GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

November 13, 2018

Hostages, Proxies, and Moles

Filed under: GA — adam @ 1:40 pm

One extremely important contribution made by the alt-right and neo-reaction has been the enormous enrichment of the vocabulary we have available for studying social actors and actions. Neo-reaction has retrieved the ancient (caste) distinction between soldiers, priests and merchants; the alt-right has put nations and races back on the agenda, and has also contributed a rich conceptualization of socio-sexual hierarchies, the most fully developed I know of being Vox Day’s (Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, Omegas, Sigmas). Both tendencies have brought back “thick” understandings of male-female differences. Liberalism flattens everyone out into “citizens,” which is perhaps a further development of the absolutist monarchs’ flattening of everyone into “subjects.” Of course, liberalism has seen its own efflorescence of group designations: capitalist, worker, middle class, new middle class, salaried vs. wage earners, plus professional classifications and, of course, all the political differentiations. But the liberal designations just “happen”—we notice them as statistical distributions after the fact, and they have nothing to do with decisions made or founding events. No obligations follow from any of them. Even the supposedly freely chosen political identities turn out to be almost completely grounded in some combination of economic, ethnic, gender, regional, familial status. (Tell me your race or ethnicity, whether or not you are married with children, or hope to be at an early age, and I’m already ¾ of the way towards guessing what you “believe” about most “issues” with a pretty high degree of accuracy.)

The socio-sexual hierarchies may present themselves pretty clearly and consistently in high school, where what differentiation there is almost directly elicits varying dominance tendencies among males and conformist tendencies among females, and no one is really responsible for much, but in the adult world such hierarchies are mediated by the professions, or the disciplines. What makes one an alpha on Wall Street will not gain one the same respect in a scientific community, as an author in the world of publishing, or on a neighborhood watch committee. It would be very interesting to do a longitudinal study tracing men’s (in particular) position in dominance hierarchies throughout their lives, and across the various activities they participate in—no doubt there would be quite a bit of continuity, but high school reunions must hold some surprises. So, it seems that the caste-like differentiations, which follow very directly from what one would have to do in assembling a team, must be the foundational ones. The socio-sexual hierarchies, then, would to some extent determine whether one becomes a soldier, priest or merchant, but would then primarily show up within those groupings. Of course, we need not assume that these specific castes themselves are the last word—it’s just that this points in the direction of the needed inquiry. What we are looking for in such group differentiations is resistance to the equalization pushed by turnover at the center. Ultimately, we would want grammatical definitions—that is, one’s “vocation” would be identified through one’s relation to ostensives, imperatives, interrogatives and declaratives. Most obviously, if one’s greatest aptitude is to obey imperatives, one is a soldier; to issue imperatives, an officer, ultimately a ruler (the alpha among officers). Beyond that it will get more complex.

It is belonging to a team that makes sense of qualitative “identities.” Teams have captains, and most team sports have more central figures, the one who controls the ball or initiates the action. Liberalism can’t do much with such an approach, because a team needs to be very clear about qualifications and roles. Imagine a wide receiver insisting on the “right” to play fullback. But if social orders are teams (really, teams within teams), what’s the game? It’s easy to get tripped up on that question, because it implies the existence of some external, “Archimedean” point from which one could “choose” among different games, different ways of “winning.” But we can always ask the questioner what game he’s playing in asking the question. Or what leverage within some other game he expects from that move. We’re always immersed in games, that is, and all we can do is solicit and elicit new moves within them. The new moves might eventually become new games. Of course, someone will come up to you and say “life is serious!” or “look at what’s happening—this is no game!” To “gamify” such moves is then an important act of deferral: yes, I can see there is real danger, people might get hurt, maybe they’re getting hurt, there’s no time to lose—still, though, the more we place people in clear-cut roles where they can show what they are made of, the more we find the right measures of tacit and explicit cooperation; in other words, the more team-like we are, the better we’ll handle the emergency. (And then the alphas, betas, gammas, etc., will step up, or step down, or step off in their own ways.)

But there’s still something missing in all this. What happens once the team is exposed to disruptions? This must happen even if only for internal reasons, such as the team’s own successes, and the new problems they generate, and the team’s need to replenish and reproduce itself. At each point along the way, there might be reasons to question decisions made by the captain, decisions with no clear precedent. Exacerbating such potential pitfalls is the reliance of one team upon many other teams. A government is essentially a team mediating between other teams. Sometimes a government is like a referee; sometimes it is more like the major leagues recruiting from the minors; sometimes it has to lead a team of teams against some insubordinate team. Insofar as it is like a referee, which is the case insofar as it runs a justice system, any lapses will be a signal to the players to enter the government team and tip the scale in their favor. So, now we have antagonisms between teams, and members of one team infiltrating other teams. Teams will aggregate into mega-teams. This creates more possible resentments that could be leveraged within one team on behalf of another.

In the midst of the many stresses placed on a team, the coherence of the team will depend upon how highly it values its members. I mean “value” in a very literal sense: what will the team spend or risk to protect a particular member? We could think of a spectrum of possibilities here, where at one end is a team in which all the members are interchangeable and easily replaced; at the other end, not only is each player highly specialized and impossible to replace, but the set of relations built among team members could not be restored if one of the members is removed. In any complex society, there will be more of the former type than the latter, but the kind of complex society you have will be determined by which type of team sets the tone. A centered social order will depend on irreplaceables, and will want more of them; a decentered order, or one with a rapid turnover at the center, will want more interchangeables. Liberalism is essentially a process of pulverizing irreplaceables into interchangeables. In fact, that’s how you get all those new “statistical” identities in the first place.

Irreplaceables are high value targets. That is, they are very useful as hostages. The centrality of hostage taking in honor societies cannot be overestimated. Hostages are involved in the most mundane practices. Diplomatic intercourse in ancient kingdoms required an exchange of high value hostages. In honor societies, hostages are highly priced because they signify the value of the patriarch—if a hostage is not returned, the capability of the captain to protect his team is compromised, and seen to be compromised. This means everyone is ultimately a hostage, or just waiting to be one. The reason why a patriarch will feel compelled to kill a dishonored daughter is because her dishonor—even if she was raped, which only means she was allowed to be in an unprotected position where that was possible—shames him as protector. She was a hostage, even if this didn’t become explicit until she was dishonored. Post-honor teams consider their members irreplaceable because the team performs some essential function, but no team, and certainly no team of teams, i.e., no government, can ever be once and for all post-honor (and irreplaceability in functional terms is always relative and diminishing). Why is it an issue when a single American is held hostage by some terrorist group, when 50,000 people, or however many, are killed in automobile accidents every year, etc.? Because the investment in redeeming the hostage is a marker of the coherence of the team.

So, “hostage” is an “identity” that must be added to or supplement soldier, priest, merchant, and alpha, beta, and so on. We are all hostages in potentia, to all of the different teams we are members of. The flip side of being a hostage is that you, as an individual, can shame the group through your actions, which is a way of offering yourself up as a hostage to other teams. The captain is then faced with the choice of redeeming you as a hostage (“he is one of ours, after all, you’ll have to come and take him”) or expelling him (letting the other team do with him what they will). The first approach, all things being equal, implies a hostile relation to other teams, while the second approach implies a willingness to police within your own borders in the interest of mutual amity. Hostage taking is central to political warfare today. Each side attacks someone on the other side for doing or saying something that can be framed as shameful, presumably for some audience not directly implicated in either team (or, an audience made up of members of the team insofar as they are also members of other teams). You then dare the other team to protect the hostage or cut him loose. Protecting him means you put more members out on a limb, and they may be taken hostage; but cutting him loose may encourage more hostage taking as well.

It seems to me that hostage taking is closely related to the use of “proxies,” which is such a crucial concept in Moldbuggian neo-absolutism. The high uses the low as proxies against the middle. Let’s see if the concept of hostage taking can enrich our understanding of the process. To activate a proxy, you need a group, or a team. In order to turn the team into a proxy, you need to interfere with its exchange system—and exchange systems within groups work primarily on the gift and honor model. Members of that team get humiliated by members of another team. This lowers their value on the team—if they are humiliated enough, it’s not worth it trying to redeem them. The way to leverage the team as a proxy is to elevate the value of the humiliated members, to redeem them as hostages by making their humiliation shameful, not for the team to whch they belong, but for the team from which the humiliators come. This can only be done by the “highs,” i.e., an external and more powerful group which has, for example, the means of publicizing instances of humiliation and framing them as shameful, pressuring the team to repudiate them, that is, refuse to pay ransom in added scrutiny of the team. It even becomes possible to induce members of the targeted “middle” group to offer themselves as hostages, by allowing their value to be determined by the team from which the humiliated come, which really means determined by those with the spotlight to shine on (or turn away from) all of these doings. The humiliated ones then acquire the highest value, which they can leverage within their team and on behalf of their team. Within this economy, the interchangeables become irreplaceables.

Much of this is clearly outside of the control of any individual, but the best way to lessen one’s chance of being reduced to the option of becoming a low value hostage or puppetized proxy is to become a mole. A mole on behalf of the center. Every discipline employs a kind of cover; even its normal members are under cover, which is to say playing a role, wearing a costume, etc. Deferral is itself mole-like—you set aside your desires and resentments, which means you act as someone who has redeemed oneself from proclivities that make it easy to take you hostage (and would also make you a dispensable hostage). You make yourself a higher value hostage by hiding your value in making yourself irreplaceable to those who would protect you but interchangeable for those who would take you. As a mole for the center, you find signs of irreplaceability behind signs of interchangeability.

The most obvious example of “molarity” is leftist entryism, whereby a traditional institution is infiltrated and transformed into a progressive front. This describes pretty much every institution in the contemporary world. This kind of entryism involves leveraging the institution’s rules against itself. The institution has rules that implement some higher, meta-rules (academic freedom in the name of the search for truth); but the rules exclude (that’s not really “academic” work), so the meta-rules can be invoked to subvert the rules (your definition of “academic” excludes new, path-breaking inquiry). In enough cases the charge will be plausible enough, and sometimes even true, so as to confer the benefit of the doubt on new attacks. In the end, “academic” is given a new meaning. In hostage-taking terms, what happens here, at least in the initial stages, is that the activist/entrepreneur takes some member of the team hostage, while simultaneously offering herself up as a hostage. The team member (who has been “critiqued”) can be demoted in some way, while the entrant can be expelled. It’s a long game, a trial and error process—over time, if the game is played right, enough prominent team members get demoted and enough entryists are redeemed. At a certain point the entryists are in, and can dispense with the pretense of playing by the old rules, at least for internal transactions—for external messaging, it might be necessary to keep up the pretense indefinitely.

Centerist molarity replaces the meta-rules with infra-rules. Never, ever, conduct battles on the terrain of the meta-rules, however tempting it may be to defend the cause of truth, justice, freedom, beauty, God, the good. These are all central words, so the point is not that they should or could be forgotten or expunged—they just can’t be the object of a direct contest. Molarity on behalf of the center constructs practices that externalize the practices of the team you join. You show them what they’re actually doing in a way they may not exactly appreciate, but that at least some will find revelatory and compelling. You offer them ways of being more competent by showing how their reliance on some skewed version of a meta-rule interferes with some practice they’re trying to construct. This is actually a way of deferring hostage taking—you try and make everyone more irreplaceable, and you try to make the team itself more irreplaceable for as many other teams as possible. You work on producing interchangeable means of making more irreplaceables. Of course, this ends up making us all emissaries, which is to say self-delivered hostages of each other.


  1. >>> if social orders are teams (really, teams within teams), what’s the game? It’s easy to get tripped up on that question, because it implies the existence of some external, “Archimedean” point from which one could “choose” among different games, different ways of “winning.” <<<

    I think a more important question is: Who's on my team? And we do indeed choose our teammates – again and again and again. See average lengths of employment with a company and our ever-growing divorce rate. We are atomized players always in search of a team and will then play whatever game it is that that team plays.

    We humans are social animals but are we social animals like a hive of bees or a pack of wolves? The originary scene depicts a pack mentality, but since the industrial revolution there are no longer any enduring packs and we are more and more becoming like a hive of bees. I think your "team" analogy is spot on and we should follow it to it's inevitable conclusions – that while the games might endure all the teams that we might join today are ephemeral. Just like a dog I think it is more important for us to be a part of a team, a singular team, a real enduring and committed team, than it is to win at the game with a ad hoc team of strangers. But that's just me.

    Comment by tommy704 — November 14, 2018 @ 8:25 am

  2. Well, I agree with you, and don’t think the conditions you describe are irreversible.

    Comment by adam — November 14, 2018 @ 4:11 pm

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