In a previous Friday Night Fragments, I put up a quick exchange I had with Aeoli Pera on the subject of powertalk. It is a matter worth significant attention. But what is Powertalk?

If you’ve read The Gervais Principle, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Good.

Now go read Part Two again. Do it whether you’ve read it before or not. This is not a recommendation. I just read it over again myself and I need you to be on top of your game and have the concepts completely fresh in your mind if you plan on reading this post.

Are you finally ready? Good.

 (Side note: Rao uses the word “sociopath” to mean someone who perceives things as they are and is able to think about them without passing moral judgement. I understand this can be a bit confusing in lieu of the “baggage” that comes with that particular word, but I encourage you to read his remarks on this particular word choice and at least try to understand why he does this.)


 Multiple layers of meaning are not what make Powertalk unique. Irony and sarcasm are modes of layered communication available to anybody. As you’ll learn if you read the Transactional Analysis books, Gametalk is all about multiple (usually two) levels of communication. What distinguishes Powertalk is that with every word uttered, the power equation between the two speakers shifts just a little. Sometimes both gain slightly, at the expense of some poor schmuck. Sometimes one yields ground to the other. Powertalk in other words, is a consequential language.

The Gervais Principle II: Posturetalk, Powertalk, Babytalk and Gametalk

Powertalk. A way of speaking in which power dynamics actually shift over the course of the conversation. Phrased like that, I would argue that all talk is powertalk. That said, 1) that is my phrasing, not Rao’s, so it wouldn’t be fair to judge him on that front, 2) there is an intentionality to powertalk not present in “normal” speech, and 3) that would probably say more about me than anything else now, wouldn’t it?

So let’s adjust that definition just slightly. All meaningful talk is powertalk.

Is your skin crawling yet? It should be. Now why should that be?

Simple. Not all meaningful talk is powertalk. Not at all.

Let us go back and focus our attention on an idea that Rao touches on only once for the briefest of moments: straight talk.

Sociopaths and Losers speak rarely to each other at all. One of the functions of the Clueless, recall, is to provide a buffer in what would otherwise be a painfully raw master-slave dynamic in a pure Sociopath-Loser organization. But when they do talk, they actually speak an unadorned language you could call Straight Talk if it were worth naming. It is the ordinary  (if rare) utilitarian language of the sane, with no ulterior motives flying around. The mean-what-you-say-and-say-what-you-mean stuff between two people in a fixed, asymmetric power relationship, who don’t want or need to play real or fake power games. This is the unmarked black triangle edge in the diagram.

Good philosophical discourse is straight talk. Proper intellectual inquiry is straight talk. An academic culture cannot function without straight talk.

Being “based” is straight talk.

The interesting thing about neoreactionary culture (insofar as there is such a thing) is that it’s respect for “being based” constitutes an apotheosis of straight-talk in the purest sense. One does not win acclaim by mincing words and gambling with status, but by being straightforward and authentic.

It’s actually a little unusual when you think about it. Granted, straight talk may seem an intuitive notion to the usual type of person attracted to this sphere, but it isn’t really a normal facet of human interaction in any significant sense. That it has become the dominant form of interaction among the right people is astonishing when you think about it.

Uniqueness aside, the fixture of straight talk among the foundations of neoreactionary culture is one of the core pieces of social technology that makes this entire edifice possible.

The risk here, of course, is that too strong an emphasis on being based leads to a short circuiting of the concept, turning straight talk into game talk and degenerating blunt dialectic into monkey politics and shibboleth-speaking.

Any status mechanism can be short circuited. Once that happens, a Red Queen scenario kicks in and everyone needs to short circuit the mechanism in order to accrue status, at which point people are pursing status for the sake of status instead of earning status commensurate with the intended purpose of the original mechanism. Holiness cycles are one manifestation of the phenomenon, and offer a great example for what happens with this chain of events is allowed to proceed to completion.

Heading these sorts of things off before they come to pass is imperative for any organization with interests beyond status signaling and monkey politics.

If you wish to straight talk to the best of your ability, then be as blunt as you can be without being more than you need to be. Try too hard and it becomes posture talk.

And really, after all we’ve been through, wouldn’t it be just downright disappointing to let that happen?

4 thoughts on “Powertalk

  1. Ansible 06/17/2015 / 1:45 AM

    Straight talk = truth telling, the West’s greatest invention. Go read up on Propertarianism, Doolittle talks about this a lot.

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