Bloody shovel

Don't call it a spade

Signaling spirals

1800: Oh, you still have slaves? I freed all of mine.

1860: Did you know they still have slaves in the South? My sons have enlisted to kill those evil slavers.

1920: You listen to classical music? I go to a Jazz Club, there’s a black musician who is so awesome.

1950: I have a black secretary.

1970: I have a black friend.

1980: I have many black friends. I even slept with one.

1990: I have a black child. Well, half black.

2000: I adopted a fully black child. Straight from Africa. Zero white admixture.

2010: I adopted two black children. One from West Africa and one from East Africa.


This past Sunday, my gorgeous wife – a white evangelical, like me — gave birth to our beautiful African-American triplet daughters whom we adopted as embryos. These sweet girls will hopefully soon be coming home to meet their 3-year-old African-American brother and 2-year-old biracial sister, both of whom we adopted as infants.

People forget that Christians invented holiness signaling.

As a friend said, hopefully liberals will see that they can’t compete with evangelicals and will move to the other side. If that happens I’ll salute Mr. and Mrs. Halbert for saving civilization.


29 responses to “Signaling spirals

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  3. Chris B April 23, 2016 at 10:21

    Ok. But why has this signalling been successful?

      • reactionaryfuture April 23, 2016 at 11:45

        It made it into newspapers, it is social beneficial (it gives the individuals prestige,) and it is getting even more extreme- so why has this occurred? why this form of signalling, and not another form? I can provide an answer – because the power system (from the very top) has signaled that this is socially acceptable/ beneficial, and why? well slavery was a useful cudgel against the south, or against slave owners. Power promoted by default. Then you have the civil rights era – power funded equality to undermine cities and states, and to beat republicans about. Power promoted by default again. Each time the filter goes one way In a society in which this was not occurring, this signaling would either not happen, or would be ineffective. This is just the caste off from the high-low mechanism. Christianity didn’t do this. Power did.

        • spandrell April 23, 2016 at 12:04

          Why does it propagate, indeed.

          Calling it “power” is like calling it “God”, you’re begging the question. What is power? Who is power? Power is the successful signalers of yesterday; and signaling becomes a spiral because the only way of replacing or at least joining those in power is by pushing in the same direction, just a little further.

          Everything that happens is able to happen because people with power allow it to happen; well, sure. That’s occasionalism. That’s Ghazali’s argument. The cotton doesn’t burn because you heat it with fire; the cotton burns because Allah makes it burn.

          • reactionaryfuture April 23, 2016 at 14:08

            Well, no. What get’s past the gate keepers into the public eye? what the gatekeeper let through. Who lets the gate keepers get into the positions they get into? those who can make the decisions on who are the gatekeepers. So the central power (the state) and the actors within it fund and employ X people, and engage X laws making what we have legal (and what we don’t have illegal.) So you have the likes of Milner and his allies in the UK, and the various progressive elite in the USA, all funding the same stuff, all going along the same direction, and all promoting the same things. Yes, people signal in line with this, but they don’t get into power unless those in power let them in, most of it is just signaling in line with the winning team. Colonel House, Charles Merriam, Lionel Curtis, Alfred Milner etc these are the guys who got this really rolling in the extreme in the early 20C, but it had been going for sometime before (going back to the monarchical period according to De Jouvenel.)

            • spandrell April 23, 2016 at 15:13

              But Lionel Curtis or Alfred Milner aren’t “the state”. They are Lionel Curtis and Alfred Milner. They were other people in positions of influence in the British state in their time. There were other governments in other countries with other people.

              I don’t like getting too abstract, but if the model is that there are people in power and they perpetuate their own faction, why do ideas ever change? Progressivism has gotten a great deal worse from the times of Alfred Milner. If power is that powerful it should be able to be more stable. That political ideas get increasingly worse implies conflict and instability.

        • Howard J. Harrison April 23, 2016 at 16:47

          A perfectly orthodox Christian as a Platonist, I don’t care for spandrell’s anti-Christianity any more than I care for Edward Gibbon’s or John Derbyshire’s; but I admire all three writers, facts are facts, and spandrell is right about the signaling. The Church has always seen itself as countercultural, because that is mostly what it is. Between the Church and the secular culture, I have no way to prove to you which direction the arrow of causation points, but all my own experience, all my reading, tends to suggest to me that it points from the Church to the secular culture.

          I would very much like to imagine that this were not so.

          • nickbsteves April 26, 2016 at 05:23

            It points from low church, disestablishment (need I add heretical) Christianity to secular culture, because that is the definition of secular culture. Disestablishment doesn’t so much kill Christianity as unleash certain variants of it (well adapted to this peculiar social niche) to completely take over the state. And that is, by around 1800, exactly what happened. But laying some sort of blame for this on the inherent nature of Christianity, is like blaming Orca attacks on naked mole rats. Yes. They’re both mammals.

            • spandrell April 26, 2016 at 08:23

              I’d buy that if established Christianity, i.e. the state churches of North Europe and the Catholic Church, had not been moving left since 1840. But they obviously are. Catholicism is in the verge of full surrender to progressivism.

              Now I’m the first to say that I don’t believe in the inherent nature of any set of ideas; but the track record of Christianity as it exists in the real world hasn’t been very good for some time.

  4. Howard J. Harrison April 23, 2016 at 16:30

    Amazing. It’s hard to compete with a couple like this who have such courage in their convictions. Compared to them, what am I? I am a coward who posts a pseudonymous blog comment.

    But see: the couple are mad. Brave, courageous madmen. That’s what they are.

    You can’t help but to admire such exquisite lunacy.

    • Rollory April 23, 2016 at 23:45

      What’s cowardly about being pseudonymous?

      What would you accomplish by tearing off your shirt and howling your convictions to the heavens? Would you convince anybody of anything useful? Would you change anything meaningful? Would it make better provision for your children or relatives?

      Keep your powder dry. When the day comes when it’s needed, it will REALLY be needed.

      • Howard J. Harrison April 24, 2016 at 02:54

        > What would you accomplish by tearing off your shirt and howling your convictions to the heavens?

        Nothing that I know.

        > Keep your powder dry. When the day comes when it’s needed, it will REALLY be needed.

        Sound the trumpet, brother!

        In my late 40s, I have advanced past military age, and am not getting any younger, more’s the pity. Having a family, one eventually makes one’s peace with the regime. The fire no longer burns so hot.

        I have sons. Maybe some would fight. The thought may be glorious to them, such is youth; but dreadful to me, their father, such is age.

        Sound the trumpet! Beat the drum! Vainly I hope that you are wrong.

    • spandrell April 24, 2016 at 04:12

      It’s hardly courage to agree with the state religion. Madness it is, and yes there’s something eerily admirable about being completely consistent in madness. But I’d rather have my own family and keep it safe.

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  6. 28Sherman April 25, 2016 at 00:37

    Your timeline is off. You can comrpess 1980’s “I slept with one” oneward from 2000 onward. This has accelerated just as sexual degeneracy or the gay acceptance to celebration movement has.

  7. Mackus April 25, 2016 at 13:14

    Okay, but slavery in USA sucked for a lot of people, not just blacks. Thanks to Fugitive Slave Acts, whites could be fined and imprisoned for refusing to join slave patrols, and were expected to drop whatever they were doing (unimportant things like harvest) to run after any unattended negro who could be escapee, and generally were not given any compensation for this defacto conscription. If Southern slaveowners wanted to keep their slaves, they should not expect poor whites to subsidise them.

  8. Ryan April 25, 2016 at 19:43

    The interesting part of the signaling spiral isn’t the past step or the current step, but the next one.

    So what’s the going theory? This is disgusting appropriation of not just black culture but actual black children? They’re going to make those beautiful triplets into de facto slaves, and really they should be put up for adoption by a good decent black couple who will raise them to be proud of their heritage?

    Or maybe the white man’s burden approach? This is akin to colonization, blacks cannot run their societies so white people step in and start bossing them around, so too this awful couple thinks their whiteness makes them more fit to parent black children?

  9. Rhetocrates April 27, 2016 at 08:54

    Interestingly, Christianity avoided holiness spirals or leftward drift for at least a thousand years (I’d put it at about fourteen hundred years myself, but I won’t fight for the exact number.)

    So the question remains: what changed? And is Christianity essentially to blame for the change? Is it a proximate cause? Is it an intensifier? Or is it merely the material cause?

    Real questions. I’d like to think it’s not essential to Christianity to devolve into this, because after all our whole cultural history as Europeans is essentially Christian.

    • spandrell April 27, 2016 at 09:06

      No. The early theological disputes between Niceans and Arians, the weird schisms in the East, iconoclasm, the Cathars, Jan Hus; all that happened before Luther. The Cathars weren’t that different from modern progressive lunatics.

      That Western Christianity was fairly stable from 400 to 1000 AD is if anything a function of the Catholic Church being more of a joke back then, most of Europe being rural and effectively pagan, and the Church having little control over hereditary bishops. All that changed with the Gregorian revolution and when feudalism gave way to more centralized kingdoms.

      You can blame Christianity, or you can blame gunpowder for the creation of strong states that made violent rebellion not a feasible way of obtaining status. Eventually pulling a holier-than-thou became easier than raising a gang of knights and conquering a castle.

      • Rhetocrates April 27, 2016 at 11:43

        I certainly agree that there were a lot of schisms and things that would have turned into signalling spirals before Luther. I would also point out that they didn’t, though. The established church maintained power and maintained at least a semblance of theological temporal unity, namely by reacting manfully to holiness signalling before it started to seriously spiral. Even, in a few cases, in the face of military power (namely emperors).

        Why’d they pull it off then, and not with Luther or presently? Historical accident? Spiritual, political, or material changes? It seems a question worth exploring.

        Though maybe you disagree with my premise. Either way I’d like to hear your thoughts.

  10. Karl December 16, 2016 at 12:48

    Signalling spirals are nasty. So what can stop them? Before the leftist singularity is reached? Obviously a new (or at least different) religion. Signaling will work only for people who share a religion. Try signaling Christian holiness to a Muslim – he won’t be impressed. Signalling feminism or trannyrights amongst Alt-righters also won’t give you status points.

    The examples for signaling spirals I’m aware of, like Mao worship, become that bad because there was no alternative belief or rather no other community to ingroup with.

    So how is signalling affected if you know that your holiness signaling will give you status points with some people, but reduce your status with others? I guess people will do the heavy signaling only when they are amongst believers of the same religion. If they don’t know whether they are amongst believers, they’ll be more careful, tone down their signaling.

    For example, Merkel’s open border policy was widely celebrated because of leftist signaling. Now there is a noticable opposition. The commited double down and increase their signaling – any status they can have is withing their group anyway. The people who were just going along without fervent belief shut up -for now. Maybe they are just waiting to find out which religion will become dominant.

    I wonder how do multi-religious societies evolve. Separation – so that anyone can engage in signaling without cost (without loss of status points)? Radicalisation – different signaling spirals keep going on, but within every religious group?

    Anyway, a multi-religious society does not seem stable. I don’t see a happy outcome.

    • spandrell December 17, 2016 at 16:16

      Thing is the same way that individuals have status inside their ingroup, the different groups have different levels of status themselves. So people often change groups if they find a higher-status group; or in some cases move to a lower status group in which they would have higher relative status. More math-inclined people could come up with a way to formalize this calculation.

      • Karl December 17, 2016 at 17:42

        Yes, of course groups have different status and people can change groups. I’m wondering how is signalling affected by the fact that there is another group. People at work or in a sports club know that there are members of the other religion. In such situations same people avoid signaling, e.g. the don’t talk about politics, religions an such. I guess they are trying to hide which faith they have. This would be pointless if everyone had the same faith.

        Others don’t, they are commited and use every chance they get to signal their religion. Such signaling sometimes might prod others to join, or it might put them off. So members of the group have a reason and a means to silence the guy who tries to be holier then them; in the interest of the group.

        • spandrell December 17, 2016 at 19:21

          One shouldn’t overestimate rational calculation. Some things, perhaps most, are done by sheer habit.
          So somebody starts signaling about “their religion” because he started while small, perhaps because it was popular back then in his group, and he thought he had some comparative advantage there so he could gain status. Then things change for many reasons and he ends up in a group where religion signaling isn’t precisely valued but he’s made a habit out of it so he goes on making a nuisance of himself forever; at least provided that the group has a norm of not overtly cracking down on that sort of behavior so he doesn’t notice that he’s not gaining any status out of it.

          It’s very hard to disentangle habit from in situ reasoning; social behavior is complicated.

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