In Epsilon Theory-speak, we use “Yay, Good-Thing!” as shorthand for a narrative that takes a linguistic construction that we all agree is a Good Thing (something like “capitalism” or “freedom” or “democracy”) and turns it into a behaviorally powerfully argument for something that is decidedly not that Good Thing, but can be painted with other behaviorally powerful words into something that sorta kinda looks like that Good Thing if you squint really hard and you say the behaviorally powerful words loudly enough.
In rhetorical construction, “Yay, Good Thing!” is a variation on begging the question (in the correct way of understanding that phrase, where the conclusion is assumed in the proposition), or if you’re in marketing or sales you would recognize this as a variation of the assumptive close. The typically-but-not-always unspoken corollary to the “Yay, Good Thing!” narrative construction is “You’re not against Good Thing, are you?”, which is the linguistic stick to the “Yay, Good Thing!” carrot.
Socrates would call “Yay, Good Thing!” sophistry, and he hated the Sophists with a deep and abiding passion. Same. In the modern world, the Sophists are powerful government and corporate interests (aka the Nudging State or the Nudging Oligarchy if we’re going to continue in Epsilon Theory-speak), and the “Yay, Good Thing!” construction is their go-to narrative weapon in the Forever War of stripping away our autonomy of mind.
If you want to read more about our take on “Yay, Good Thing!” narratives, here’s the Epsilon Theory note that started all that.
Anyhoo … I was thinking about “Yay, Good Thing!” today because of how the “Yay, Environment!” implementation of this narrative device is being used to shape the politics of two issues that we’ve been writing a lot about recently: work and crypto.
“Yay, Environment!” is now one of the primary threads in the narrative-world battle over the future of work.
It’s a very powerful narrative thread. It’s a big reason why “Remote work is here to stay!” is winning this narrative war, and you are going to see a lot more “Yay, Environment!” rationalizations for remote work policies in the future.
Similarly, “Yay, Environment!” is now one of the primary narrative threads in the narrative-world battle over the future of Bitcoin.
Here’s the latest, from Elizabeth Warren, but you’re no doubt familiar with Elon Musk’s oeuvre here, as well.
And yes, this construction of “Yay, Environment!” does indeed speak the usually silent part – “You’re not against the Environment, are you?” – out loud. And yes, you’re going to be seeing A LOT more of this narrative. Not because it’s right. Not because it’s wrong. But because it WORKS.
It’s all just another weapon in the ongoing narrative war for Wall Street control and US Treasury visibility over Bitcoin.
It also works in the opposite. There is “Boo, bad thing!”. Many times the bad thing is “socialism”, “fascism”, etc. I am not arguing for socialism or fascism, just that the issue, policy, or thing that is bad is painted with this brush.
I think “Yay Environment!” goes way further than promoting remote work or de-legitimizing cryptocurrencies. It is used primarily to shut down all rational debate on anything remotely related to global warming, from banning plastic bags all the way on up to nuclear power. Throw the word “sustainable!” in there, and… poof! You have the ultimate in smiley-faced, nudging authoritarian ideological policy smothering you before you even realize what happened.
Connection to the widening gyre: in Warren’s quote, substitute, eg, “… crack down on environmentally wasteful video games”. Now the hoi polloi have one less thing to amuse them.
Know what they still have, though? 4-Chan and Twitter and all that other rhino stuff. Don’t need a big graphics card for those.
Rinse and repeat. But I am sure Warren is aware of this risk/opportunity?
This post slipped past me when it was published in June. In the case of both Remote Work and Bitcoin, the focus is on emissions control, which is a sub-component of Yay, Environment! Others would include biodiversity, soil erosion, etc., each of which forms a part of Yay, Environment! and each of which finds its own set of applications within narrative world. Carbon emissions are often conflated with Climate Change! and Climate Crisis!, wrongly imo, but that’s a separate discussion topic altogether.
It seems absolutely accurate to view all these and other packaged narratives as having the underlying objective of overcoming our autonomy of mind. In the case of Bitcoin, it seems to have been largely ineffective because Bitcoin and other crypto currencies seem to experience ups and downs that are in no way related to the carbon footprint argument. It seems that the people concerned about the carbon footprint of crypto are not the same people investing in bitcoin or driving the pro-bitcoin narratives, and the carbon emissions aspect of the discussion hasn’t taken hold strongly enough to make a difference in either sentiment or the direction of policy. I’m very interested to hear thoughts from Pack members on why the carbon related argument has so far been ineffective but has been so strongly effective in other areas such as anti-plastics, anti-coal, anti-oil, etc. The obvious answer is that plastics and oil are used by all people, whereas bitcoin exists in a more narrow and esoteric sub-segment of the population, but there may be other reasons that Pack members can identify and share.
What determines the quality and effectiveness of a narrative? Following are some thoughts:
Very interested to hear thoughts and opinions of the Pack on this. Thanks very much.
Plastics, coal, and oil are all tangible, have been around for many years, and the average person understands them and their applications. None of that’s true for Bitcoin. I think in the back of many people’s minds are things like the Mt. Gox hack… i.e. “Bitcoin might go away at any moment” so why worry about it?
I agree that most people see bitcoin as a temporary and non-significant fad that doesn’t warrant their attention or effort of any kind. They think they understand plastics, coal and oil anyway, but most people who have strongly negative opinions about these things don’t understand them. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing because people are quick to treat it as complete knowledge when it suits their convenience.
I think the success of the NFT sector has been partly because there’s no well constructed narrative to attack it with. Yay Environment! just doesn’t work well because it’s too far removed. Bitcoin on the other hand is a specific type of crypto, and a well known one at that. Ether and the NFT space are probably going to continue to benefit from this lack of organized opposition. Plus it feeds into the whole “Virtue Signaling As The Business Model” thing.
I think the term that one of @harperhunt, @Chris_Whatley or @bhunt coined in a recent team meeting was “weaponized virtue signaling”, although I think they meant it in a good way.
I agree that Ether (and other crypto) and the NFT space are going to continue to benefit from the lack of organized opposition. I think part of the natural cycle of bubbles is that they grow and evolve, as the external conditions in which they exist also evolve, and at some point the payoff for breaking them becomes worthwhile for certain Missionary groups on a cost/benefit basis. It’s usually expensive to mount a successful campaign, and Missionaries also face costly reputational damage if they try and fail at this, so they’ll wait for the right conditions before they start making the investment and take the plunge. Bitcoin took years before it was a worthy target and it became one partly because it grew large enough that it started cutting in to traditional wealth management business. Players then found it worthwhile to employ political influence to impose regulatory measures and mobilize Missionaries including Elon Musk, which must have taken some real investment and real backroom arm-twisting to make happen. NFT is not yet at that point, and although it will undoubtedly get there, I find it hard to predict which Missionary groups will mobilize against it and what kind of approach will be taken.
The Dutch tulip mania lasted ~three years, and the bubble burst when professional brokers and traders got involved and it became obvious that the tulip supply chain and market could not support the pricing that the bubble created. Tulips are still prevalent today, as cut flowers, ornamental plants, etc., but priced based on rational market factors and priced as a function of the actual utility (enjoyment of flowers) that they provide to end users. I think that similarly, NFTs will be part of our economic lives for a long time to come, but the mania pricing can only continue until the point where a Missionary or two determine that the investment for popping the bubble is worthwhile when weighed against the expected value from alternatives (popping other bubbles or feeding other narratives in pursuit of profit, defense of existing market position, etc.).
Just taking a wild guess, I can see a narrative emerging that NFT investment is unethical because ISIS or some other terror group is creating NFTs and selling them to raise money for terror, or the Chinese are selling NFTs to raise money for their plan for genocide and/or world domination. In that case, I think the likely Missionaries would be non-profit organizations backed by private donors and public funding, and taking on a high profile battle would boost their profiles and donor funding significantly enough to make it worthwhile.
It will be interesting to continue observing how things really play out with NFTs.
First thing that came to my mind when I read your reference to “weoponized virtue signaling” was the animal rights groups that targeted the Canadian seal harvest in the 70’s and 80’s, building a global public narrative that frightened the Canadian government into all kinds of nonsensical concessions out of fear that Canada’s other commercial interests may be harmed if they didn’t capitulate. It is well-known within the affected coastal communities that these groups tactically provided unlimited amounts of alcohol to a few chosen seal harvesters and then offered them cash (a large amount for fishermen who were not making big money) to brutally torture and kill animals on camera. They then broadcast that footage, combined with their weopanized virtue signalling, to generate horror among members of the public globally, and that resulted in $millions upon $millions in donations flowing in. Senior people from these organizations truly enjoy the good life and have a strong ability to mobilize resources for a cause if they determine it to be worth the cost and risk. Early on they recruited celebrities to join their Missionary movement, and that strengthened the effect of weoponized virtue signalling. It worked extraordinarily well for them. Today, many of the same organizations that did this consistently receive hundreds of millions of dollars annually in donations and their model now extends into many other areas where the cost/benefit of their campaigns pays out in sufficient measure to keep it all going. I personally am supportive of a lot of what they do to reduce the poaching of endangered animals and mistreatment of animals but still am dismayed by many of the strategies and tactics they employ.
Regarding your team meeting discussion, I’m interested to know - how was “weoponized virtue signalling” meant in a good way? Thank you.
Live example of action in the Yay, Environment! category by established Missionaries once the cost/risk/benefit looks sufficiently positive:
“Greenpeace and DUH demand that the automakers stop producing combustion engine cars by 2030 - earlier than the 2035 effective ban proposed by the EU in July - and that Wintershall Dea refrains from exploring any new oil and gas fields from 2026.”
An interesting issue is where does “woke” or political correctness end and weaponized virtue-signaling start? I would posit (to begin this conversation – although maybe we need a new thread) it’s where we lose sight of blatant wrongs and start shunning/scapegoating the wrong people. Girad would have a field day with today. Does woke/PC culture comes from the need of our cosmopolitan and multicultural society to need a new scapegoat (it can’t be an LGBT/POC anymore)…?
Every human, myself included, comes into the world sort of like a computer off the assembly line without any preloaded software. In order to become functional in society, every human must be indoctrinated with a set of beliefs, and most people go through their entire lives believing that the foundational indoctrination they receive is the only right one, and all those in contradiction of those are wrong. In human societies of the last few thousand years, doctrines build around different formed of divinity (religions) have formed the anchor of indoctrination for communities, which over time grew larger and expanded into religions covering large regions of many communities that turned into countries, still largely indoctrinate with religion as the base but with loyalty to a monarch added onto the indoctrination. In more recent centuries, led by initial settlers in the New World, an indoctrination around “democracy” and “freedom” emerged as a new means of subjugating the masses. Over time, the notion that the “freedom and democracy” countries and cultures are the right ones and all others are the wrong ones was deeply instilled in people. All of that is the cause-and-effect result of human nature. The doctrines presently characterized as “woke” first took root in earnest in the 1890’s when Vivekananda introduced Hinduism to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago (1893) and a new Western interpretation of what had for millennia existed as an Eastern religion began to evolve and spread throughout the US and Western Europe. Again, cause-and-effect over decades, and the hippie movement of the sixties was among the significant effects. Eventually this got us to present day “woke”, where people truly believe that they are right and all those opposed to their thinking are wrong, and that they are helping people and the world by imposing their beliefs on everybody. It’s not all that different from how Christianity and Islam have approached things historically and to some extent even today. Because we live in under a system of democracy, governments can be pressured by significant groups formed around one or the other doctrine to implement policies that reflect their views. Cause-and-effect evolution has brought us to the point where followers of the “woke” doctrine are influential enough that politicians and non-profit organizations can profit and/or otherwise benefit from catering to their wishes and embracing their doctrine within policies and strategies. The opposing set of doctrines, which we could view as “anti-woke”, similarly believe that they are right and those that oppose their views are wrong, and so we are left with an Us v. Them society made up of groups of people all convinced that their indoctrination is the right one.
The concept of multiculturalism exists only because the previous indoctrination was built around single-race and single-religion thinking in order to preserve loyalty to ruling establishments, and indoctrination like that which is passed on through so many generations is very hard to break. Further, and perhaps more pertinently, governments still cannot refrain from allowing people to exist in their natural environment where families and communities exist under naturally formed cohesion regardless of race, religion or skin color but based on their own best interests and the overall well-being of people, we continue to exist in a world where governments impose certain doctrines on people in order to preserve their power and authority. As long as this persists, which will probably be a very long time, one part of society or the other will always feel that the tone and direction of their governments is morally wrong (“morality” is simply the product of indoctrination) and must be reversed in order “save the country”. One is not happening, and what governments and religious leaders will want to avoid at all costs, is for people to think independently, see and know the truth, and start demanding to true freedom and independence. I think virtue signalling as a weapon is part of both strategy and tactic to indoctrinate others and to promote and advance whatever doctrine is being pushed on people, whether its in line with the labels of “woke” or “anti-woke” doesn’t change the basic concept.
Wishing everyone a happy Labor Day weekend (or in British Commonwealth countries, Labour Day weekend). Take care and stay safe.
I would add the following thought…
In the same way that the protagonist depends on the antagonist and that foreground depends on background (and vice-versa) - so do woke and anti-woke depend on each other.
While we keep viewing the world through the illusion of the binary we will forever be forced to take one side or another in the world of intellectual abstractions and irrelevant ideas.
Once we learn that forks in the road are an illusion that cover up and hide the open field of infinite paths available - we can progress from the current state of obsession with duality.
Sure the ‘Yay, Environment!’ opposing Bitcoin was completely predictable. But I was more entertained by the quick shift away from ‘Yay, Fiat Trust!’ or whatever else you want to call it as narrative of Bitcoin is used by Criminals! and Terrorists! to launder money, finance activities, build bombs, and attack our energy infrastructure, etc.
DOJ press releases:
-June 7, 2021, $2.3 million (63.7 BTC) was recovered from the May 7, 2021 Colonial Bitcoin ransom on the easily identifiable public blockchain
-August 24, 2021, $32 million in forfeited funds remitted to victims of the 2015 FIFA corruption case
What do you do when your narrative gets mowed down by the most extreme, obvious, and irrefutable counterfactual imaginable? That you did to yourself, before even realizing it?
I’m encouraged by the possibility to that the parties working so hard on narratives are really starting to trip over each other. Maybe I shouldn’t be. Will the grass be greener on the other side?
Continue the discussion at the Epsilon Theory Forum