An Inconvenient Truce

British and German soldiers hold a Christmas truce during the Great War, by Angus McBride (1969)
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  1. What I keep coming back to again and again - when did we reach the tipping point where “reality” was dramatized and fictionalized en masse? When did we get to the point where news and regular people’s lives became mere building blocks for narratives and entertainment on a scale large enough to cause social disunion based entirely on fictional constructs?

    If we look back at totalitarianism (everyone’s favorite, convenient villain - the Nazis), we see a significant amount of powerful, and average, citizens believing in a man’s delusion - but that was a single powerful narrative aided by many different circumstances and the centralization of mass communication. Now, it seems as if there is an almost emergent property of democratized mass communication, whereby the demand for fictions, for stories, is insatiable, and it’s so ubiquitous that it is hard to separate what’s real from what is dramatized.

    But besides the location and reasons for reaching this tipping point, how much is this even under the control of missionaries? How is it possible to account for the adaptability of the fictional constructs, with the audience and missionaries reacting to one another?

    And, since you’re focused on the particular motte-and-baileys and mechanisms used the last two years and mapping those arguments - are there any additional generalizations you can make about this system? Is it simply a feature of modern life now that fictional constructs will live constantly side-by-side with reality?

  2. Perhaps sometime around the year that (anti)social media (ie “Engagement by enragement”) got unleashed upon the world?

  3. I honestly think we started on this path quite some time ago and I think you can definitely start to see some cultural precursors in the late 90’s especially, with 24-hour news coverage and certain social phenomena (motiveless school shootings). But I don’t know. It kind of seems that this is all part of a massive social upheaval precipitated by technology, and an upheaval which we are not able to fully grasp because it directly undermines our understanding of the world by flooding us with too much information…but I don’t know, that’s the way it seems to me.

  4. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Yes, although that has always been true. Democratized mass communication, as you put it, simply permits it to happen faster and at a larger scale. I don’t think that there was a tipping point in how much we are affected by stories or even how much our society became about stories.

    When the story-making became a feature of emerging bifurcated tribal identity, the stories / fact-frames went from being an overlapping mess of beliefs to a distinct set of two realities. Instead of looking at someone who shared 60% of our narrative explanations for our world and could share what felt like a basic grasp on the same reality, that person might now share what, 10%? 15%?

    We aren’t more story-wired, and the world isn’t more story rich. We are more story-sundered.

    I think?

  5. I’ve mentioned a few times my ‘narcissism-at-scale’ explanation of the world and this sort of fits neatly into that theory. Everyone needs to either be the narrator OR they need someone else to narrate to them the story that they believe is true. Social media and blogging culture amplify that to 11. From that starting point it isn’t hard to see how we got here.

  6. What is so frustrating is the switch to the Motte, leaves people not knowing the proponent’s degree of belief in the Bailey, but suspecting they still hold that position - thus a complete breakdown of trust and an inability to continue the conversation, even when trying to come to an honest understanding of our differences.

  7. This article reminded me of the Evolution of Trust "game: that made the rounds several years ago. It begins and ends with the same Christmas truce illustration Rusty uses here and shows how trust evolves / devolves through repeated competitive and cooperative games. Well worth your time if you haven’t “played” it before.

    The Evolution of Trust (

  8. Avatar for elksta elksta says:

    I was today years old learning about franz gruber and his xmas song and the genius that is naming the bad guy in an xmas movie hans gruber. Great article.

  9. I just want to say thanks Rusty for a terrific article.

    Time and time again, reading ET forces me to think, to get out of a sort of “comfort zone”. And that’s a good thing, because I so easily seem to fall into the narrative traps.

    Even at my relatively advanced age, I think I’ve “grown” quite a bit since I subscribed
    Good stuff, please continue .

  10. Avatar for 010101 010101 says:

    One day a group of trained and resourced people will team up to concertedly breach
    the walls of an infamous motte and bailey. The story of what happened will spread far and wide, with villains and heroes included. This will change the strategic viability of this type of engagement. Akin to field artillery , to extend the metaphor.

    At some point we will have to deal with air superiority, if you expose any contentious beliefs in narrative controlled territory.

  11. Avatar for Tanya Tanya says:

    Thank you so much for this Rusty, well said.

  12. Avatar for mckett mckett says:

    Great piece Rusty. One of the first things I read here was one of Ben’s competition game notes, and then as now the stark reality of the situation is there is no easy way to put the toothpaste back in the tube; now the equilibrium is set it will take a miracle to break out of it

  13. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Thanks, Mike. Maybe not a miracle, but at least enough people willing to signal a willingness to lose and play a coordinated game again.

    Which would take a miracle. So perhaps you are right after all!

  14. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Thank you, Tanya! Always nice to hear from you!

  15. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Thank you, Peter, that’s kind of you to say. I’ve grown a lot from all of your thoughtful responses over the years, too.

  16. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    OK, I never thought about that connection before until you said it just now either. Pouring one out for Alan Rickman tonight.

  17. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Jared, I’ve not seen that before, although it is quite clever. Thank you for sharing. Coordination and competition under repeated gameplay are critical components of our theory about equilibrial political power formation.

  18. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Absolutely true, and so much of what makes it devilishly effective from a perspective of pure political power.

  19. Avatar for Pat_W Pat_W says:

    This is not the perfect thread in which to put this, but perhaps Rusty will move it to a better one. It is pertinent. The New Yorker has an article in the current issue called “The Big Business of Returning Trump to Power”. It profiles Dan Bongino. I leave this quote to intrigue you, because for me the term “narrative laundering “ is brilliant.

    “The process is a kind of “narrative laundering,” Jennifer Mercieca said. “You start with a story from a tainted source, like Alex Jones, and then you process it through something that is more trusted. People may not have trusted Alex Jones and his information in 2015, but, when they heard a Republican nominee or a President say it, then it sounded way more legit.” “

  20. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    I hadn’t really thought of it that way, but yes, there has been a definite pattern of the legitimization of baileys that follows this pattern rather than explicitly conflating with the easier-to-digest mottes. I will have to read the New Yorker piece - thanks for bringing that up!

  21. There’s another interesting angle that your post reminded me of. I don’t have a good term for it, but here’s the basic layout: a story happens, the mainstream corporate press ignores it, a conservative or even mildly right-leaning outlet picks it up and investigates it, they report on it, and CNN et al continue to ignore it because it’s just a story from “right wing news”. Creating information silos and echo chambers are two important steps in ensuring that motte-and-bailey arguments continue to work. Without those keys steps you can never gin up enough outrage from your in-group, nor can you adequately paint your opponent as uncharitably as possible. Everything Rusty wrote is true. I’m interested in the design of the structure that made it all possible.

  22. From that site:
    Game theory has shown us the three things we need for the evolution of trust:
    2. POSSIBLE WIN-WINS You must be playing a non-zero-sum game, a game where it’s at least possible that both players can be better off – a win-win.

    So without the possibility of win-win relationships, the other 2 factors are useless to rebuilding trust.

    Given that traditional economic / capitalistic incentives don’t exist, as evidenced by historic wealth inequality and zombie companies continuing on with no cost capital, is the Fed the true nexus for the lack of trust?

  23. Avatar for Zenzei Zenzei says:

    Its been happening since the dawn of communication. Narratives shape the bible. The oral tradition, early religious texts, stories told to explain away the day to day in a greater context.

  24. I will be a bit provocative, all in good fun: there seems to be another motte and bailey argument going on here lol! Eric @plagueofcustom posits something along the lines of “it’s different this time”, the bailey is “no…this is a story as old as time”, and the motte is “well scale and speed have changed but still, same old same old”. Again I am partly having fun with you all because I get and agree with the gists here.

    But personally my feeling is these scale/speed parameters have truly shifted us into a regime change or phase change, similar to the ET canon idea that zirp doesn’t do, any longer, what economists think it does. A simplification but I think just signal to noise ratio (SNR) is a fair mental model. As Rusty called it, democratized mass communication has increased scale and speed over time in a way that SNR has just collapsed through the floor. A SNR above the noise floor is a regime where things can make sense but below the noise floor it becomes a useless and counterproductive exercise to draw conclusions from data.

    This relates to another post I made recently about a community-level curated social feed. I think everyone here has come to understand the value and necessity of curating an individual level news feed, but we are still early from what I can tell in understanding the value of a reasonable way to accomplish this at a community level.

    Eric - leaning on one more ET canon idea, as I like to do, you mentioned the “tipping point” in the process but I think really it is one of the “slowly, slowly, all at once” things. Although the SNR analogy does provide a way to think about roughly where the regime change happens, it is also worth remembering that, like phase shifts, the parameters (e.g. temp) are changing smoothly and continuously yet at some point the medium changes suddenly and dramatically.

    Rusty - brilliant article I thought, thank you. Looks like a lot of people found the motte and bailey device compelling and I imagine the write up and device take pretty respectable places in the ET canon list.

  25. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Interesting question I think it’s both a vector for distrust and has a partial causal relationship with the defection actions by a political bloc that precipitate the transition from a coordination to competition game in the first place, but the defection action is still the thing worth focusing on.

    The thing that erodes trust is a game player signaling that they are untrustworthy and/or in it for themselves.

  26. Brilliant work Rusty

  27. Thank you for writing this, Rusty.

    But this isn’t new. Is it?

    My in-laws, both of whom lived in Germany in WWII, were orphaned during the war. They immigrated to the US at 15 and 16, under The Marshall Plan.

    Both were from separate parts of Germany - Dusseldorf and Hammelburg. (My FIL was impressed by my knowledge of Hammelburg and the German words I knew, which came 100% from Hogan’s Heros.) They never would have met in Deutschland. They came to America as teenagers with no money, no family, and without speaking a word of English. They met in English class in Wheaton IL.

    It was rough for them - for a long time.

    It took many years for them to discuss what it was like in Germany before and during WWII. They had to conform. They were just children. I am sure they didn’t understand. But they lost their parents. The pain was real.

    The imperative to conform to the narrative was inescapable.

    It wasn’t something that anyone ever really consciously decided. It was a matter of being surrounded by a community that had accepted the narrative. There was no option for decent or alternative views. It was easier just to fall in-line.

    It’s no different today. If you want to be part of your Tribe you must conform.

    BTW, my FIL was one of the most American and patriotic men that I have ever known. He was the epitome of what it means to be an American. I am honored to have known him.

    I dunno. I am not sure if this adds to the conversation. But I sure do appreciate this community and especially @rguinn writing this post.


  28. This is genius. Thanks for sharing.

  29. If I understand this site @jaredkee linked, their conclusion gives the reason for increasing numbers of players currently choosing to signal that they are untrustworthy (or compete instead of coordinate):

    If there’s one big takeaway from all of game theory, it’s this:
    What the game is, defines what the players do.
    Our problem today isn’t just that people are losing trust, it’s that our environment acts against the evolution of trust.

    From this Cornell blog on the game:

    When the payoffs are unfair, like in a zero-sum game, then the Always Cheat strategy also prevails. Without a fair game, trust cannot be created.

    I don’t think this changes until policy no longer allows everything extracted to the 1% with zero-sum leftovers or worse for the 99% to fight over. As long as zero-sum lasts, the masses compete. The most selfish (eg “Cheaters” on that site) continue to win. Everyone else loses until they concede or are eliminated.

    This has been my operating assumption for the last decade, with substantial observation and experience proving it to be true.

  30. I amend my previous comment about social media after having just read this article:

    " What we’ve found now in multiple surveys, our summer survey and our fall survey, is that 21 million American adults agree with two radical beliefs: one, that the use of force to restore Donald Trump to the presidency is justified, and two, that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election and is an illegitimate president. That is, 21 million don’t hold just one of those beliefs—they hold both of those beliefs. It’s 8 percent of the body politic, but that’s really significant."

    "Our nationally representative surveys also ask about the media consumption of people. What we see is in the 21 million, the No. 1 set of news sources are conservative mainstream news sources. Forty-two percent of the 21 million report that it’s Fox News, Newsmax, One America. That’s their major source of news. The next set of sources, 32 percent report that it’s liberal or centrist media like CNN, NPR, NBC. You might say, well, wait a minute—how could that be? Well, just keep in mind that we’ve known for a long time as scholars that when you watch news that you disagree with, it makes you angry.

    Only 20 percent of these people report that their main sources are mainstream social media like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and only 10 percent report that it’s far right social media like Gab or Telegram. "

  31. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    That said, I’m not sure self-reporting is what I’d focus most on here. I think the number of people who report that their main sources of news are social media is a fraction of the number for which it is true. Water in which we swim and all that.

  32. From the article you cited:

    How does a person “disagree” with the news? The failure of logic suggests those people aren’t scholars.

  33. Either that or it isn’t real news … it could be fiat news or opinionated commentary disguised as news, which seems true regarding much of today’s mainstream “news”. I now regard “news” as insight into what brainwashing objectives the power establishment is striving for.

  34. That’s my point. If it’s something you can disagree with, it’s not really factual news- it’s narrative News!. But when going back “a long time” pre-CNN, the US (where the article author is from) had 30 minutes of fact news each night.

    So the author elevating himself to we “as scholars” knowing without citing his own study proving, or citing an actual scholar studying the effects of watching disagreeable News!, gives strong evidence that this is all narrative of how we are supposed to think about 1/6.

  35. I’ll be the first to say that I abhor throwaway wording in articles but help me to see the logic fail here. Does disagreeing with this point by the scientist mean that he isn’t a scholar? Keep in mind that the scientist quoted didn’t write the article.

    -Perhaps he did cite to the reporter background research that just got left out of the article for brevity sake. No article written about complex topics that may take years of research can ever be summed up in a paragraph. The soundbite problem.

    -Perhaps the professor took it as a given that readers already were aware of this. Research is built on research each a link in a chain. Aren’t lay people asking a lot for the entire chain to be laid out for them every time.

    From a quick unvetted search:

    The psychological impact of negative TV news bulletins: the catastrophizing of personal worries - PubMed

    IMO all “news” is narrative news else it wouldn’t sell papers, eyeballs et al. It’s up to the reader to decide how to think about it. Isn’t this what Epsilon is all about?

  36. I’m not as smart as most of the pack and certainly not as wealthy, but this piece alone is worth the $20 a month, bravo. @bhunt Rusty needs a raise, this level of thinking along with the brilliant prose keeps me signed up for another year.

  37. Rusty - thank you for this profoundly thought-provoking article. How rare it is to be left looking IN critically, rather than looking OUT critically. I didn’t realise my own Motte & Bailey positions that I have been carefully corralled into… until you shone my flashlight where it needed to go. Good journalism will do that :slight_smile:

  38. The solution is - live more in Reality World and less in Narrative World. Don’t go on Twitter, don’t watch Fox or CNN and spend some time outside. Listen to people, be friendly to them, empathize as a first principle. I’m optimistic that we are in the process of re-learning these habits and we will be better off for having gone through the process.

  39. it’s not “us” (tribe 1) against “them” (tribe 2), but just us (a world full of messy people that are on it together at the same time). "It’s not us vs them…It’s just us. Now let’s get to working thru this stuff.

  40. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Ryley, that’s kind of you to say (and FWIW writing an article like this usually leaves me with a very strong and similar conviction about myself).

  41. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    I hope so, Kevin. I think it’s true for the small we here. I’m not so sure about the big we out there. But either way, that’s the only way.

    By the way, great to see you. Hope your New Year is getting off to a good and healthy start!

  42. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Well, I don’t know about that, but I’m very grateful for your kindness all the same, Curt!

  43. Thanks for this, Rusty. I’m impressed by your calm and clarity in the midst of this mess.

    Would you care do speculate on who is/are the “they” that "wants to fight? And why?

    As to when, I think back to before the modern media and even the Nazis to the early work of Edward Bernyas (""an American Pioneer in the fields of public relations and propaganda) Edward Bernays - Wikipedia), and the later work of Guy Debord on The Society of the Spectacle

    And speaking of the Christmas Truce, John McCutcheon does a lovely musical rendering: "Christmas in the Trenches" - John McCutcheon - YouTube

  44. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Just my opinion, and bearing in mind this is a gross oversimplification of varied aims and motivations:

    Who: The collective wielders of influence in the two sociopolitical blocs of present-day US, along with those in media and other public-facing who have unintentionally or intentionally aligned themselves with the aims of those wielders of influence.

    Why: Because entrenching polarization entrenches their influence and ability to direct the energy and aims of their respective political blocs (including directing our energy, if we permit it). Missionaries for the Red Tribe and the Blue Tribe want the same thing - to make it seem existential to us that they receive our unquestioning support.

  45. Hi Rusty - great article. You & I don’t always agree, but you never fail to challenge what I do believe, and why. Thank you for that. In your discussion of the Tribes, it made me reflect on my years growing up in the 1960’s. Those that were against the Vietnam war ran up against a very strong narrative: that those who didn’t back our government’s decision to stop the red menace were unpatriotic. Protesters died (Kent State, et al). I lived through those times and remember them vividly. One of my favorite songs during those years was an obscure song called Reach Out in the Darkness, by Friend and Lover (who, you say?). One section of lyrics goes like this - “I met a man that I did not care for/ and then one day this man gave me a call/We sat and talked about things on our mind/And now this man, he is a friend of mine. Reach out in the darkness…” Someone has to make the first call, to find common ground and our shared humanity. Pray that can be me.
    Keep up the great work - we all need it.

  46. This is a fresh perspective. The current structure of “every debate” seems to persist, regardless of the topic of debate. An astute observation. The reason for motte and bailey debate structures is the absolute need to win by the opposed parties, red and blue. The greatest red or blue win is to capture the presidency. The president is the single official with the greatest authority.

    But America began with a revolution to prevent rule by a single official, the king, and then replaced that method with representative government by a legislature. The legislature contains many perspectives, and therefore the ability to edit out wholesale the bailey class of arguments. The motte class of arguments, both red and blue, are susceptible of meaningful and durable reconciliation by the legislature. Congress needs to reassert its central role in our government. They are the deliberative body that can model useful political debate, and can relieve us of the current duelling narrative cul de sac. Action by the executive should be limited and the executive should align with the entire Congress to be of service to the public, and to sustain our form of government. The president is the US president, not the captain of a team !! The authority of the president depends on this, not the latest ‘poll’.

  47. Avatar for 010101 010101 says:

    Marthinus Steyn, the future president of the Orange Free State gave an election speech in 1895 (shortly before the ghastly Boer War.) that included:

    ‘Our nation depend upon the power of God to deliver us a victory. With a deep understanding of what we can expect when we place our trust in the Almighty’

    Then Lord Kitchener is almost deified in this enduring WWI image:

    Possibly a mildly data mined progression of political sloganeering, but God does appear to die circa Christmas 1914 perhaps ironically a celebration of the birth of Christ.

  48. The “or” is inclusive, I believe.

  49. Chess, not checkers… I like it.

  50. Thank you Rusty for a wonderful, insightful essay. I think that the statements of Biden and Pelosi on Jan 6 about the events of last year are exactly what is described in this excellent piece. I’m red tribe and I forwarded a link to it to my 20 something blue tribe.children. We had long and interesting discussions over the holidays about racism and white privilege. They are mixed-race third culture kids so their experience differs greatly from mine.

  51. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Juan, that’s a powerful conversation you were able to have. Thanks for reading and for sharing. And yes, I agree there were definitely more than a few baileys to be spotted in the wild yesterday.

  52. “First, seek to understand” - Many thanks to Rusty and Ben for their continued excellence towards this goal.
    “They are pushing us to want to fight” is one of many takeaway messages, and the power to sustain this goal can be further clarified by understanding something about anger addiction. Anger is an emotional response which releases chemicals in our brains and bodies which are activating. It’s a pick-me-up for flagging energy levels. If one market loves caffeine, the other loves anger and circulating catecholamines and neuro-transmitters released into our bloodstream via political missionaries in various media outlets. When I’m nordic skate skiing and going up a particularly tough hill my mind wanders towards something which is very annoying - automatically. I’ve been doing it for years and boy, the hill appears to flatten out sooner as a result.
    Need a fix, or steady titration like an IV drip? Keep the media missionaries on all day. You’ll be chemically motivated to want to fight.

  53. I’ll be honest Ben, I did not read the piece to thoroughly as I do not have the time to, but your writing is exceptional. I have noticed, however, that you might seem to be approaching articles in more of a dialectic approach than in the past in that you take one thing, flip it to its opposite, and then taking the synthesis of that (abstract, negative, concrete or thesis, antithesis, synthesis).

    This is as opposed to an investigation of each side’s first principles, perspective, and history and then logically and charitably trying to discern the truth within the Epsilon Theory framework. That typical framework, I think, leads to some interesting places in terms of what people believe, why people believe it, how they got to believe it, and ultimately where the truth might lie.

  54. Eric, you would enjoy looking into Mattias Desmet’s theory of Mass Formation, which is built upon the work of the likes of Hannah Arendt and Gustave Le Bon. This is something everyone should be aware of and is, in my opinion, its popularization is the most important development of COVID. This link isn’t Mattias Desmet talking about it, which is preferable, but is a decent introduction nonetheless.

  55. Dude, read it more thoroughly, it’s worth it.
    And it was Rusty, not Ben.

  56. I see Malone’s formulation of “mass formation psychosis” to be paranoid, pseudo-intellectual gibberish. Malone is full of grievances for not getting his share of credit for vaccine research, so now he is on a mission to prove to the world his nobility and victimhood. As for claiming that “mass formation psychosis” is created by leaders to make people do horrible things…people have always done horrible things, society is always manipulated, but there’s no evil plan to murder people or to “make up” something like COVID for corporate profit. That is a line sold to you to keep social power in the hands of “red tribe populists,” enticing you with wisps of truth.

    The entire COVID discourse got manipulated by different groups seeking different kinds of power and social status through various denials of reality, and through rituals of public shaming and displays of power. There is no COVID plot, it’s a viral disease, and governments are creatures of public opinion, they are inextricably tied to the social forces seeking power. So the government will reflect the tug of different groups, making everyone unhappy in the process, and benefitting some groups over others - especially now, and especially in America.

    There are scapegoats in America, and heroes and villains, and they are all created and perpetuated by us, just as they were in every other time period in human history, it’s just the nature of how it is happening that has changed.

    The actual plot is to sell you a story that says:

    That you know the special Truth.

    That you are part of the group that knows what is really going on and won’t be subjected to social pressure or manipulation and are superior because of this.

    That you are being victimized by evil forces beyond your control and that your suffering deserves recompense in the form of elevated social status.

    I think there is no deception greater than self-deception, and we’re hardwired for it, we are practically begging to be deluded by missionaries, peers, and social groups, and then we run with it ourselves after we internalize it.

    Edit: fixed a typo

  57. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Thanks, George!

    Given that the piece isn’t so much about what each side believes but rather about the narratives we observe being promoted about what each side believes and why that narrative construction is politically useful, I have to admit, however, that I am not really following your suggestion. What you suggest isn’t a different way to approach this question, but a completely different piece that would serve a completely different purpose and attempt to answer a completely different set of questions.

    To be fair, that piece seems like it might be perfectly interesting! But it isn’t this one.

  58. Avatar for 010101 010101 says:

    If increasing emphasis is on the central control of a crowd’s emotional responses, a recursive loop might form where the crowd look to the source of control for emotional results. In turn, the policies become delivery of drama, dopamine rushes from 24 hour news, where the reporting mostly focuses on the actors of policy and their emotional narrative laden stories.
    Long term strategy goes under reported and perhaps under scrutinised by the recipients of the potential outcomes, because it does not have a critical audience of viable scale.
    This might have the effect of marginalising quality in the production of long term policy strategies.
    The emphasis on number of kills per day instead of strategic achievement ('Nam)
    with the motte of jingoism. I can’t remember which Epsilon note discussed this in
    the usual glorious detail

  59. Hi Rusty

    Nailed it!

    Well you pretty much summed up 30 years of after dinner conversation with Dad.

    Can still hear Mom "Bill - you can’t mean that!

    Wonder what the equivalent of going outside to look at the stars and practice deep breathing would be?

  60. Thanks, Rusty.

    By “the two sociopolitical blocs of present-day US,” I assume you mean “red” and blue." But if we take a vertical transect through wealth and power rather than horizontal transect through ideology and purported ideology don’t we find a lot of common “they” that transcends red and blue?

  61. Avatar for Tanya Tanya says:

    Wow wow wow. I think Dr. James Hamblin has also come upon the motte and bailey concept (or something very similar) in his newsletter today. On innuendo

    Any thoughts, @rguinn? (Cheers!)

  62. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Very cool!

    I think Dr. Hamblin’s point about what he calls innuendo is certainly true. Plenty of people like to do the “oh, I’m just asking questions” / “I just want all viewpoints to be heard” gag in order to veer in the direction of some pretty toxic and absurd conspiracy theory nonsense - and then retreat when pressed. Certainly a great many similarities.

    What I’m not as supportive of, however, is Dr. Hamblin’s take on censoriousness that relates to the abuse of innuendo. I think that too many otherwise fine thinkers get caught up in gotcha-ing slightly less sophisticated folks who use the constitutional language of “freedom of speech.” In the usual template, they pompously point out that akshually, that freedom is just about restricting the government’s actions and doesn’t impact private citizens, etc. etc.

    But sometimes it’s OK to talk about how censorious we want us to be with one another. I really, really want a less censorious society. I want people to write the books they want, the blogs they want, the music they want. I want Joe Rogan to have a podcast guest that is just asking questions about whether gargling monkey vomit might cure hyperthyroidism. I want Neil Young to see if he can convince yet another producer not to roll off whatever frequency that nasal whine of his happens at.

    There’s a whole spectrum of legally permissible private activities which squelch public discourse, creativity and expression that I don’t like, and which I think it’s OK not to like. I don’t like it when people burn books. I don’t like it when they seek to ban books from libraries or schools. Despite being a person of faith, I don’t like ‘decency’ standards, even when effectively imposed by a non-government entity. I generally don’t like people or companies wielding commercial power to silence or reduce the platform for certain voices.

    There is a motte-and-baileyism strategy in trying to paint all promote free expression arguments as ill-considered legal arguments by people who don’t understand the constitution. I think Dr. Hamblin may be slightly guilty of that here, although he wouldn’t be alone!

  63. We have some politicians and pundits who have mastered praeteritio to the point where it’s simply normal to hear someone use it in casual conversation.

  64. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Yep. Systematically weaponized question-begging seems well-adapted to this social environment.

  65. How much of an element of fishing expedition for content that will get likes/dislikes and subsequently be picked up as prospective narrative for development to that versus an attempt to actually promote any particular premise is going on with that? To my eye a lot of that is bait.

    It seems to me the attempt to create content and garnish attention for the purpose of looking attractive to advertisers as a commercial endeavor plays a pretty strong hand here more than debate to argue any particular social / political outlook or position.

    Want a piece of the action on the high cost of freedom?

  66. Avatar for jrs jrs says:

    I’m curious about this too. I’m not sure how we’d actually get at answering it though.

    This general reasoning, that profit is the main cause of The Gyre, is the subject of Matt Taibbi’s book Hate Inc.

  67. Thanks for the recommendation. In regards to the 'get at answering it" I would offer that would be a bit like the fish breaking the aquarium to see what was on the other side ( borrowing heavily from past ET discussion threads).

  68. This is a bit of an idee fixe with me at this point…but I am convinced that a good amount of the “widening gyre” is caused by the complexity and ever-present nature of our social interactions along with a pinch of actual difficulties and disputes over allocation of scarce resources in a world that has changed radically over the last ~30 years…and the content machine dynamics that you mention helps deepen the fissure - IMO.

  69. A transition occurred when selling went from projecting (casting the net) to click-bait (Venus Fly Trap and the like) with a little Truman Show product placement on the side. This applies not only to physical products but also ‘content’ as well. I found the Bailey / Motte analogies most enlightening. Cheers!

  70. The discussion over the Florida parental rights bill and the subsequent disbanding of
    the RCID is like a nesting doll of Motte and Bailey arguments. From the “parental rights” Motte and the “teachers are turning your kids trans” Bailey, to the “corporate entities shouldn’t be directly controlling governments like RCID” to ‘Disney is actively grooming our kids’

    Its a Motte and Bailey all the way down.

    I shared the article with some of my pack, since Rusty’s explanation of the argument structure is a lot more clear than I could write myself.

  71. It is, frankly, a far better example than any I was able to give in the original piece…

    The demands on Disney - which have been almost perfectly bidirectional and bipartisan in their lunacy - are the most fascinating to me. There are thousands of giant corporations, some of which are deeply involved in discussions about public policy, and some of which stay silent on just about everything, because who wants to know what Emerson Electric thinks about student loan forgiveness (or whatever). And yet, knowing this fully, when The Narrative arises that “We must talk about how this company is / is not speaking out about public policy / cultural issue X”, we somehow become convinced that this whole discussion makes sense. We allow ourselves to be drawn in, knowing that there are 10,000 other companies who’ve said a lot or nothing about the same issue, and just completely ignoring that knowledge. Because of Narrative.

    As eusocial animals, we are infinitely vulnerable to this kind of manipulation.

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