Douglas Adams once said there was a theory that if anyone ever understood the Universe, it would disappear and be replaced by something even more incomprehensible. He added that there was another theory that this had already happened.
These sorts of things — things such that if you understand them, they get more complicated until you don’t — are called “anti-inductive”.
But what, then, in such a place, is nice? Is nice now an aesthetic, a style, rather than a substance? And hence, is it the aesthetic of having the aesthetic? Has the thing been banished by the symbolic representation of the thing? Does this tyranny of superficial niceness inevitably create a particular ideological cascade? It seems to. Does it banish truth, slowly pressuring all into conformity, via the Scott Alexander quote that cannot be repeated enough times, so here it is again:
Sometimes I can almost feel this happening. First I believe something is true, and say so. Then I realize it’s considered low-status and cringeworthy. Then I make a principled decision to avoid saying it — or say it only in a very careful way — in order to protect my reputation and ability to participate in society. Then when other people say it, I start looking down on them for being bad at public relations. Then I start looking down on them just for being low-status or cringeworthy. Finally the idea of “low-status” and “bad and wrong” have merged so fully in my mind that the idea seems terrible and ridiculous to me, and I only remember it’s true if I force myself to explicitly consider the question. And even then, it’s in a condescending way, where I feel like the people who say it’s true deserve low status for not being smart enough to remember not to say it. This is endemic, and I try to quash it when I notice it, but I don’t know how many times it’s slipped my notice all the way to the point where I can no longer remember the truth of the original statement.
Explaining those odd terms the alt-right use to troll their opponents, and complaints about virtue signallers as virtue signalling.
Robin Hanson, Against Irony
Just as the urge to signal loyalty to people nearby has kept New Guinea folks from understanding people over the next mountain, our similar urge pushes us to write in ways that make it hard for those outside our immediate social circles to understand us. Using irony, we sacrifice ease of wide understanding to show loyalty to a closer community.
Language is like religion, art, and many other customs in this way, helping to bond locals via barriers to wider interaction and understanding. If you think of yourself instead as a world cosmopolitan, preferring to promote world peace and integration via a global culture that avoids hostile isolationist ties to local ethnicities and cultures, then not only should you like world-wide travel, music, literature, emigration, and intermarriage, you should also dislike irony. Irony is the creation of arbitrary language barriers with the sole purpose of preventing wider cultural integration.
This one is interesting not because it is not one of Hanson’s better ideas, IMO, although it is a trial balloon for some better ideas that do not conflate local culture with hostility to wider culture, or assume the plausibilty of operating without in-groups.
When I have a moment I would like to muster some thoughts about how in-group and outgroup signals like these are weaponised in practice, and the types of coordinations that are robust for society. Related, the levels of simulacra model. In the case of modelling COVID there are some interesting analyses of truth dynamics hypothesised:
To the purely political actor, the implausible lie is better. If the lie is implausible, then those repeating it have sent a costly signal of loyalty, and cut ties with lower levels. You don’t have to worry they repeated the statement because it happens to match the physical world, or that they will refuse to repeat the next one if it fails to match.
Closer to home, consider “Political correctness” accusations which are always explosive at family dinner. 🏗
…civilization depends very much on the positive side effects of (not necessarily conscious) intelligence and virtue signaling, as channeled by various institutions. As evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller says, “it’s all signaling all the way down.”
In consumer design
Self-proclaimed premium mediocre intellectual Venkatesh Rao defines premium mediocre:
Premium mediocre is the finest bottle of wine at Olive Garden. Premium mediocre is cupcakes and froyo. Premium mediocre is “truffle” oil on anything […], and extra-leg-room seats in Economy. Premium mediocre is cruise ships, artisan pizza, Game of Thrones, and The Bellagio.
Premium mediocre is food that Instagrams better than it tastes.
Adil Majid thinks it though with a little more precision.
A related concept might be bugman technology, although that term has snide connotations rooted in romantic struggle against the corporate feminism surveillance complex which movement (?) does not seem to me to have a compelling diagnosis of the world’s ills.
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