Powertalk in Action

A while ago, I put up the above clip as a demonstration of powertalk in action. However, I feel that I was remiss in not analyzing exactly what about this scene makes it such a good demonstration of this particular form of verbal maneuvering. Today, I remedy that.

There is much to analyze in this scene, but for our purposes here, only the words that are spoken will be examined. There is much to learn about how powertalk in action actually works. I hope you find it illuminating.

Prince Oberyn.

Lord Tywin.

The two players exchange acknowledgement of each others’ presence without giving ground. It’s time to play.

May we have the room?

Tywin wants the following conversation to be private. Oberyn sees that the man is very serious, and it’s going to be best to go along with his request. You see how Tywin is already setting the tone for the resulting exchange.

Game on.

Would you like to sit?

No, thank you.

Some wine?

No, thank you.

Polite pleasantries on the surface, but what is happening is that Oberyn is testing Tywin to see if he will break his stern countenance and submit to the prince’s attempt to display authority over the situation. Doing so would constitute a gesture of submission to the younger man, and make it that much harder for Tywin to enforce his will over the situation and get what he wants. Tywin, being a master statesman, does not go along with this.

I’m sorry about your grandson.

Are you?

I don’t believe that a child is responsible for the sins of his father. Or his grandfather…

On the surface, more pleasantries, but Oberyn barely disguises his thrust. Oberyn despises Tywin, and being the less subtle of the two, he has no problem implying that he thinks Tywin is the one who should have died, and not Tywin’s grandson, the former king. This is another attempt to throw Tywin off of his game and expose some kind of weakness that can be exploited.

…an awful way to die.

Which way is that?

Are you interrogating me, Lord Tywin?

A normal person would have agreed with Oberyn that the king died in an awful way. A normal person would have let the flow of the conversation slip away from him. Tywin is trying to retain control of the conversation, and he also knows that Oberyn is going to be hostile and minimally co-operative. As such, he dispenses with the cooperative assumption of normal conversational implicature and tries to pin down Oberyn and get him to say exactly what he thinks.

Some believe the king choked.

Some believe the sky is blue because we live inside the eye of a blue-eyed giant. The king was poisoned.

“Some people believe this possibility that obviously didn’t happen. This is the last chance for you to retain plausible deniability before we move out of the preliminary proceedings and begin the main part of this conversation.”

“We are not some people. We both know what really happened. We will take this conversation to the next level and talk as men who know what really happened and we will not dive into discussion of things that did not happen.”

This marks a shift in the conversation from feeling out each other’s frames into a discussion of the matters Tywin wishes to discuss.

I hear you studied poisons at the Citadel.

I did. This is why I know.

Tywin is implying to Oberyn that he might be a suspect in the murder of the king. It’s an attempt to rattle him. Killing a king is a great crime, and bad things happen to those found guilty of it. In order not to lose face, Oberyn has to show that he isn’t rattled. It’s easy for him, because he isn’t. This time, it’s Tywin who fails to perturb his opponent.

Your hatred for my family is rather well-known. You arrive at the capital an expert in poisoning. Some days later, my grandson dies of poisoning.

That is suspicious. Why haven’t you thrown me in a dungeon?

Oberyn takes note of the implied threat and calls it out for the bluff that it really is. He knows that if Tywin was really planning on arresting him, he would already be sitting in a jail cell, not hosting orgies with his paramour. Oberyn still doesn’t know what Tywin wants, but at this point he knows that despite Tywin’s fearsome demeanor, there is no intention of hostile action on the part of the old lion.

You spoke with Tyrion in this very brothel on the day you arrived. What did you discuss?

You think we conspired together?

Tyrion (Tywin’s son) is the primary suspect in the murder of the king. Tywin knows that he couldn’t have done it alone. This question could help him get some information that could be useful for the trial, but the real intent here is to assess how much of a threat Oberyn might be. For all Tywin knows, Oberyn might very well be the real killer. If that’s the case, there’s no telling who else might be next to swallow something that might fatally disagree with them. Perhaps Tywin himself is in danger. This next part of the conversation is an attempt to assess how much danger Tywin and the other members of his family are in.

What did you discuss?

The death of my sister.

For which you blame me.

She was raped and murdered by The Mountain. The Mountain follows your orders. Of course I blame you.

You’ll note that this is the first straight answer that either one of these players has given the other in this exchange. They’ve both stuck to their guns in holding frame up to this point, but Oberyn switches tactics in order to 1) remind Tywin of their mutual hostility, 2) attempt to intimidate him, and 3) see if he can get Tywin to admit whether or not Tywin gave the order to have Elia Martell (Oberyn’s sister) brutally murdered. But how many of these will hit the mark?

Well here I stand, unarmed, unguarded. Should I be concerned?

You are unarmed and unguarded because you know me better than that. I am a man of reason. If I cut your throat today I will be drawn and quartered tomorrow.

 “How far are you willing to go?”

“I may be reckless and impulsive and very good at violence, but I don’t want to die.”

Oberyn loses points here. Though his intent was to imply that he hasn’t ruled out killing Tywin at some other time, he ends up admitting that he isn’t willing to die in order to take revenge on Tywin. It’s a tactical error on Oberyn’s part, and now Tywin knows that this is not a situation in which he has anything to fear from the legendary warrior. You will see this reflected in the bold-faced lie that he will tell Oberyn very shortly.

Oberyn could have taken Tywin if it came to violence between the two. Tywin knows this, which is why he displays a certain reserved caution towards the younger, more physically dangerous man. Oberyn, in letting slip that he will not kill Tywin, has just forfeited a major psychological advantage that he had been holding up until that moment. This permanently shifts the balance of power between the two. For the rest of this exchange, Tywin is in control, and Oberyn finds himself fighting from his back foot.

This could have been avoided if Oberyn had ignored the bait and had kept talking about his sister, but his hatred for Tywin drove him to run full force into the trap that the other man had set. Massive points to Tywin here.

Men at war commit all kinds of crimes without their superior’s knowledge.

You deny any involvement in Elia’s murder?

Categorically.

We see immediate effects from Oberyn’s display of weakness. Tywin realizes that he can defect without fear of punishment in this prisoner’s dilemma, and he promptly does so. Oberyn told Tywin what he and Tyrion had discussed previously because he thought that he could then get Tywin to admit that Elia had been murdered on Tywin’s orders. Oberyn offered up truthful information, but Tywin reciprocated with a lie, and Oberyn knows it. This reneges on the offer of fair play that Oberyn had implicitly granted by accepting Tywin’s frame and then speaking truthfully. Oberyn, on hearing the obvious lie, realizes his mistake, but he also knows better than to push the matter.

This is the end of this phase of the conversation. Tywin is gaining massive momentum. All that is left for him to to clean up and extract the concessions he needs.

 I would like to speak with the Mountain.

This is Oberyn’s attempt to recover from his slip-up and reclaim some sense of authority over the situation. Gregor Clegane (aka The Mountain) is on his hit list, and there’s practically nothing that Oberyn wouldn’t give for a chance to kill the man. With good play, Oberyn can still salvage this situation and extract an opportunity to take revenge on the object of his ire. It’s clear that this line of thought is running through his mind.

I’m sure he would enjoy speaking with you.

He might not enjoy it as much as he thinks he would.

“I’m sure The Mountain would be willing to let you try to kill him. You do realize who we’re talking about, right? The guy is an enormous, inhumanly strong, nigh-unkillable human being. He could eat you for breakfast and still be hungry.”

“Tell that giant, freakish, rapey, eight-foot tall cunt that I will fucking end him as slowly and painfully as I can manage before my self-control gives out and I put him in his fucking grave. I could kill him easily and I know it.”

I could arrange for this meeting.

But you want something in return.

Clegane is offered up as a bargaining chip. Oberyn wants to know what is being bargained before he takes it. He still feels the sting of the preceding moment when he charged ahead without thinking. He won’t make that mistake a second time.

There will be a trial for my son, and as custom dictates, three judges will render a verdict. I will preside. Mace Tyrell will serve as the second judge. I would like you to be the third.

Why?

Tywin dangles a prize in front of Oberyn, but it’s not much of a prize. Oberyn isn’t going to snap at such meager bait. But why is Tywin asking him to do this? What is really going on here? Oberyn wants to know.

Not long ago, the Tyrells sided with Renly Baratheon — declared themselves enemies of the throne. Now they are our strongest ally.

So you make the Tyrell girl a queen. Asking me to judge at your son’s trial isn’t quite as tempting.

The backstory here isn’t important. What is important is that Oberyn isn’t going to dance for Tywin just for a few ceremonial honors. He knows Tywin really wants to win him over, and he’s not going to sell himself for such a low price.

I would also invite you to sit on the Small Council to serve as one of the new king’s principal advisers.

Boom. This is a big offer. Very big, and now Oberyn is very curious. Tywon wouldn’t offer this up unless he really needed Oberyn for something…something important. Now the prince knows that something big is going on that he doesn’t know about.

I never realized you had such respect for Dorne, Lord Tywin.

Dorne is the region of the empire from which Oberyn hails. The other kingdoms that compose the realm tend to look down on it for its loose sexual attitudes and (on a relative basis) progressive attitudes towards social issues. Tywin himself has indicated (to Oberyn’s face) a certain distaste for the region’s cultural norms. Thus, painting this offer as a reflection on Tywin’s views toward Dorne is an attempt to draw out exactly why Tywin is so keen on allying himself with Oberyn. As it turns out, this is about winning over Dorne, and not Oberyn in particular, but Oberyn doesn’t know this yet.

We are not seven kingdoms until Dorne returns to the fold. The king is dead. The Greyjoys are in open rebellion. A wildling army marches on the Wall, and in the east, the Targaryen girl has three dragons. Before long she will turn her eyes to Westeros…

Blah, blah, blah, backstory. Basically, the Kingdom is fucked unless all the bickering, feuding families who hold power can come together, stop all their plotting and backstabbing, and deal with the perfect storm of existential threats raging outside (and inside) the borders of Westeros. Tywin is being honest and straight-talking here because:

…only the Dornish managed to resist Aegon Targaryen and his dragons.

This is Tywin’s moment of weakness. This is why he’s spent all this time trying to assert his power over Oberyn. Much as he may dislike the Dornish, they were the only people who were able to hold out the last time the Targaryens decided to fly their dragons into Westeros and take over. This is Tywin at the height of his statesmanship. He knows that he needs an alliance with people he dislikes if he is to even have the faintest chance at preventing the realm from descending into anarchy.

This sentence gives quite a bit of power back to Oberyn, which is why Tywin tried to accrue as much as he could in the previous few minutes. He doesn’t want to lose any more power than he has to here, because he’s the only one with the capability to keep the kingdom together and fend off the threats that would destroy it. If he shows too much weakness and appears too vulnerable, his rivals (such as Oberyn) might try to remove him from his position as regent and kill him. If that happens, all Westeros is likely to be destroyed. For the sake of his own position (and thus, for the sake of the realm), he needs to make this request from a position of strength. He’s been setting this up ever since he walked in the room.

You’re saying you need us. That must be hard for you to admit.

 “That must be hard for you to admit” is unnecessary here, and it exposes Oberyn’s insecurity at not being in control of this exchange. It’s very effective as a personal jab, but it’s a sub-optimal rejoinder by the standards of powertalk. It shows that Oberyn feels his control over the situation slipping away, and now he’s lashing out in an attempt to score a few more points.

It still hits the mark, but the prince of Dorne would have done better for himself had he been a little less quick with his tongue. That said, this moment is still a minor victory for Oberyn. He definitely hit a nerve with Tywin on this one, as Tywin hates to admit any weakness.

We need each other…

 No, they don’t. Tywin needs Oberyn but that need isn’t mutual. This is classic politician-speech. It’s an attempt to save face. I actually can’t tell if Tywin is just trying to reframe the situation or if he’s trying to convince himself here that both men need each other. It’s probably a bit of both.

…You help me serve justice to the king’s assassins and I will help you serve justice to Elia’s.

Is the personal political? Yes and no, but by helping Oberyn get what he wants in the personal realm, Tywin gets what he needs in the realm of the political.

Final verdict? A remarkable level of play by both participants, but with the edge to Tywin for not only his masterful display, but also his success in getting everything he needed out of the interaction for the price of mere promises.

This is one of my favorite scenes from Game Of Thrones because it’s such a superb display of negotiating and politicking between two powerful men who know how the game is played. As such, it is a rich treasure for those who enjoying studying this particular aspect of human interaction.

Wrapping this up, I will point out some principles that are at work throughout the entirety of this interaction. You will also notice that both men do their utmost to avoid answering any question directly. Doing so would do what I warned against in my last Friday Night Fragments: playing a game when you aren’t the one setting the rules. Both men here are seeking to impose their will on the situation and they are no fools. They know the pitfalls to avoid.

Why does Tywin not just come out and say all that he needs to directly? He could, but he would suffer a loss in power and reputation by doing so, as the admission that only Oberyn can help him places Oberyn in a position of power over him. These delicate maneuverings are essential to making sure that the overall balance of power between the two men remains, at worst, neutral. It also has the added side effect of making Oberyn think that he is getting what he wants in a fair trade, while also increasing the prince’s opinion of Tywin and enhancing Tywin’s reputation as a strong, forceful man. Tywin could have gotten what he wanted by sacrificing some political and social capital, but by going about things in this way, he gains in stature. It is by playing games like this that he is able to project strength and head off potential challenges to his power and authority. Were he to be straightforward and honest, his political capital would be slowly chipped away until he was seen as nothing more than an old, toothless lion, and there’s nothing like the perception of weakness to make all those with even a hint of ambition feel bold enough to strike.

And that’s just how the game is played.

Now, I suppose you could argue that this is a work of fiction and that there is absolutely nothing that you can take away from this, but you’d be wrong. Good fiction is not just grounded in real-life truths, but is immersed in it, and scenes such as the above differ from reality only in regard to the most minute of details. There are a multitude of lessons that can be learned from this material and many others like it, and you’re a fool if you think otherwise.

Besides, if you really read all of this, you don’t actually believe there’s nothing to take away. You just think you do.

Powertalk

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?

Dark of the Moon

What serves the higher type of men as nourishment or delectation must almost be poison for a different and inferior type. The virtues of the common man might perhaps signify vices and weaknesses in a philosopher.

Whatever is profound loves masks; what is most profound even hates image and parable. Might not nothing less than the opposite be the proper disguise for the shame of a god? A questionable question: it would be odd if some mystic had not risked something to that effect in his mind. There are occurrences of such a delicate nature that one does well to cover them up with some rudeness to conceal them; there are actions of love and extravagant generosity after which nothing is more advisable than to take a stick and give any eyewitness a sound thrashing: that would muddle his memory. Some know how to muddle and abuse their own memory in order to have their revenge at least against this only witness: shame is inventive.

It is not the worst things that cause the worst shame: there is not only guile behind a mask — there is so much graciousness in cunning. I could imagine that a human being who had to guard something precious and vulnerable might roll through life, rude and round as an old green wine cask with heavy hoops: the refinement of his shame would want it that way.

A man whose sense of shame has some profundity encounters his destinies and delicate decisions, too, on paths which few ever reach and of whose mere existence his closest intimates must not know: his mortal danger is concealed from their eyes, and so is his regained sureness of life. Such a concealed man who instinctively needs speech for silence and who is inexhaustible in his evasion of communication, wants and sees to it that a mask of him roams in his place through the hearts and heads of his friends. And supposing that he did not want it, he would still realize some day that in spite of that a mask of him is there — and that this is well. Every profound spirit needs a mask: even more, around every profound spirit a mask is growing continually, owing to the constantly false, namely shallow, interpretation of every word, ever step, ever sign of life he gives.

-Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Sections 30, 40

As always, the bolded emphasis was mine.

I love Nietzsche. I make no secret of it. I devour his works. I have discussed him before on this blog. I obviously don’t agree with everything he said, of course, but I think there is much that he got right, and those matters on which he was wrong he was not 100% wrong.

I don’t consider myself a Nietzschean, as I’ve never met a self-proclaimed Nietzschean who didn’t selectively interpret Nietzsche in such a way that removed all the subtlety and nuance; cherry-picking passages that stroked the ego while overlooking the caveats, implications, and true substance hidden beneath the superficial meaning.

I did the same thing when I styled myself as such. Then I made the effort to actually read Nietzsche, and I realized that in my shallow interpretation, I was not giving the man nearly enough credit.

But enough about Nietzsche. I have no doubt that I shall return to him another time.

Let us talk about anonymity.

Who am I? Donovan Greene. Who is Donovan Greene? Does it matter?

newtwitterphotosquareDonovan Greene is a lie. It is an illusion. It is a front for someone who reveals far less of himself than he is letting on, while at the same time revealing of himself so much more. It is a mask for one who also called himself “Legionnaire”, styling himself under the aegis of the eagle before trading it in for a white raven ensconced in black fire.

Have my words changed since I began? Of course. I am smarter and older and wiser than I was when began this blog, back in 2013 not too long after the Cambrian Explosion of Neoreaction. I expect to look back in 2017 and feel much the same way about my current work as I do when I look back to my beginnings.

I am a better writer and a better thinker now than I was then. I reap these benefits in my “personal” life, that life in which my mask is my face and my face is a mask, but am I truly any less anonymous when I wrap myself in my physical features as opposed to when I speak from behind the veil of the blue and the gold? You will not see my true self either way, for I could stand in front of you, naked and uncovered and speaking nothing but unvarnished truth, and yet still be as mysterious and inscrutable and opaque as I am when I speak from the mouth of the raven. Is one approach really any less anonymous than the other?

Who am I? Donovan Greene. Who is Donovan Greene? It doesn’t matter.

Among the many things I do, I happen to have a few blogs. I use one of these blogs as a platform to communicate with and write for Neoreactionaries and other rare folk who are delving in strange places and doing strange things. It does not follow from this that I must dedicate my life to fighting for the “cause of Neoreaction”. It does not follow from this that I ought to charge into the breach like a good little soldier so that I can join my “comrades” in dying like so many chickens.

That’s all a metaphor, of course. Points if you get the reference, too. I’ve mangled it and paraphrased it, but the essence is still there and it is still recognizable.

I love people who feel that great urge to mass together and charge, of course. They make great underlings, especially when you need someone effective yet dispensable. Let your hammers be your hammers and let them do what hammers do. Just make sure to keep them out of the high command. That’s where you want people with more than one trick.

Not directly relevant to this post, and not all that great a documentary either, but it is informative and it has a good narrative and it does a great job of demonstrating the point that I have just made.

I am a Neoreactionary. So what? Am I under obligation to proclaim this matter to the world? This line of thinking strikes me as identical to the impulse so common among many in the LGBT movement who think that someone who is not straight is obligated to come out and obligated to share who they are with the world.

They are not. You are not. I am not. I am under no obligation to share every meaningless facet of my entity with anyone and everyone. You want to do that? Go for it. You do you. There is no higher advice than “just be yourself”, after all. Be you, but do not make the mistake of assuming that I am like you. I have no doubt that no matter how similar we may be, there are many traits on which we differ, especially if you harbor a strong desire to proclaim who you are. That is an impulse I do not share, Millennial though I am, and raised in that great sea of narcissism and self-indulgence though I was. I am a ship upon those waters, but though the deck gets splashed when the seas froth up and rear their ugly waves, there is little that is touched by the swell.

I am perhaps the one member of the selfie generation who has no desire to parade what I am for all the world to see, who does not need to reaffirm daily that I exist and that I am seen because I knew very well that I exist and that I am seen and I know for a fact that I never need fear that incomprehensible horror lurking in the hearts of my peers: to be ignored, overlooked, and irrelevant.

That great nothingness is the true fear of the internet generation, but I do not fear the nothingness, for the void becomes me and I traverse both it and the world of being and being noticed like a salamander, with a foot in both worlds and eternally comfortable no matter where I am.

I do not understand those who clamor to drop the “anonymity”. I do not understand those who are driven by the impulse to confess their sins or who feel so defensive about their beliefs they seek to actively manage what people think of them by preemptively airing their “dirty laundry”. I must confess the lack of reserve makes no sense to me. Do you bring your resume on dates?

But fine, let’s reframe this to make it about some grand neoreactionary cause. Perhaps you might argue that it is our duty to stand up and suffer whatever consequences may arise from doing so, that it is our responsibility and our burden, and that those who are not willing to do so are cowards who do not deserve to label themselves as Neoreactionaries.

I’m glad for you. I’m proud that you aspire to be a sacrifice. It’s very noble of you, really. I wish you all the best.

What a brilliantly remarkable case study of a natural servant, just begging to be ordered forward into the enemy. What fascinating insights into the mind of a such a creature. Look at how many assumptions are being called into play by this beast!

I have no qualms about releasing the hounds, but there is a time and place to do such things. You really want to make Neoreaction a crusade to which you will dedicate your life? Good. Neoreaction needs crusaders, but don’t delude yourself into thinking that even a metaphorical charge of the cavalry will usher in sweeping reform in the vein that most pleases you. You might hate the modern, but you’ll need the modern to fight the modern. If you aren’t willing to do that, then you’re not in this to win. You’re in it for glory.

Never fight the way you want to fight. Fight in the way that will be most effective for you given: your strengths and your weaknesses, the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent(s), and the context in which you find yourself.

If you are one of those who want to make this into a fight, that is the best advice that I can give you.

(Update: For the purposes of clarification, I wish to make it clear that I do not forthright condemn those who dispense with anonymity, only those who do so out of narcissism. My invective does not apply to those who are merely behaving in accordance with an open, honest, straightforward character).

How to survive the Public School Archipelago

In my last Friday Night Fragments, I devoted a large chunk of words to the topic of the public educational system. I finished it off by saying that though I should have been either broken or assimilated, I wasn’t (though I’m more likely than not at a level of capability less than I potentially could have achieved).

I posited a suggestion or two as to how I managed to make it out (mostly) unscathed. I would like to expand on this now. Some of this was no doubt due to chance, but was chance the only cause of my intellectual survival? I don’t think so, and in the interest of those who might derive some benefit from knowing how to make it out of the mind-grinder, I feel compelled to put this post together.

First off, I would be absolutely remiss if I did not state right off the bat that my situation was not nearly as dire as in some of the most troublesome spots in this country. The public school system in my area was of a much higher quality than most places in the United States (and with a student body to match), and so the education itself was not totally useless.

That in mind, my official education was not anywhere near a major source of knowledge and insight for me. Rather, my own independent studies and natural curiosity drove me to learn most of the things I did over the course of my upbringing.

I read. I read everything. I tackled books on philosophy, physics, chemistry, history, mathematics, biology, and anything else that could teach me something. I devoured fiction the way fire devours wood. I tore through magazines and newspapers like my life depended on it. I burned with an insatiable desire to read and to learn, and in feeding this hunger I strengthened it. This vicious cycle that instilled in me both a natural curiosity and a raging desire to learn.

Curiosity and a love of learning. Cultivating both of these traits is absolutely essential for surviving public education, because in tandem they completely remove your reliance on your education for your body of knowledge.

Education is trivial when you don’t need to be taught to learn. Learn how to learn on your own, and you already are halfway beyond the ability of the system to harm you.

Mental independence. The price of this is boredom. You will not only find that class is a much more inefficient way of learning things than self-directed learning, but you will always frequently know what your “teachers” are going to be teaching you before they’ve ‘taught” it.

 Second, cultivate hobbies and interest outside of school that can ground you and give you  a sense of purpose. Anything that will get you out of the house and doing something is good. Something physical is better, especially if you’re smart, because then you’ll already be gravitating to intellectual pursuits and it becomes of more importance to balance yourself.

I started doing Taekwondo when I was eight. Eight. I’ll be 22 in a few months. I’ll have been doing martial arts for 14 years this summer. That’s quite a lot of time, and I credit this habit with giving me the perspective that education is not the end-all and be-all of a young person’s existence (a concept that many children, especially smart children, embrace…something which I would argue is to their detriment).

Side note: I would say I’ve been a “fighter” for considerably less time, of course, because Taekwondo is more of a sport than a combat style, but the speed and agility carried over pretty well to my Muay Thai and my Silat (plus the wicked flexibility is a great tool to surprise people and catch them off guard sometimes).

Self-taught. Self-directed. Pursuing your own interests.

If you’re all of those things, you’re doing all right, but you can still optimize further. Man is not a solitary animal, no matter how hard he might try to be (looking at you here, INTJs). One thing that public school does a fantastic job of is giving  you the opportunity to learn how to navigate large numbers of people. You would be remiss if you did not take advantage of this.

Some people are good at dealing with large crowds. Others may prefer the calm, quiet of a more intimate group. Figuring out how to make yourself happy and taking what you socially want out of the available resources is one of those most basic skills in life that cannot be learned anywhere else. This is more true the more skill you wish to acquire with large groups.

Allow me to make this a little more concrete. In my high school it was even high-status to take hard classes, if for no other reason than that many of the students who had high social status were also smart and hard-working kids who were also leaders in athletic, artistic, and/or political organizations (looking back, this really was kind of a chicken-and-egg thing…I can’t quite tease out which factor lead to the other). During my senior year, I was in a class that contained the class president, the homecoming king, the future valedictorian AND salutatorian, and several of the top athletes (mostly track and field, but also football and baseball). As a one of the leading students in my school’s theater organization (on top of rumors that I was one of the smartest students in my graduating class…a suggestion that was spread with renewed conviction when it was discovered I earned the highest score on the SAT of anyone in my year), I was allowed — and somewhat encouraged — to associate with this popular and gifted crowd of students.

I ended up rather friendly with many of these people, and having kept in touch with a good number of them (to this day I still attend an annual Christmas party every year with several of them), I can tell you that they are going on to things like medical school, graduate degrees in STEM fields from Top-25 universities, and high-status professions such as Wall Street banking jobs.

Many people say that life isn’t really like high school. I am not quite sure what they are talking about. The same principles that govern high school social life are the same principles that govern how the real world operates. People will form tribes, status hierarchies will emerge, and you’ll do better for yourself if can get in with the popular and/or cool and/or successful and.or rich people.

Learn that, and figure out how to apply it and do it, and you will actually start to get an education out of your education.

At the end of the day, be in the system but not of it. It’s a joke, but ride out the punchline. Think of Camus’s laughing Sisyphus, if you will, or whatever ideal that you prefer.

Public education is fundamentally incapable of dealing with someone that doesn’t fall into the category of “average”. If this is you, do not despair. That is exactly what you are expected to do. Do not give up. Do not give in. Do not make the choice to let yourself be broken, for that choice fundamentally IS a choice.

Teachers are not exactly the cream of the crop of the American white-collar class. If you ever get the feeling that you might be smarter than your teachers, you probably are. The good ones make themselves known. You will recognize them. As for the rest? They are not your mentors, but soulless bureaucrats who serve only to perpetuate your submission.

If you are the kind of person who is not taught to in public education, then the chains that they would invite you to accept are not yours. They are not your fate. Defy them at all costs. Pretend to take them on while acting as you will, doing as you will, and cultivating that inner fire that you know will one day devour all those who stand against you.

Learn how to be a saboteur of sorts, or perhaps a ghost if that metaphor pleases you. You want to prove that you’re smarter than your babysitters? Prove it to yourself. This is how you do it.

Public education exists to perpetuate slave morality and public education exists to perpetuate slavery.

Outright rebellion will be crushed, but if you can run circles around them and give fuel to the inner fire, there is nothing they can do to stop you.

Unbowed. Unbroken. Unstoppable.

The alternative is to become just like everybody else. I do not favor this approach.

I recommend defiance.

Against Critical Thinking?

Mark Yuray is stirring up the waters with his latest post, “Rote learning Rocks, Critical Thinking Sucks“. It’s one of those berserk, no-holds-barred, fuck-everything-that-has-ever-existed assaults on a major progressive meme, so it is to be respected for that reason alone. Rock on, Yuray!

That said, in his desire to slaughter this sacred cow, he goes a bit overboard and swings his pendulum of death a bit too far to the other side.

His first step is to point out that the end results of what progressives say they are trying to promote with “critical thinking” are eerily similar to the consequences of intelligence:

I have a reactionary’s contempt for this new notion. Let’s review what critical thinking is supposed to cover:

– Solving complex problems

– Organizing information

– Communicating ideas

– Questioning dogma critically

– Reasoning

Interesting. It almost sounds like someone who goes through “critical thinking” education is supposed to come out intrinsically more intelligent. Reminder — the elements of an IQ test:

– Verbal comprehension

– Working memory

– Processing speed

– Perceptual reasoning

Yuray makes a very proper point here: that what progressives are actually fetishizing is intelligence (this seems like the proper point to remind everyone that it was originally the progressives who promoted the idea of eugenics to bring about a smarter population). Yuray makes a mistake, however, in conflating “intelligence” completely with “critical thinking”.

Intelligence is a natural property. Critical thinking is what you do with it.

Think of the mind as a vehicle. Intelligence is the engine. Critical thinking is all the parts that transfer the energy of the engine to the rest of the car. The set of parts you get at first can be made more efficient, but they are not the engine, and the engine is not them.

The first two qualities that Yuray mentions “Solving complex problems” and “Organizing information” in particular can be improved by focused instruction in various schema and logical algorithms designed to aid one in achieving those ends. Intelligence is certainly needed to solve complex problems, but having a varied set of tools in your mental toolbox is also a boon. To use a fairly dramatic example, think of how well you could solve various complex problems if you did not have math and language as your tools.

Courses and even university degrees in “Public Speaking” and “Leadership” already exist (despite the fact that both are obviously inborn abilities) and the whole educational system from kindergarten to doctorate programs rests largely on the assumption that all students have the potential to become intelligent, and are all equally capable of doing so.

I spent four years doing high school theater. I’ve seen what happens when you take a shy, nervous, tongue-tied person who can’t even string a cogent sentence together in casual conversation and teach them how to breathe, how to enunciate, and how to pace themselves. I’ve personally trained shy, nervous, tongue-tied people in how to breathe, enunciate, and pace themselves. I’ve seen the dramatic improvements they made not just in stagecraft, but in public speaking. I tell you now that anyone who says that you can’t teach public speaking is flat-out wrong.

Public speaking is one of the oldest subjects to have been taught. The Greeks did it. The Romans did it. Men like Demosthenes would spend hours each day training themselves in the art of public speaking. The reason they devoted such intense energy and devotion to mastering the craft is public speaking is exactly because it can be taught and it can be mastered.

Yuray says that public speaking is like critical thinking in that it cannot be taught. I say that critical thinking is like public speaking in that it can be taught.

One man’s modus tollens is another man’s modus ponens, I suppose (hey look, more examples of logical schema!).

If Yuray wants to make the argument that a man’s absolute potential in such matters is innate, he will face no disagreement from me. I firmly believe that not only is potential fixed, but that most people do not have the potential to be good at “critical thinking” (or public speaking, but here I digress too much). His argument, as stated, is that not only our potential is fixed, but that our ability to make good on our potential is as well. I think this is absolutely incorrect.

The best reading I can give of his stated position is that education can’t improve someone’s potential, it can only give them an opportunity to make good on it. I would agree with this completely. Perhaps Yuray meant to say this, but I will not be so condescending as to put words in his mouth. I refuse to disrespect him by acting as if he is incapable of clarifying something if he so chooses. For what it’s worth, I think he means what he says and said what he meant, which is praiseworthy, not shameful.

I agree with Yuray at least 90% here. Progressive insistence on educating everyone to become critical thinkers is horribly misguided. Critical thinking is, for the most part, something that cannot be improved. My sole point of departure is that I believe that certain aspects of critical thinking can be improved in certain individuals.

Not everyone has the innate capacity to be a surgeon, but those who do can end up doing a hell of a lot of good for the world if that potential is nurtured and developed. Practice is without doubt the most important factor, but that doesn’t mean that properly applied instruction cannot expedite the learning process.

Olympic athletes do not win medals based on genetic potential, though they absolutely need that to succeed. They leverage their innate ability with intense practice and carefully chosen coaches to help them know how they can progress even more quickly. I view critical thinking in much the same light, with the caveat that winning an Olympic medal is dependent on many factors and critical thinking boils down to just two (innate intelligence + the schema & logical algorithms you are applying).

Finally, I would like to end this piece by saying that although I do not agree fully with Yuray on the topic of critical thinking, I do agree with him that there is much to be gained from rote learning, and that for people who are already fairly rigorous thinkers, this is probably the avenue down which they should direct their energies. I myself like to memorize poetry, and the first poem I ever memorized was Robert Frost’s Fire and Ice, which I recommend as a nice, simple start for anyone who wants to get into this habit.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

VIVERE EST COGITARE

Friday Night Fragments #6

Here’s a little scribbling I wrote to myself in my notes for this week:

The Cathedral: The true Deep State, or a cultural and political juggernaut at war with the Deep state?

I’ll be honest, I thought it was fairly clever of me to see a distinction. It looks like I wasn’t the only one, though, and it seems my self-satisfaction was misplaced. Nick Land beat me to the punch on the subject with this post, and several of the ideas that are suggested indicate that I was on the right track but I’d started to go off the rails a bit.

Having perused Land’s post and the relevant links, I think I’ve started to put together some idea of how concepts are intertwined and the relationship they have with each other.

The Cathedral – The high church of modernity. The media and academia give sermons and guidance, while non-profits, NGOs, and the State Department promote the good works.

Shallow State – The network of American political consultants that earn their keep of off knowing how to play politics. Essentially political mercenaries, the degree to which they actually influence policy is probably slim, but ambitious politicians across the world will pay lucrative sums for their expertise. “State” is probably not the right word to use for this group of individuals.

Deep State – An amalgamation of major defense and intelligence agencies, co-ordinated by the Executive Office of the President via the National Security Council. The NSA has co-opted Silicon Valley into the effort, but the degree to which this is voluntary or coercive is up for debate. The same is true of the Deep State’s relationship with Wall Street, which seems to be conducted through the Department of the Treasury. The degree to which Wall Street is an independent player is unknown.

Three entities, each with a certain degree of ambiguity both in their definitions and in their membership. We might be tempted to write off the shallow state, were it not for the fact that it seems that the major shallow state players are tied in closely to certain organs of The Cathedral and of the Deep State. What is their role?

The relationship among the three can only be speculated by those of us not in the know, and even with more information, I fear that any attempt to tease out the connections will be an act of blind men feeling an elephant. Whatever is going on, it is big, it is secret, and there is essentially nothing that we can know for certain.

The degree to which these elements are disparate is also the degree to which their goals may not always align. What happens if there is a conflict among the players in this tripartite web of intrigue?

To the degree do the designs of the Cathedral run counter to the goals of the Deep State?

What if the Cathedral is just a tool of the Deep State to consolidate its power and keep the people in line?

Also in my notes this week, I postulated this:

ENTP – Sanguine
ENTJ – Choleric
INTP – Phlegmatic
INTJ – Melancholic

This is more a general rule of thumb and not a ironclad law, obviously, but anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that this is generally the temperamental pattern that (more often than not) people seem to gravitate towards. If I had to guess, I would go even further and say:

ExxP – Sanguine
ExxJ – Choleric
IxxP – Phlegmatic
IxxJ – Melancholic

Interestingly enough, this would seem to suggest that it is one’s relationship to the outside world and how one perceives it that influences personal temperament (or vice versa…it’s hard to tell and the causal relationship could go either way), and not cognitive processing style. This is odd, as it makes sense to expect that cognitive processing style would have an impact here, but I guess the influence of cognitive style is one of the murky factors that make this a general correlation and not a hard and fast rule.

To what degree is it a good idea for a young man to learn a few foreign languages and some other in-demand skills and become a globe-trotting, techno-commercialist financial/business mercenary?

I’ve linked to Paul Cooijmans before, including some of his stuff on genius (long story short, his theory is that Genius = IQ + conscientiousness + associative horizon). I had a weird thought recently regarding the relationship between IQ and conscientiousness. It seems likely to me that a deficiency of conscientiousness would mildly hamper performance on an IQ test (inattention to detail and things like that causing someone to incorrectly answer questions that their intelligence would predict them to answer correctly), which would lower the final score. In light of this, low conscientious people might score 1 – 3 points lower (my unsubstantiated guess…actual number may be higher) on an IQ test than they would otherwise have received.

A lot of people are square boxes in round holes. Most get ground down into the proper shape over time. Some never do. What sets these people apart is an intrinsic quality and strength of self that makes it impossible for them to ever be ground down to the degree they are “supposed to be”.

If you are one of these people, you will always be one of them. No matter how well you may fit in, no matter how well you may play with others, no mater how functional and successful you may be, you will always be a square peg in a round hole. You will never quite fit, and there will always be a part of you that yearns for the life of the wanderer, always seeking out new horizons and always searching for something new to master and conquer.

You will always be restless. You will very quickly find that staying in the same place and doing the same things is anathema, and anathema is death.

You are cursed to never be content.

Once you accept this, though, there is nothing you cannot do.

ARCANA IMPERII

Seducing the Red Queen…

Time: 10:30 AM, Friday, April 4, 2014.

My wrist is absolutely shot. Anything more than a modicum of pressure on it whatsoever causes absolute agony. One of the heads of my quadriceps is almost definitely pulled. My knees aren’t yet crying out, but I can sense that the tensile strength in my ligaments isn’t up to par at the moment. My ankles are stiffening up, and my left shoulder is beginning to feel the strain of climbing up to these rooftops and doing tabata intervals with shadow-boxing.

Superficial ailments, all of them, but I can feel them beginning to slow me down. How did it come to this?

My lack of weight-lifting and other heavy exercise over the past few months has made me weak. My muscles and joints can no longer take the stress I put on them when I find the time to do some parkour or practice some martial arts. Yet because I refuse to take it easy on myself, I am doing the same things I was doing back in December, when I was much stronger than I am now. What I am doing is putting my body through a gauntlet that it is no longer prepared to undertake.

The nutrient-poor diet in this country probably doesn’t help. It’ll be nice to get back to the States again, where meat and eggs are aplenty, and I am not bombarded with bread and sugar, which together probably constitute about 70% of the diet here…

After a good meal out, and a solid 12 hours of sleep, everything seems to be back to normal, though I’m still feeling the wrist a bit when I move it around. The body’s capacity for recovery (especially at my young age) never fails to amaze me. I know I won’t be able to fully appreciate it until around 30 or so, when I will start to slow down, but I do my best now to make the most of it.

There’s a lesson to be heeded here. If you’re not progressing, you’re regressing. This is true not just for physical strength and endurance, but also for traits like knowledge, moral fiber, and discipline.

Now imagine this dynamic played out over an entire population. In a culture that prizes comfort over challenge, and entertainment over achievement, everyone is regressing in some form. It’s reached the point in the US where the quest to stave off his decline is a decent litmus test for being a part of The Natural Aristocracy.

But I digress. My point is that a society that does not incentivize its population to continually be pushing themselves for the better will witness a degeneration of their human capital (an effect that will likely be compounded if those with the most potential and capability breed at lower rates than. Yet, perhaps I overreach on this point. It might be more accurate to say that people push themselves are far as they are forced to, and no further. If you force less upon them, most will simply force themselves to do and be less, and you will see the quality of your human capital decline.

How can you force your population to do and be more? One way is to have high standards of behavior implicit in your social and societal norms. The stricter the norms, the higher the standard of behavior (though it should be noted that there is probably a point at which this becomes self-defeating, as more and more people give up on trying to meet increasingly rigid social norms).

What should be noted here is that the alteration of social norms does not necessarily lead to lower expectations for a minimum standard of behavior. Social norms can be changed to something of equal severity. The outright deconstruction and/or deconstruction of social norms though, does lead to a reduction in the standards of behavior, and so reduces the quality of your human capital. In this way, the removal of social norms hurts, rather than helps, society at large.

I would like to reiterate that this is not necessarily an argument against the alteration of social norms. Sometimes societal context changes enough to require such a thing (massive technological innovation, for example, can have an incredibly disruptive impact on existing norms). A static society is a dying society, and is subject to the Red Queen hypothesis just as much as any animal species or human individual.

This is a warning that if you value functional society, it is most unwise to alter social norms to those that do not provide equal or greater levels of societal stability. This is a warning that those who would do away with social norms are liable to doom us all. This is a warning that altering social norms is akin to altering the DNA of an animal: necessary for the species to adapt and survive, but a necessity that offers far more room for disaster than for success.

CONIUNCTUS VIRIBUS