Culture War Battlefronts
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February 7th, 2021
I feel called to discuss culture war stuff. It might not be best for me to do this now, as I am tired and not feeling the sharpest at the moment, and one needs to be sharp when writing about the culture war. That is if one does not want to trigger the “sacred values” of the memetic tribes that are involved in the war.
I will define both sacred values and memetic tribes in service of clarity. I first saw the phrase sacred value used by a Canadian political scientist named Philip E. Tetlock. These are values that are non-negotiable, and they serve as a superordinate value for a person or tribe, which orders their worldview by filtering the world through it.
This value is often unexamined and treated as a given. If you transgress against the value, you will trigger the person and/or tribe that holds that value. If you become sensitive to the value, and understand the terms they use related to it, along with their bespoke way of defining those terms, you can dance with them and around them, while not agreeing with them.
A memetic tribe—a term I coined with Conor Barnes—is a group of agents (humans, bots, institutions, etc) that replicate “memes” in a way that engender a verisimilitude of tribalism amongst a group of people. I am using the word “meme” here in the colloquial and Dawkinian sense of the word, the latter means a “unit of cultural transmission.” These tribes share a meme complex, or memeplex, which is a constellation of memes.
Memetic tribes have sacred values, and perhaps a way to look at this is through the lens of Durkheim’s notion of “moral community,” which is a group of people who live together and share a common moral goal and philosophy. Memetic tribes then can be seen as digitally decentralized moral communities. Adjacent concepts (if not synonymous) are John Robb’s Networked Tribes and Jordan Hall’s Self-Organizing Collective Intelligence (SOCI).
A lot of this is already covered in my co-authored white paper on memetic tribes, and the central argument of that paper is this: the current culture war—Culture War 2.0—consists of many memetic tribes warring with one another, which is a different perspective from how the culture war was framed before, aka a blue tribe (left-wing) versus a red tribe (right-wing) affair.
When we wrote that white paperback in 2018, memetic tribes largely threw memes back-and-forth at each other on social media platforms, but we predicted that memetic warfare would turn into kinetic warfare, as we recently saw with Antifa in Portland, and with Trumpists in Capitol Hill.
One thing that was not covered in the paper—but something Venkatesh Rao took a crack at before—is culture war battlefronts. I imagine there are many ways to conceptualize these, and I think that if you are trying to “steal the culture,” you will not only need a sensitivity of the active memetic tribes, and their sacred values, but also the battlefronts they are engaged in.
Why is this important for Weird Stoics to know? Culture heisters are not culture warriors. It is good to know where the battlefronts are, so we can know where people are being distracted, that way we can sneak around them, or if we engage, we do so like good tricksters, and siphon the weary and fatigued culture warriors away from the culture war and into the culture dance.
I will briefly mention three culture war battlefronts I see, with the caveat that there are probably many more, and that they could also be configured and framed differently from how I am presenting them in these journals. They are:
Woke Versus Anti-Woke
Institutional Knowledge Versus Stigmatized Knowledge
Normies Versus Weirdos
There is another battlefront that strikes me as salient, and I will label it as: white privilege versus white identity. I may not go into that one though, as it will be tricky for me to do so well.
Maybe I will cover these battlefronts over the next three or four entries here, or maybe in an article outside these journals, or maybe I won’t cover them at all. If I do cover them though, I will do so through a Hegelian lens, looking at the thesis, antithesis, and synthesis of each battlefront.
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