Leeches, Lies, and Purity Spirals

Caution! Prolonged contact with lie causes debilitating injuries, including blindness.

This is funny, but the author misses the reason why the monarchists (bless them) are monarchists to begin with. When the informal influence people wield doesn’t match up with the formal description of the official powers (if any) of their positions, they need lies and deception to keep the system going. Those lies then become symbols that people can use to signal loyalty to, and even status within, the existing informal power structure. So of course the signaling spirals then become, themselves, a means to further accumulation of informal power.

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Signaling spirals: fun for the whole family!

Monarchies are not like this. Were not, historically: a constitutional monarchy is a democracy and since the sovereignty of the monarch is as much a lie as the power of the people, you get absurd cults of personality like the worship of “Princess” Diana. But when the king (or the signorie, or whomever) actually wields the power his title indicates, he doesn’t need lies to stay in power so there is no signaling spiral to engage in.

“Human rights are the ultimate source of our laws, and their final court of appeals” is a lie. It sounds nice, might fool the plebs. Maybe it even has some vague (symbolic) correspondence to the real distribution of informal influence — like, law professors who publish on human rights trump law professors who publish on tort law? Maybe, but don’t get your hopes up. Either way, you can’t blame human rights for the sorry state of our republic. They’re inert. They’re pining for the fjords. Human rights dindu nuffin.

“King William is the ultimate source of our laws and their final court of appeals,” on the other hand, could be correct. Not necessarily! But if there were a king (name of Will) who had the formal authority to make and judge law, and also had the power to exercise that authority in practice without the consent of every powerbroker who holds an informal veto, then he would, indeed, be responsible for legislation. So it’s at least plausible.

(And if the statement also happens to be true, then there’s not much wiggle room for a signaling spiral. What are you gonna do, bow longer? Okay, have fun with that. When you get up from your five-minute kowtow, the political order is still intact – but watch yourself, I’ve got a killer six-minute kowtow that’s coming right back atchoo.)

44b6225ea50e403231a0e94bcb8c3929That was fun! Let’s try it again. “The principle of the natural equality of mankind reigns supreme.” Lol okay. Do you even lift, Principle of Natural Equality? There’s no limit to the obvious, empirical inequalities between men that you might need to deny (=lie about) and turn a blind eye to (=act like an incompetent fool) in order to signal your superior level of self-deception about the power of natural equality. “King William reigns supreme.” Gallows? Check. Dragoons? Check. Pulpits? Sheriffs? Spies? Check, check, check. Oh look, King William sort of does reign supreme. No political power is so absolute that a fool can’t find some way to gamble it away, but if you try to signal-spiral about King Willy, he’s going to go full Canute on you.

canute_rebukes_his_courtiers
Fool got REBUK’D

Why? The Royal Timetable is valuable. Big Will doesn’t want to hear your bullshitting about how he controls tides (or whatever). He needs accurate information and sound counsel. If you’re not going to deliver, he’s going to show you (and his entire Court) how stupid he thinks you are, and then the Royal Bouncers treat you to an episode of “Get out and stay out, faggot.”

Speaking of which, let’s try this one: “Those who work for the welfare of the people are always rewarded for their accomplishments in the end.” Huehuehue. Can you imagine the spiral? Between lying about who “the people” are, what advances “their welfare”, and whose “accomplishments” have caused those putative advances… not even an astrophysicist could get us out of this 3-body problem! So next thing you know you’re calling some grim cat-lady a “true hero” to signal to your friends that you’re a Friend of Progress™. Compare: “Those who work for King William are always rewarded for their accomplishments in the end.” Well, duh. King William has arbitrary discretion to humiliate and punish anyone who undermines him and reward anyone who helps him. If he decides Joe is great, you don’t call Joe “a true hero”, you call him “Baron Joseph”. And from there there’s really nowhere further for you to go in your signaling spiral about how great Joe is, about how much you respect dedicated humanitarians like Joe. Joe has a barony now, and a seat in the House of Lords — of course you respect him.

Principalities where the guys who are publicly thought to be in charge are actually in charge are awfully convenient like that!

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4 thoughts on “Leeches, Lies, and Purity Spirals

  1. Yeah, but then there are monarchs like Nero, where everyone had to spend a lot of time kissing his ass telling him what a great poet, singer, chariot racer, etc. he was.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, true enough. (I actually have an essay on this topic underway, but not slated for completion anytime soon.) Nero isn’t a spectacular case iirc because the historiography is murky (lots of slander) but there are many cases of kings wanting to be admired in fields that were either inappropriate to their station or for which they had no talent.

      However, the point stands, and in fact illustrates nicely what I’m getting at. Trying to write a speech praising the unsurpassed beauty of your king’s poems is fundamentally very similar to writing one on his unsurpassed justice; and indeed, the praise follows fundamentally the same formula whether the king genuinely *is* one of the best poets of his age (some statesmen have many talents) or is just a hack. There is nowhere for the purity spirals to go; you praise the king effusively, you give him a “royal greeting”, and that’s that.

      The affinity of royalty and aristocracy for non-political fields does have complex sociopolitical ramifications, which can become destructive, but their desire for praise is not a major problem in itself.

      Like

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