June 15, 2017

Collective blame prevents rise of extremist minority (skin in the game)

Nassim Taleb has presented a straightforward model of how a zealous minority can impose its will over a gigantic scale.

The zealous minority insists on getting its way in some domain of life, while the remaining majority is neutral -- whether it's done this way, that way, or the other way, who cares? That allows the minority's preference to take over the whole group. Then, as that group acts as one piece of an even larger-scale group, and still assuming the majority is neutral at this higher scale, the minority's preference will take over that even larger group. And so on, through larger and larger scales of social interaction, until the entire society is following the ways of a zealous minority.

The example he gives are food taboos, where a minority strictly adheres to some taboo, while the rest of the people don't care one way or the other. If one individual within a family insists on eating Kosher food, and assuming the rest of the family doesn't mind, then that whole family will be eating Kosher because it's too costly to prepare two separate sets of meals all the time. When that family joins a larger group of families -- like at a weekend barbeque -- assuming the other families don't mind eating Kosher hot dogs and drinking Kosher lemonade, then the whole gathering of families will be eating Kosher, because it's too costly to prepare two separate sets of meals.

That could continue to scale up to the level of neighborhood, town, state, region, country, and even world. And all from just one person zealously insisting on Kosher. Here is a visual showing this spread from a single pink unit at the lowest level to the next level in a nested hierarchy, and the next level above that, until the whole hierarchy is taken over:

But somehow we don't see zealous minorities hijacking entire societies in every domain of life, and Taleb emphasizes that this process only goes as far as it does due to the majority being neutral, or where zealousness is asymmetric. Once the majority feels a high-enough cost from going along with the preferences of the zealous minority, they will refuse to adopt the minority preference, and it will be stopped from scaling to higher and higher levels.

For example, most non-Kosher eaters would not notice the difference between Kosher hot dogs and non-Kosher hot dogs. But what about vegan "hot dogs" and real-meat hot dogs? Suddenly the majority is going to squash the demands of the zealous minority, and there will never be a take-over by vegans of any larger-scale group where non-vegans are in the majority.

That is an example where the majority's intrinsic or natural preferences prevent the take-over by the minority. But the majority could also have those costs imposed on them from the outside. That is, the majority's natural feelings may be neutral, but some outside force imposes costs on them for remaining neutral. That will also have the effect of checking the spread of the zealous minority's take-over.

Perhaps the greatest example of this process is assigning collective blame, or guilt by association. In that family with one zealous Kosher eater, the rest of the family may feel neutral -- but suppose that in the larger gathering of families for the barbeque, there is a hostility toward Kosher food. They don't want any superstitious taboos to complicate the easy-breezy atmosphere of a weekend barbeque.

The other families will ostracize the family with the one Kosher member, in effect blaming the neutral members of that family as though they were all zealous Kosher partisans. The other families do not treat them as "that family with the one Kosher member" (blaming the individual) but as "that Kosher family" (blaming the whole group). And that makes sense, since the other families can only observe the final behavior of the family in question -- all members of that family are requesting Kosher food. The other families cannot see that it's only one member of the family that zealously insists on Kosher, while the rest are just going along because they feel neutral deep down. Outside groups can only see final behavior, not deep-down feelings.

Faced with that ostracism, the family in question cracks down on the zealous demands coming from its sole Kosher member. The members of that family tell the Kosher eater to bring their own separate Kosher food or go on a fast. "We do not want to get punished for your personal demands!"

Collective blame also scales up the social levels. Suppose that two schools are going to gather together for a party, and in one of those schools, a single individual has caused the entire school to eat Kosher food, spreading the preference from the individual to their family to the other families with kids at the school.

Suppose that the other school doesn't want any weird taboos getting in the way of a party atmosphere. That school will shame, ridicule, and ostracize the other school for being "that Kosher school" rather than "that school with the Kosher family" or "that school with the Kosher individual". Now the collective blame has been applied two layers above the original individual -- to their family, and then up to the school that encompasses all families who send their kids there.

Faced with being shut out of a gigantic party that would have brought together two schools, the families who share the school with the Kosher family will tell that family to knock it off with their Kosher demands. "We don't want our families to get punished for your family's demands!" That will in turn make the members of that family turn against the sole Kosher member: "We don't want the rest of us in this family to get punished for your personal demands!"

Notice that the outside group will assign collective blame at the highest level of organization that does not include the blamers themselves, or in other words the highest level to which the preference has risen. Those from the anti-Kosher school can only see that the other school has been taken over by the Kosher preference -- they cannot see the path that history took to get there. Maybe everyone there is a deep-down Kosher partisan, maybe only some families are, and maybe it's only one single individual.

If everyone else at the school felt neutral deep down, and only adopted the preference because they didn't care, they have made it impossible for outsiders to discern where the preference originated. Outsiders cannot localize the blame to "who started it," so they blame everyone who has allowed it to spread. Only the insiders can trace the path back to who started it, and put the pressure on them to knock it off, so that the whole group can get relief from the outside costs being "unfairly" imposed on them.

Outsiders can only tell that they themselves are not to blame, since they have the opposite preference. So they will assign collective blame to the next level down in the nested hierarchy.

Finally, it is possible that this practice of collective blame could itself be a take-over of a neutral-feeling majority by a zealous minority. At the anti-Kosher school, perhaps most people and most families feel neutral about Kosher vs. non-Kosher, but there is one zealous crusader against Kosher food. That preference scales up to his family, who will never eat Kosher food, and from that family up to the entire school, which will never serve Kosher food at school functions.

Just as we saw before, outsiders cannot tell how this whole school became anti-Kosher -- only the insiders can trace the history. Therefore the pro-Kosher school will blame the entire other school for being anti-Kosher. As it turns out, collective blame can be applied from either side, and zealous minorities can take over either side.

There would be a battle between two zealous minorities -- pro-Kosher and anti-Kosher -- with most people feeling neutral deep down, but who would receive collective blame from one side or the other. Then the winning side would be the one that imposes higher costs on the neutral majority. If the cost of not serving Kosher food is having a minority wag their finger in your face, while the cost of serving Kosher food is having a minority punch you in the face, then guess what -- no Kosher food will be served.

Our little investigation has shown some of the balancing forces that have prevented zealous minorities from taking over everything, and it has revealed the rationality behind collective blame or guilt by association, which "Intellectual Yet Idiot" types (in Taleb's phrase) tend to poo-poo as an irrational fallacy of primitives.

This rationality has two aspects. First, cognitive -- outsiders cannot see the other group's history in order to localize blame to whoever started the take-over. And second, strategically adaptive -- outsiders set off a chain reaction that roots out the original offenders on the other side, as the collectively-blamed group bores down into its own layers to localize punishment (since they do know who started it and how it spread within their own group), in order to free itself of the collective costs imposed by outsiders.

Naturally, readers will have been thinking about the political climate we are living in these days, and how partisan and polarized it has become. That will be taken up in a following post. But for now, suffice it to say that the most adaptive strategy is to assign collective blame at the highest level of a nested hierarchy that you do not yourself belong to.

After the attempted mass murder yesterday, Republicans ought to blame Democrats as a whole and impose costs collectively until the problem stops. At the next level down, the shooter was a Bernie Democrat rather than a Hillary Democrat, so the Hillary supporters will collectively blame the Bernie supporters. At the next level down, the shooter was obsessed with the Russia conspiracy theory, so the Bernie supporters who don't believe in it will collectively blame the Bernie supporters who do buy into it. Ultimately, what began as Republicans collectively blaming Democrats will get to the localized root of the problem.


  1. Yes, God bless Ag. He's doing the Lord's work.

    Anecdote: I'm afraid of Democrats now. Or, they make me nervous and I expend mental energy wondering if there "good" or "bad". I'm sorry, but the Republican congressman run off the road, the Portland stabber*, and now the Republican baseball shoot-up... We've got ourselves a trend.
    Today while I was out and about, I thought about my SIL's husband and whether he is a threat to my and my husband's safety. He has been nothing but a good person and I love him. No criminal record. But my SIL's words about how devastated he was and how poorly he took the election look different now. So for my loved one, and only for he, I gotta work and ascertain this.

    *the victims looked so much like "our guys" that one of them was literally a Republican activist/politician. Well isn't that peculiar? He may not have liked that Muslim woman, but when a white mountain man and Republican pol show up, straight out of GOP casting, that's when he goes into a murderous rage.

  2. Let's not forget all the Republican citizens who've gotten mobbed, egged, pepper sprayed, stabbed, and on and on, since the election season began -- solely for being members of a group (Republicans / Trump supporters).

    No Democrat citizens were attacked in collective fashion -- as interchangeable members of a faceless group. Not Bernie supporters, and not Hillary supporters.

    The only time they got attacked was on an individual basis, for actual wrongdoing at a personal level -- when they invaded a Trump rally, disrupted the event, and got shoved or punched for trying to rob the attendees of their right to free assembly (disrupting a rally). Not collective targeting for mere membership in a group.

    Nor were their rallies shut down by threats of violence and actual rioting, like Trump's Chicago rally.

    All of the political violence flows in one direction only -- from Democrats to Republicans.

    Even during Obama's eight years, there was no collective violence against Democrat citizens or politicians. So we don't want to hear "both sides" need to cool down, when Republicans refrained from collective violence even when they were the opposition party and hated the President.

    Nope, all of it was still from Democrats to Republicans -- Black Lives Matter, Islamic terrorists shooting up military bases, shooting cops for being cops, etc etc etc.

    So we don't want to hear how Democrats are only getting violent because they're an opposition party that's upset from losing the election. Didn't stop them during Obama's eight years. They are violent and condone violence no matter who is in office, they simply raise their level of violence when a Republican is President.

    The only time there was a Democrat group targeted collectively, it was by another Democrat terrorist -- the Islamic whackjob who shot up the gay nightclub. Republicans never target Democrats or any subset of them collectively.

    Although as hard as the Democrats are pushing, it may not be long before the slow-to-anger Republicans snap and go into "an eye for an eye" mode.

  3. "The shooter was deranged" -- No, he was perfectly sane, just acting in collective mode rather than individualist mode. He felt aggrieved by a collective -- Republicans -- and he acted to lash out at them as an entire group, finding the most convenient members of the group he could, when any members would have sufficed.

    Only the individualist mind says that collective thoughts, feelings, and actions are "irrational" and therefore someone acting that way is deranged, crazy, unhinged, psychotic, etc.

    It's no different from a hardcore fan of Team A going into a sports bar where fans of the rival Team B are known to hang out, and picking fights with people there. Or going to Team B's headquarters, or their home field, and taking shots at the managers and players.

    How is that deranged? He hates Team B, so anyone associated with it is on the list. Deranged and irrational would be hating Team B, and going after unrelated Team C or turning on your own Team A.

    It is utterly normal and mundane for people to think, feel, and act under a collective or tribalistic mindset of "us vs. them".

    That widens the pool of potential terrorists, or those who will condone or even encourage terrorism without committing it themselves, to include tens of millions in this country.

    The guy who shot Gabrielle Giffords was literally insane, and it did not presage a wider spread or trend.

    The guy who shot Scalise and other Republicans was mentally normal, and it portends a much wider spread and trend.

  4. About the deranged thing, I mentioned it on /pol/ a few days ago as the likely direction things are going to go and so far it seems to be playing out: fake calls for unity among Congress and "an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us" garbage, all the work of a "deranged individual" and now that it's been a few days the requisite calls for increased gun control from the left.

    Naturally the American citizens aren't buying it and are seeing this trend of leftist violence for what it is but the lawmakers who should be stamping it out are content to do nothing and go back to business as usual, passing sanctions bills against Russia that also severely limit Trump's ability to do anything about said sanctions (and Trump going along with it, likely at the arm-twisting of the Pentagonistas). It's black pilled but I truly wonder what can be done when those with the ability to do something don't care? We tried with the anarchists of the late 19th/early 20th century and that seemed to have some effect but the leftist terrorists of the '70s essentially got off free and clear, none of them regret it and most now live comfy lives as bourgeois academics... some of them even acted as mentors to our previous President!
    Maybe a few more attacks -- more shootings, church bombings, etc. -- will wake them up to the idea that action against these groups

  5. Great post.

    lol now i'm wondering how I can use this info on my nearest friends and family members.

    I'm also wondering how alt-righters can use their "aggressive minority" status obtain more influence over mainstream conservatism and the establishment republican party.

    I guess rather than attacking (non-violently) and/or ostracizing liberals for doing individual crimes or acts, we should attack them (non-violently) merely for being part of a "liberal" group instead?

  6. The Democrats are quite obviously supporting political violence; BLM, Antifa and the continual incitement from their media. It's amazing that some still don't see this.

  7. The phony calls for unity are just head-in-the-sand denial and fatalism. Hey, the nation's about to blow itself up no matter what we do, so might as well try to feel good about ourselves in the meantime.

    Even if an epidemic is already under way, aggressive collective measures -- quarantining, limiting population movement / interaction, compulsory vaccination or antibiotics, etc. -- can limit the numbers of dead, perhaps by orders of magnitude.

    Ignoring the problem means it will wreak maximum damage on the population. We must raise the costs on the politicians for ignoring and denying the problem.

  8. As things escalate, it will probably look more like the 1920 peak than the 1970 peak -- the 1970 peak was during the Great Compression when everybody was trying to get along with each other, immigrants were fully assimilated from the Ellis Island days, and there was a general climate of stewardship and societal control.

    Today is more like the peak around 1920, when it was white people starting the race riots, and ruthless crackdowns on seditious activists because there was no devotion to "principles" when the country was ready to blow itself up.

    Leftists today are going to be in for a rude awakening if they think it's going to be 1970 again -- the societal background today is not The Wonder Years. The general public will not sympathize one bit. And unlike 1970 when the government was strong, we are in a climate of weak government -- meaning more of the reaction will be vigilantism from mobs of citizens, filling the void that the politicians have left from refusing to impose order on chaos.

    We must spread the word that politicians who fail to crack down swiftly are opening the gates to another wave of race riots like there was around 1920 -- and it's not going to be white people who are the targets this time, but Muslims and Mayans.

  9. "I guess rather than attacking (non-violently) and/or ostracizing liberals for doing individual crimes or acts, we should attack them (non-violently) merely for being part of a "liberal" group instead?"

    You want to tie them into the problem of collective or political violence. If they refuse to disavow in the strongest, never-ending way, then they support leftist terrorism. If they refuse to shut off the hate-filled media, then they *want* to get worked up into a mob-mindset rage. If they refuse to accept the results of the election -- the most direct hit against them -- then they are for the violent anti-democratic overthrow of the will of the people by the CIA. If some company refuses to stop buying ads with a propaganda outlet, then they are funding Leftist civil war and sponsoring Leftist terrorism.

  10. So it turns out this guy had a hit list and of the names mentioned on there all of them (Jeff Duncan, Trent Franks and Mo Brooks) are all members of the Freedom Caucus. That implies to me that it's not just going to be the Republicans that are targeted (though they will be) but that those who are more populist and more closely aligned with Trump are going to be given extra special attention. Scalise was one of the guys who stood by Trump in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape too.

  11. Alt-Right protesters shut down mock Trump assassination!


    Good language by Posobiec that blames them collectively. "You are all Nazis," "You are Goebbels". Pointing around at everybody.

    Don't ask if they're "one of the good ones" or qualify with "I'm sure some of you are decent people".

    Collective blame!

    1. I thought "the blood of Steve Scalise is on your hands" was very strong, too.

      You know, for all the talk about virtues from the Bona Fide Right, aka cuckservatives, there is one virtue that *never* gets mentioned and even our side doesn't counter by mentioning, but no more: Courage.

      "Courage" is what is needed today and this is Donald Trump was elected. And his supporters are the same. Laura Loomer and Jack Posobiec just changed the narrative through sheer will and courage.

  12. Alright, unrelated to this post, but I'm leaving it here as the most recent: what do you make of this story?


    "Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council, and Derek Harvey, the NSC’s top Middle East advisor, want the United States to start going on the offensive in southern Syria, where, in recent weeks, the U.S. military has taken a handful of defensive actions against Iranian-backed forces fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    Their plans are making even traditional Iran hawks nervous, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, who has personally shot down their proposals more than once, the two sources said.

    . . .

    It’s not the first time Mattis and Dunford have found themselves having to push back against White House proposals for aggressive action they consider ill-conceived and even reckless. Earlier, the two opposed a tentative idea that would have sent a large U.S. ground force into Syria to oust the Islamic State instead of relying on local Syrian Kurd and Arab fighters backed by U.S. commandos.

    It is unclear where National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster falls in the debate over how to respond to Iranian proxies in Syria, but he likely sides with Mattis and the Defense Department’s position given his own military background. McMaster has also had previous run-ins with Cohen-Watnick and Harvey, both of whom work for him, but at times have sought to go around him.

    . . .

    Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had hand-picked 30-year-old Cohen-Watnick, who is viewed as too inexperienced by some of his colleagues and distrusted by some at the CIA, and Harvey, who was a military intelligence advisor to now-retired Gen. David Petraeus when he was commander in Iraq. Cohen-Watnick reportedly “told other administration officials that he wants to use American spies to help oust the Iranian government,” according to a recent New York Times article.

    McMaster tried to move Cohen-Watnick to a different job within the NSC when he took over as national security advisor. To save his job, Cohen-Watnick appealed to two key advisors — Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner — who then asked Trump to block the move.

    Harvey has also tried to outmaneuver his boss. He tried to get so-called Obama holdovers fired from the National Security Council by appealing to the president and his chief strategist, Steve Bannon. But McMaster refused."

  13. So we have two regime change in Iran clowns being hired by Flynn and defended by Bannon (and Kushner) against Mattis and McMaster?

    I don't have any idea how much credibility to ascribe to this, but I think there basically is no pro-Iran faction in the Trump White House - that whatever you thought you were seeing there was just wishful thinking and projection.

  14. Hey faggot, before you accuse someone of wishful thinking and projection, find us one quote where I said there was a pro-Iran faction in the WH. I said that even the good one from the military, Flynn, was anti-Iran ("We're putting Iran on notice) and so was everybody in America. They are "good" w.r.t. Syria and Russia, the main focus of foreign policy at the time.

    The only person who I said was neutral toward Iran was Trump himself -- and backed that up with videos and quotes going back 10 years. Trump is not a militarist or imperialist, and wanted Bush to open up relations with Ahmadinejad -- like what Obama's WH did.

  15. And if you read your Cernovich scoops, you'd know that Harvey was not Flynn's hire but McMaster's hire -- over Trump's head, in fact.

    Mattis and McMaster are Iran hawks, like the rest. They are only disagreeing about short-term strategies and tactics. Some see that the jig is up in Syria, and are trying to pivot back toward Afghanistan, or Korea, while others want to move instead toward Iran first.

  16. As you've hammered before though, institutions are what matter. If there's no bloc of people in the White House who are open to rapprochement or neutrality towards Iran, how exactly is this ever going to happen? And if Trump had really wanted it to make it happen, why didn't he go about finding anyone who shared his ideas? It wouldn't be impossible. You'd have to go way out into the margins to find genuine Persophiles, but he could have found people who favor non-aggression towards Iran from a Ron Paul/Pat Buchanan isolationist viewpoint, or perhaps guys from backgrounds in businesses that have a vested interested in seeing the sanctions lifted (maybe Boeing?).

    My accusation of wishful thinking, which seems to have come across as more insulting than I intended, was more about your idea that Trump favors a major realignment with Iran, as you described here: http://akinokure.blogspot.com/2017/04/trump-wants-rapprochement-with-iran.html

    As much as I'd also like that to be true, I think you're leaping to unsteady conclusions from scant evidence. Yes, Trump assessed Ahmadinejad as a shrewd leader who should be dealt with practically. That's not too far off from how he's described Kim Jong-un: a guy who clearly has enough smarts and force of will to survive on top of a cutthroat system. I don't think that's a sign he favors a realignment toward North Korea.

    What else do we see? He was willing to insult Saudi Arabia now and then, accuse them of ripping us off, even blame them for terrorism and 9/11. Here's another potentially unsound assumption though: that antagonism towards the Saudis necessarily translates into any positive feelings for the Iranians. In fact I know plenty of people who just hate them both - it's almost easier that way for some. "They're all radical Muslims." That seems to be how Flynn and his acolytes thought (I don't know he ever squared that with lobbying for Erdogan's government)...

  17. "Since the Iraq War, he has regularly made statements about how Iran's influence is growing in the region (and that was before Iran started taking over Iraq's oil, a common complaint of his now). As a savvy businessman, he knows that this means there's more and more reason to try to cut some kind of deal with them. Get a piece of the action, rather than get shut out."

    Or maybe he's a savvy businessman, he sees a rival who's competing the US out of the areas it once dominated and he's complaining about our leadership being unable to check their growth effectively.

    Again, it seems you're assuming what you'd like to be true (if it helps, it's also what I'd like to be true). But "he's a businessman" can support a lot of different conclusions, and this one seems just as plausible, seeing as he surrounded himself with loyalists (Flynn, Bannon, etc) who've all made a big deal out of the "need" to curb Iran's rising influence.

    And last piece of evidence? "He doesn't even talk about Iran much." Yes, I noticed that as well during the primaries - I greatly enjoyed that, no railing on Iran, at least until the general when he had to go scrounging up every reluctant GOP vote he could.

    But again, your interpretation of this seems rather wishful to me - that he has a clear and firm stance of pragmatic neutrality towards Iran and intends to work with them if he can. Here's an alternative one: he has no clear stance on Iran. Iran is just something he doesn't really care about, so he delegates his policymaking on it to others. And those others like Flynn and Bannon don't see Iran as any sort of potential geopolitical partner, so Trump probably doesn't see that either.

    It sucks, but that's how it looks to me. Flynn, Bannon, and the rest of the Trump loyalists really don't seem to get how many problems this renewed hostility towards Iran is going to cause for their great project of a US/Russia realignment. With friends like these, Trump hardly needs Mattis and McMaster to come and screw up his foreign policy plans for him - they're already self-sabotaging through pursuit of conflicting goals.

    That said, said, take a break from your damn Thernovich thcoopth and review the basic timeline: Harvey was already getting hired in January, under Michael Flynn's tenure, having worked for him before at the DIA. That said, he's a Petraeus protege, so what this ultimately says is that even Trump's closest loyalists were filling the administration with Pentagon players. Less of a "boarding party" and more of a Merkel-like invitation.

  18. That was Ricky Waddell I was thinking of, who McMaster hired over Trump's head.

    No one said Trump was a Persophile, only that he favored "rapprochement". True. He slammed Bush for alienating, not even meeting with Ahmadinejad, said he should be making deals with him.

    No one said either that there was going to be a pro-Iran policy, even with Trump being neutral toward them. Only that that's what he'd want if he could have his way. But with everyone else, even the good ones, being so anti-Iran, it ain't happening.

    What I did say was that we should be getting good policy on Syria and Russia, where the good ones like Flynn in the military or Gorka in the pundit / advisor realm are willing to stay out.


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