazing thing. He was bringing real subjects into Modern painting but in a way that neither violated the law of Flatness nor introduced “literary” content. On the contrary: he was converting pieces of everyday communication—flags and numbers—into art objects… and thereby de-literalizing them! “An amazing result,” said [art critic Leo] Steinberg.

(I love the word “result” in this context, as if Johns had proven a new mathematical theorem.)

And those old guys like painter de Kooning and critic Greenberg: What a bunch of frauds! They’d been violating the sacred principles of Flatness all along, the hypocrites! You see, Greenberg had righteously called out the Old Masters for creating “an illusion of space into which one could imagine oneself walking.” And Flatness got rid of that benighted practice. But…

Just a minute, said Steinberg. That’s all well and good, but you’re talking about a “pre-industrial standard of locomotion,” i.e., walking. Perhaps you can’t walk into an Abstract Expressionist painting—but you can fly through! Just look at a de Kooning or a Rothko… Look at that “airy” quality, those “areas floating in space”… all that “illusionistic space.” It was aerial “double dealing,” and it did “clearly deny and dissemble the picture’s material surface”—and nobody had ever blown the whistle on them!

Well, it was all now blown for Abstract Expressionism. Steinberg, with an assist from [other critics and painters], removed the cataracts from everybody’s eyes overnight.

The Black Knights had arrived. It is like a man posing as a male-to-female transvestite online and calling lesbian feminists “hate-filled bigots” for refusing to date transvestites, i.e., men. The holiness spiral winds up in a place the feminists had not anticipated, but they’re at a loss how to counter-attack and still remain within left-wing orthodoxy. Johns and Steinberg did something analogous to the Pollock-Greenberg crowd. As Wolfe notes,

Steinberg could attack Abstract Expressionism precisely because he was saying, “I’ve found something newer and better.” But one will note that at no time does he attack the premises of Late-Twentieth-Century Art Theory as developed by Greenberg. He accepts every fundamental Greenberg has put forth. Realism and three-dimensional illusion are still forbidden. Flatness is still God. Steinberg simply adds, “I’ve found a new world that’s flatter.”

In other words, “You’re not radical enough. I’m holier.” Greenberg, the original Flatness guy, made a blunder here: He tried to counterattack the New Theory head on. You fool, Greenberg! You can be as heterodox as you like, but you have to say that you’re not being heterodox. It’s as if he tried to take on the transvestites with the equivalent of a feminist saying, “But you’re a man and I don’t want to date men!” Rookie mistake, Greenberg! What he should have done is said something analogous to, “Male-to-female transvestites are appropriating women’s gender identity in an act of gender silencing, violence, and erasure.” This is incredibly stupid and obviously non-sensical, so it’s impeccably left-wing-orthodox.

Back to Art World: Soon after the New Flatness took over, art in the style of comic books became a prominent feature of Pop Art. You know, those 8-foot-by-8-foot works that depict, e.g., a woman in a couple of old-fashioned comic book panels holding a phone and thinking “Who’s the other woman on the line that Joe’s talking to? Is he… cheating on me!?!?!


The idea is to put quote marks around this art form, as it were, so it is turned into an ironic commentary on itself or whatever. “Don’t worry!” art critics assured the aficionados: “It’s okay; it’s not a comic book page telling a little story. It’s commentary on comic books!” One critic said, reassuringly: “Pop Art is neither abstract nor realistic… it is, essentially, an art about signs and sign systems.” Note the “art as commentary on art” aspect. That comes back in a big way later.

In the meantime, as Wolfe sums it up: “You are hereby licensed to go ahead and like these pictures. We’ve drained all the realism out.”

By the way, this is still hip among a certain crowd, at least the last time I checked several years ago. I knew someone with a PhD in literary criticism from an English department that has hard core post-modernist leanings. She had one of these large comic thingies on her wall. It’s kinda cute, in a way. But that’s the great thing about Black Knighting: You kill off the enemy with his own weapons.

Theory was still accelerating.

Of course, Greenberg had started it all with his demands for purity, for flatness (ever more Flatness!), for the obliteration of distinctions such as foreground and background, figure and field. Now, in the 1960s, Greenberg made a comeback.

He had learned a thing or two in the meantime about strategy… All along, he said, there had been something old fashioned about Abstract Expressionism: its brushstrokes. The characteristic Abstract Expressionist brushstroke was something very obvious, very expressive… very painterly, like what you find in Baroque art.

Greenberg was still unbending in his opposition to Pop, but now he knew better than to just denounce it. Now he added the obligatory phrase: “—and I can show you something newer and better, way out here.”

Reductionism was the word of the day.

How far we’ve come! How religiously we’ve cut away the fat! We got rid of nineteenth-century storybook realism. Then we got rid of representational objects. Then we got rid of the third dimension altogether and got really flat. Then we got rid of airiness, brushstrokes, and most of the paint…

…because Minimalism was getting rolling.

Bourgeois connotations, they argued, still hung on to modern art. What about all those nice “lovely” colors? They invited as many sentimental associations as painterly brushstrokes had. So Minimalists began using colors like Subway I-Beam green and Restaurant Exhaust-Fan Duct Lint gray that nobody could accuse of sentimentality. And how about all those fuzzy, swampy, misty edges that Color Fielders went for? They invited you to linger over a painting for all its emotional “evocations.” Henceforth a paint should be applied only in hard linear geometries, and you should get the whole painting at once, “fast.”

Visitor in front of Turnsole in 2004.
Wolfe’s caption: “Noland was known as the ‘fastest’ painter alive (i.e., one could see his pictures faster than anybody else’s). The explanation of why that was important took considerably longer.”
Frank Stella’s Tampa. “Where’s the hidden meaning?” you ask. There is none. The goal was to do away with “bourgeois sentimentality,” and boy did they!

Faster and faster art theory flew now, in ever-tighter and more dazzling turns. [Clement] Greenberg [the guy who had started the whole thing] accused the Minimalists of living only for “the far-out as an end in itself.” A little late to be saying that, Clement! Rosenberg tried to stop them by saying they really weren’t far-out at all—they were a fake avant-garde.

LOL, no dice, Mr. Trotsky, I mean Rosenberg. The Revolution Eats Its Own!

Theory spun on and chewed up the two old boys like breadsticks, like the Revolution devouring Robespierre and Danton.

And as art got rid of more and more in an inexorable turn to reduction, to eliminating elements of art, and as theory grew larger and more powerful, more influential, more prominent, the minnow of theory finally swallowed the whale of what the theory was supposedly about:

So it was that in April of 1970 an artist named Lawrence Wiener typed up a work of art that appeared in Arts Magazine—as a work of art— with no visual experience before or after:

1. The artist may construct the piece
2. The piece may be fabricated
3. The piece need not be built
Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist the decision as to condition rests with the receiver upon the occasion of receivership.

Wow. It’s not clear what the hell this is supposed to mean, but it is clear that it’s intended as a statement of Art Theory. But note as Wolfe says that this was published as a work of art. That is, the distinction between art and art theory had been eliminated.


In that moment, Art made its final flight, climbed higher and higher in an ever-decreasing tighter-turning spiral until it disappeared up its own fundamental aperture… and came out the other side as Art Theory! Words on a page, flat, flatter, Flattest, a vision ineffable, as ineffable as the Angels and Universal Souls.

The holiness spiral had finally gone as far as it could. Game theoretically, it couldn’t avoid it. Let’s extract some lessons from this:

1. Once the spiral gets rolling, there is no incentive to stop and every incentive to continue.

2. You can’t, from within the relevant community, fight it by denying its terms. That can be done, but it requires an all-out war. If you want to take down the reigning champion without a scorched-earth war, you have to attack it on its own terms; you must couch your attack in language which appears orthodox. From within the art world, they couldn’t attack Abstract Expressionism by saying, “The old art was better and Abstract Expressionism was a mistake!” But schools like Pop Art successfully attacked it by saying, “Abstract Expressionism doesn’t go far enough; it’s not holy enough! I have something newer and holier over here!”

3. That last part, “I have something newer and holier!” is important. You can’t just accuse the current reigning champion of not being holy enough. You have to offer an alternative. (Alinsky: “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”)

4. The Revolution Eats Its Own.

5. The Spiral will continue until it has gotten as extreme as it actually can get.

Implication of all this: If you’re in a holiness spiral, assume that it will continue until it gets to Terminal Holiness Spiral. Don’t think that might happen. Plan for it to happen.


Holiness Spirals and Wars of Attrition

A crucial concept in understanding our current political situation is holiness spiral. It may be the single most important concept.

A holiness spiral is equivalent, in terms of game theory, to a war of attrition. I know what you’re thinking: “Sure, Neuro, wars of attrition are interesting, but what about all-pay auctions and patent races? Is a holiness spiral game theoretically isomorphic to those also?”

You’re in luck; the answer is Yes, because they are winner-take-all contests.


Why does that matter? Because once you’re invested in a winner-take-all contest, it is actually rational, in a certain sense, for you to keep putting resources into winning the contest even after the value of winning is lower than the value of the total resources you’ve put into it. No, I’m not crazy; this is well-known in game theory.

A classic example is the “dollar auction.” This can be an auction in which all bidders must pay their bids even if they don’t win (all-pay) or it can be such that only the two highest bidders pay their bids. Business schools have done experiments. A professor of business goes in front of his class and says, “Here’s a dollar bill. I’m going to auction it off. The rules: Highest bidder pays his bid and gets the dollar. Second-highest bidder pays his bid but doesn’t get anything. All lower bids pay nothing and get nothing.”

Some doofus bids a cent. Some other doofus bids 2 cents. And the idiocy has begun! Now that someone has bid 2, the guy who bid 1 is in the following position: If he doesn’t change his bid he loses 1 cent. If he raises his bid to 3 cents he wins the dollar and pays 3 cents, for a net gain of 97 cents. OK, so they’ll bid until one of them has bid 99 cents, then they’ll stop, right?

Nope. Say the bids stand at 98 cents and 99 cents. The guy who bid 98 loses 98 cents if he stands pat. If he bids a dollar he wins and breaks even. So he does that.

OK, now the bidding is done, right?


The guy who currently has a bid of 99 cents loses 99 cents if he stands pat. If he raises his bid to $1.01, then he wins the dollar, for a net loss of 1 cent. That’s better than a net loss of 99 cents.

Hmm. And the other guy? If he stands pat he loses his dollar bid. If he raises his bid to $1.02, he wins the dollar, for a net loss of 2 cents. But that’s better than a net loss of a dollar.

You see where this is going (“To infinity and beyond!”). Not only in theory, but in actual experiments, people do in fact end up paying more than a dollar to win a dollar!

Key features:

• Your outcome depends on where you are relative to the other player. Just knowing your own bid doesn’t tell you whether you’ve won; you have to know the other guy’s bid as well.

• You bear costs whether you win or lose. This is the “all-pay” feature. An all-pay auction is an artificial situation, but consider a war of attrition: some of your soldiers are killed, etc., whether you win or lose. It really is all-pay. Same for patent races: Suppose you spend $0.9 billion on R&D trying to develop a new medicine worth $1 billion, but your competitor is on track to win by spending $1 billion. Win or lose, you pay the R&D costs. It would actually be better to plow another $0.2 billion in, so you’ll “win” the race by paying $1.1 billion.

• Action is sequential: You would never start by bidding $1.02 for a dollar, obviously. But once you’re invested, you have some losses you’d like to recover. So your investment in the contest keeps rising.

So… holiness spirals. If you’re new to this concept, the word “holiness” is ironic here; it means “leftist.” It probably started centuries ago with some totally innocent-sounding thing like, “Let’s expand women’s rights. Why shouldn’t women be allowed to work as secretaries outside the home?” Before you know it, it’s the official position of the Washington Post that no woman should ever go to prison, no matter what crime she commits.

And someone said, reasonably, “Why should it be illegal for men to wear women’s clothes and vice-versa?” (Used to be illegal, apparently.) A century later, male-to-female transvestites are in the women’s bathroom, and a security guard who tries to remove one from the ladies’ room is charged with assault.

What the hell happened? What happened is that some asshole started the political equivalent of an all-pay auction.

Let’s look at holiness spirals in light of the three features above. We want to understand this because that will help us to stop the fucking thing. And a holiness spiral is like an asset bubble: It either keeps advancing or it collapses. So if we stop it, we destroy it.

Holiness spirals:

• Your outcome depends on where you are relative to the other player(s). You can attack people less holy than you, but they can’t effectively attack you. If Fred is the holiest he can say to the mob, “Attack Steve; he’s not holy enough!” But Steve can’t say, “Attack Fred; he’s too holy!” That’s saying, “Attack Fred; he’s too good!” So everyone tries to out-holy everyone else.

• You bear costs whether you win or lose. Say your position is that a man should be allowed to use the ladies’ bathroom. If your policy wins, you (along with the rest of the society, by the way) pay the costs of an insane bathroom policy. But you pay those costs whether or not some other lunatic is saying, “Yeah, AND anyone who objects should be thrown into the hoosegow!” If that guy wins, then there are dudes in the women’s bathroom— as you advocated— plus dissenters are punished. Why did he outflank you to your left? Because while that made the society somewhat more insane, it made him personally safer, since now he is the holiest.

• Action is sequential: You would never start by saying men should be allowed to use the women’s bathroom. Indeed people didn’t start by saying that, historically. But your initial sane position that “There’s no need for laws to enforce gender clothing norms” got outflanked by someone who said something a little more pro-trans. That put you in a less holy position relative to him, so he could attack you, but you couldn’t counter-attack. So you outflanked him with something a little more in that direction. Thus the bidding war. It starts with you saying “I bid one cent for that dollar.” It ends with guards being charged with a crime if they try to keep a man out of the women’s bathroom. Well, that’s not actually where it ends. We’re not done with our holiness spiral yet.

Fighting these fucking disasters.

Above I wrote this: “Say your position is that a man should be allowed to use the ladies’ bathroom. If your policy wins, you (along with the rest of the society, by the way) pay the costs of an insane bathroom policy.”

THIS IS KEY. One of the crucial aspects of all this is that even sane, normal people pay the costs of having trannies in their bathrooms, and women (if the WaPo gets its way) being allowed to commit murder without punishment. (Well, they already are, but the WaPo wants this to be expanded beyond babies.) That means that— unlike the all-pay dollar auction— even people who aren’t participating in the holiness spiral have an incentive to stop it. This mattered e.g., on November 8, 2016 and will matter more as the holiness spiral becomes ever more extreme.

What specific actions can we take? First, we need to spread the awareness of the insanity as far and wide as possible. I do this in various corners of the Net, and everyone on the right should.

Also— and plainly this has already started— we need to ramp up our black knighting. N.B. not black knighting as in Monty Python’s hapless knight, but black knighting as in attacking our enemies under the guise of being holier enemies. For example, when an organization proudly announces on Twitter that it has hired a homosexual female, attack them for not hiring a minority or Muslim homosexual female. This sort of thing happens all the time now, and one can’t tell whether it’s the crazies getting crazier or good guys black knighting. The great thing is precisely that one can’t tell. That’s why it’s effective.

And what is the effect? Simple: It eliminates the safety, and therefore the benefit, of leftward movement. If my proudly announcing that I just hired a white lesbian immediately gets me attacked for not hiring a black lesbian, there’s no safety in that holiness-signaling move, so no reason to do it. Lately, if you just hire a straight white Christian male and don’t say anything, you’re less likely to be attacked by the hate mob than if you’re a leftist who proudly boasts about that lesbian hire. (Leftists seek vulnerability: They go after other leftists because they know leftists (1) care about fitting in with the lefty herd, and (2) must comply with the latest left-wing demand to keep their leftist customers/donors/whatever. In contrast, what will happen if they scream about Vox Day hiring a straight white male for his publishing company? He’ll just laugh at them. His customer base sure as hell isn’t SJWs.) The realization will spread that you might as well just hire the best person and keep quiet about it. That is becoming safer. And to the extent that it’s not safe, it’s not much less safe than trying to appease the SJW mob. And that destroys the incentives that propel the holiness spiral.

Black knighting must be done absolutely straight-faced. Don’t try this in a forum where they already know you’re not an SJW; you’ll just be dismissed as stirring up shit. But: New personality (dox-proof) in a forum where they don’t know you. We can all get to work black knighting.

The beautiful thing about black knighting is that the enemy has no defense against it. If they even try to defend, then you’re like, “Hey! They’re Anti-trans! Anti-wymyn! Anti-gay!” Etc., etc. They simply cannot deny that you’ve out-holied them. This isn’t theory; we’ve seen this happen increasingly in the last few years. E.g., the gay black author who was just SJW-shamed into pulling his book due to accusations of insufficient political correctness.

So, two things everybody on the right can do: Spread news to normies about the craziness. And join the black knighting movement, which is already well underway.

Who Supports Walls?

Every now and then some fuck-witted liberal, or occasionally a libertarian, will say that the human species really is not that violent, and that we’d all just get along if only (etc.).

This is dangerously naive. Anthropologists, before modern political correctness became a big problem, documented how very murderous our species is. There are cases in which a village in Africa will do a night raid on another village and kill every man, woman, and child in it. Also, western intellectuals sometimes say (either with self-flagellating guilt or chest-puffing pride) that Western culture’s militaries are the world’s deadliest. Well, in terms of raw numbers I’m inclined to believe that (if we ignore Mao, anyway), but it seems to be just a fact about military technology. In proportional terms were are not especially lethal.
(The content of this paragraph is drawn from Steven Pinker’s wonderfully heterodox The Blank Slate.)

This also explains why people who aren’t completely insane have a gut-level instinct against admitting people from other cultures into their societies, at least in large numbers. That’s an instinct, plainly; it’s not learned, no matter many idiots insist it is leaned. Consider those African night raids again.

In this regard, the difference between male and female instincts is, once again, clear and relevant. Men vote against invaders and political groups that want to admit invaders. Women are more complicated. I have noted before that many women will work to admit invaders into their home societies so they can play a game of Let’s You and Him Fight. For real-world examples see the USA and Western Europe lately. For a fictional example see my review of Justina Robson’s Keeping It Real.

Note, though, that while men clearly want to exclude invaders, women are split. In the 2016 election, “only” 43% of white women voted for the pro-invasion candidate. 53% of white women voted for the anti-invader candidate. The rest threw their vote away on third party candidates rather than vote for the pro-invader candidate the media was telling them to vote for. This has to do with the African slaughter I mentioned above: Women are sometimes prizes in war, but sometimes victims of war. Being invaded is a gamble from a woman’s point of view. From a man’s point of view it’s always bad.

Thus we have some women in some contexts supporting invasion of their own societies; other women in other contexts oppose it.

It is also a fact that women try to gain sexual access to alpha men and prevent contact with beta men. This affects sexual harassment procedure, mostly designed by women, as it applies to the workplace, e.g. They try to exclude sub-alpha males from social-sexual contact with them. The point is, women don’t always want an influx of any men into their sanctuaries. Reproductive optimization from a female’s point of view is more complicated than that.


In Nash Equilibrium, we would not expect all women to be genetically programmed to issue society-threatening shit tests. The reason is that, if say half the women start such, the other half will also gain the knowledge or benefit from the results (whatever those benefits are). Furthermore, a woman who doesn’t shit test is more attractive to men than one who does. She free rides on the shit-testers, at their expense. Free riding generally plays the villain in discussions of human interactions, and often rightly so, but this is a case in which free riding has good consequences.

(A reminder to any chicks reading this: The fact that you find shit tests and the associated drama and strife to be fun and exciting, doesn’t mean that men do. Any more than the fact that dung beetles like eating poop means that you also like eating poop. Men and women are really different, biologically different.)

It might be objected that maybe there is just one kind of psychology of shit testing, so any woman who has the “shit testing genes,” i.e. all women, will potentially throw out a society-threatening shit test. But still: some women are more shit-testy, some less so.

A Warning to the Future

…from 2018.

Yes, we know the insanity we’re swamped in is insane.

A few examples of what I’m referring to:

California downgrades knowingly infecting someone with HIV from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Hispanic student in college newspaper, to white people: “Your DNA is an Abomination… I hate you because you shouldn’t exist.”

Seattle councilman: Removing human feces from sidewalks is “racist.”

Transvestite in bathroom sexually assaults 10-year-old girl:

Feminist: “If you have a penis you probably deserve murdering.”

The problem is not, as you might think, that everyone in my time is insane. Of course we know the current raging hate-filled psychopathic idiocy for what it is. It’s just that it’s not easy or quick to put an end to it. If it were as simple as one person standing up at a lectern and saying, “This is raging hate-filled psychopathic idiocy!” it would have ended decades ago. But the perpetrators don’t care – they’re sadists who enjoy inflicting hateful insanity on others; that’s the entire point for them. And normal people know it’s insanity; the problem is to organize collective action to fight it.

Once the psychotics have amassed a certain amount of social power – which they do by stealth at first – it becomes risky in certain ways to speak up. This doesn’t mean no one is speaking up – if you read contemporaneous accounts you’ll see many people are – but it does make it more difficult to recruit the 90-something percent of people who are sane to all speak up at once. (To induce every sane person to speak up at once, and create an overwhelming and publicly visible consensus against the insanity, would be the easiest way to end it without violence.)

Furthermore, the evil have a certain amount of animal cunning about taking and holding power, because that’s all they ever think about. On average they are less intelligent than the population as a whole… but they are obsessed. And one does acquire a certain facility at activities with which one is obsessed. So for examples:

They immediately move to isolate and hurt anyone who speaks out. “Hurt” here could mean many things, from violence, to making death-threat phone calls in the middle of the night, to having the person fired from their employment, to staging a boycott of the person’s business, and so on.

They obsessively, obsessively move to take over the idea-spreading professions – the news media and the educational system – to instill an utterly false worldview in the minds of the population. Normal people want to have enjoyable lives, to have hobbies, to enjoy friends and family, to have a career that is satisfying in and of itself – but these people only crave a career that lets them stifle any information which reveals their side to be the evil that it is, and spread any lies which make their side look good.

They engage in electoral fraud incessantly.

And to the extent that fraud doesn’t suffice, they buy votes. Many of their constituents are people who will be hurt drastically, or outright murdered, if the psychos ever acquire total power. But those constituents don’t think that far ahead. So they vote for whoever promises a heavier basket of state-funded goodies. And of course, the evil have fewer scruples than the good about using this political tactic.

And they have infiltrated the government in key areas, including, as I write this, the intelligence agencies. Those are the worst institutions for them to have infiltrated (from the point of view of decent people), because they have surveillance technology everywhere and by necessity they operate in secrecy. The evil love secrecy.

None of this is to suggest that the struggle against these vile maniacs is hopeless. Au contraire, as I write this I have good hope and the momentum has shifted dramatically in our favor in the last few years. And of course, in every conflict, each side has advantages and disadvantages; one just keeps fighting.

Rather, my point is this: There is a reason that the prevailing discourse asserts things that are obviously insane, and the reason is not that anyone believes it. The reason is that power-mad psychotics spent decades infiltrating themselves into positions where they could stifle and attack those who would question it.

Everyone knows the emperor is not wearing any clothes. Everyone knows, for example, that a man in a dress is not a woman. The question is how to get everyone to say it, and to say it publicly, and how to make fence-sitters understand, before the rage-mob shows up at their door, that the problem is the trend, not the state of the system at the current moment in time. We need to make people realize how urgent the situation already is and induce them to start fighting.

When I was younger I thought that episodes like the Salem Witch Trials happened because people back then were so benighted as to actually believe in witches! Ha! The absurdity of it! In light of our current situation, I now rather suspect that no one believed any such thing. Any more than anyone really believes that being heterosexual is a form of “bigotry.” No, the problem is a particular kind of social dynamics, namely holiness spirals. The problem is not one of stupidity and actual belief. It is one of incentives, of bad Nash Equilibria which the evil deliberately try to establish.

Understand, the very moment some political group begins asserting something that is obviously false: You are in a war. It is not a debate – though of course persuasion of the neutral is part of the conflict. It is a war with a type of madman and madwoman who, every time they attained power in the 20th century, slaughtered people by the millions. Understand that, and start planning, not to convince them, but to defeat them.

The Game Theory of Holiness Spirals

If a social process is accelerating, why is it? Is it because of, say, learning? (E.g., a new technology: The more people use it, the more non-users see it, so the faster it spreads.) Or is it because there are game-theoretic reasons for it? The latter is obviously the case with a holiness spiral.

Holiness Spirals

A holiness spiral is when a group of people try to outdo each other in expressions of ideological piety. Other terms are signaling spiral (because people are competitively signaling their faith), purity spiral (I’m ideologically pure!), and Left Singularity. The last term is due to the fact that the current holiness spiral in the western world is a leftist phenomenon.

A key part of such a spiral is that one attacks people to one’s right, but not to one’s left. Indeed, participants are expected to attack those to their right as an expression of piety. The driving dynamic is that it makes sense to say, “That guy’s not holy enough! Attack him!” but it does not make sense to say, “That guy’s too holy! Attack him!”

As far as I know, Jim of blog.jim.com came up with the concept of a holiness spiral/ left-wing singularity, and if he didn’t, he’s certainly doing more with the concept than anyone else. (See e.g. here: http://blog.jim.com/war/recap-on-the-left-singularity/)

As noted, the current holiness spiral is a leftist one. 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 well articulated by whatever asshole leftist came up with the slogan pas d’ennemis à gauche: “No enemy to the left.” (It started in Revolutionary France; see e.g. http://www.newoxfordreview.org/article.jsp?did=0701-whitehead and was, unsurprisingly, important in Soviet Russia: https://infogalactic.com/info/Alexander_Kerensky)
That established the dynamic. It would have happened anyway, but this slogan certainly accelerated it. It 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— every other leftist.

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 will never stop until it hits the most extreme possible situation: Genocide or an attempt at genocide that starts a civil war.

We are not at overt civil war yet, but we have entered the start of it. Consider our political situation right now: We are obviously living in Chapter One of every history book about a civil war ever written.

The Game Theory

The central problem of a holiness spiral is that the advantage is relative. That is, what determines whether the mob attacks you is not your absolute position, but your position relative to everyone else. That’s what creates the incentive for the perpetual leftward movement and the acceleration of that movement.

Importantly, when the participants in the holiness spiral realize they’re in a holiness spiral the problem becomes worse, not better. There are two key moments in a holiness spiral. The first is when is when a typical participant in the spiral notices that the movement to the left is accelerating. The second key moment is when a typical participant not only notices that the movement left is accelerating, but realizes that everyone else must also be noticing that. Then he starts thinking game-theoretically:

If some holiness spiral participant, call him Fred, notices the rapid leftward movement, then 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 will leave him a margin for error, so that at worst, he stays in the middle, and at best, he’s a little to the left of the average, so he’s somewhat more holy than average.

But eventually Fred thinks: “Hmm, but presumably a lot of people are thinking the same way I just did. So they’ll also try to move more rapidly to the left.” For example, if the average belief is that the movement will be 10 miles per hour, then everyone actually has an incentive to move at, say, 12 miles per hour. That way there’s a margin for error, and at worst you outpace the average person a little to the left, which is always safe. (Being to the right isn’t safe.)

Note the logic here. For everyone to expect movement of X miles per hour is actually not a Nash Equilibrium, because if everyone believed that, then they wouldn’t behave that way; they’d move faster. Thus we have a proof by contradiction: Assume everyone expects movement of X mph. Then they have incentive to actually move at X+2 mph. Thus the acceleration.

But of course, it’s even worse than that. Because once Fred thinks game-theoretically, drawing the conclusions I’ve just drawn, he realizes that everybody else is, or will soon start, thinking that way too. So Fred’s incentive is to move leftward at 14 mph. That is, suppose everyone at first anticipates movement of 10 mph. Then their reasoning process tells each individual he’d better move at 12 mph. But it occurs to him 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.

This is why Jim notes that a holiness spiral cannot last forever; it must be forcibly 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 correctly recall the history of the Salem Witch Trials: 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 no one was safe. And it became obvious that some innocent people were being executed, when people standing 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 had Gone Too Far. Everyone just woke up and said, “What the fuck were we thinking?” Or the incentive to speak up became overwhelming, since you were likely to be accused of being a witch and sentenced to death even if you remained silent.

It would be good to try to push things in that direction, the Salem 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. ’Twere best avoided. Getting white people to see where this is headed is one way to increase the number of people pushing back. And most of the western world is still white. 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 (correctly or not) 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 can occur in an environment of widespread preference falsification, which is when 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 that you’re afraid will make you unpopular, perceived as foolish, etc. A preference cascade is when enough people say, “The orthodoxy is bullshit!” and that can encourage others to join in, etc., until the orthodoxy is destroyed.

Such a cascade is exemplified by the little boy shouting, “Hey! The Emperor’s not wearing any clothes!” This can lead to other people – it doesn’t have to be everyone at first – saying, “Yeah, 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; indeed 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 (Jim again) that some sort of firm incentive will be necessary to robustly discourage continued participation in holiness signaling.

Memetically Engineered Super-Meme

Version 1.0, subject to revision. This is the “meta” parts of the meme; the actual substance of it is a different topic.

1. If you follow the rules you will live forever after your physical death, in perfect bliss.

2. If you do not follow the rules you will be tormented forever after your death.

3. Our triumph is inevitable.

4. It is forbidden to spread the Word by force.

5. It is obligatory to spread the Word by persuasion.

6. It is obligatory to spread the Word by example.

7. It is obligatory to spread the Word by reproduction; it is obligatory for a believer to have as many children as possible.

8. If adherents of other ideologies attack you, you are always permitted, and obligated when it is safe for you, to respond with the maximum possible violence. Show them no mercy; kill all aggressors.

9. Refrain from violence against believers and unbelievers alike, unless they commit violence against you, take or damage your property, or commit fraud against you, or threaten to do any of these things.

10. Refrain from theft and vandalism against believers and unbelievers alike, unless they commit violence against you, take or damage your property, or commit fraud against you, or threaten to do any of these things.

11. Refrain from fraud against believers and unbelievers alike, unless they commit violence against you, take or damage your property, or commit fraud against you, or threaten to do any of these things.

Numbers 4, 9, 10, and 11 have a recognizably libertarian cast, probably because when I first drafted this I was a libertarian. The idea is to minimize unnecessary conflict. Libertarianism in its basic scheme is practical. “You don’t fuck me and I won’t fuck with you” is practical, and indeed is the basic behavior of the vast majority of people in everyday life. Most people, most of the time, do not start street fights with most other people. Most nations are not at war with most other nations most of the time. Etc.

On the other hand perhaps there’s an empirical argument against them? How many of the meme complexes that we observe empirically actually explicitly have features 4, 9, 10, and 11, including unbelievers in their protection? This is a relevant question because the memes that we observe empirically are the results of memetic evolution, as surely as the organisms that we observe empirically are the results of biological evolution. If most memes don’t have those features, that tells us something about their viability. But I don’t know the empirical answer to the empirical question I asked. Maybe most memeplexes do have them.

On the gripping hand, societies that implemented something like those in their laws and culture became successful, powerful, and pleasant places to live, while they adhered to them, so there’s that.

A Political Science Thought Experiment

Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex:

[I]magine a world with a magic artifact at the North Pole which makes it literally impossible to violate laws. The countries of the far north are infinitely orderly with no need for police at all. [NB: And Jews who don’t want to be marched into gas chambers are out of luck, since they can’t resist the edicts even if Nazis take power.] Go further south and the strength of the artifact decreases, until you’re at the edge of the Arctic Circle and it might be possible to violate a very minor law if your life was in danger. By the time you’re at the Equator, any kind of strong urge lets you violate most laws, and by the Tropic of Capricorn you can violate all but the most sacred laws with only a slight feeling of resistance. Finally you reach the nations of the South Pole, where the laws are enforced by nothing but a policeman’s gun.

Where would you want to live in such a world?

I don’t know, but that’s an awesome thought experiment. I wonder what would actually happen? I mean, in a world of well-meaning people, government would seem to be unnecessary. In a world with a mixed bag of people, I initially thought this: All the bad actors are going to congregate at the no-law place (the South Pole), thus ruining it for any well-meaning mellow pot-smoking anarchists who might just want to chill there.

But it’s not that simple. The game theory of the self-selection effect is fascinating. In the preceding paragraph, I was assuming that the “bad actors” range from garden-variety assholes who like doing mailbox vandalism, up to retail-level serial killers. BUT: The most evil people in history are not retail-level killers. They’re killers who got to the top of nations’ governments and implemented wholesale genocide, slaughtering people by the millions. These psychopaths would not gravitate to the South Pole. They’d gravitate to the North Pole, and do everything in their power to try to gain control of the laws.

Now where would you want to be?

A related thought experiment is this: To preclude any self-selection effects, imagine that the relevant regime is going to cover the entire planet. If you were the person who got to make that decision for the world, which regime would you choose for the planet?

That is not a trivial question, but I would choose the South Pole option, i.e., no enforcement but what humans themselves implement. After all, that’s what we have now, and even that is too much government.

Here’s a meta-question: Would you push a button that would randomly select a person from the world population to make this decision for the whole planet?

Me neither. A good case for limited-state democracy, with the emphasis on the “limited-state” part.

Another question: Just how are the laws to be made? I mean, are these unbreakable North Pole laws made by any dickhead who manages to cobble together a 5/9 majority of the Supreme Court? (Let’s be realistic about how our laws are actually made these days.) Or does it have to be at least a 75% – 25% majority in a popular referendum? Or what?