Expressive conformity

by Suspended Reason

In previous posts and essays, we have established the following:

  1. All real interactions (or games”) are mixed-motive and variable sum; that is, there is no such thing as a purely cooperative or purely adversarial game outside of toy models.1
  2. Social life, and in general those situations from which language arises, are and must by necessity be cooperation-dominant.2
  3. In cooperation-dominant situations—which is to say, in the composite of alignments between projects and interests—legibility (“honest” signaling) in the sense of writing pragmatically true (advantageous) information is a better strategy than illegibility.3
  4. An interpretation of a communicative act consists in the experienced or perceived (via habitus) distribution of relevant entailments, which correlate with the objective frequency of events in the environment (to the extent that one’s experienced events are a reasonable sample of events in that environmental subspace).4
  5. All (observed, i.e. ecologically huddled) behavior communicates (“emits information”). This information consists of statistical correlations between perception and pragmatic, predicted entailment.

From these premises, I believe we can assert that public life will be dominated by an inclination toward—nay, necessity of—conformity, which is to say, the self-alignment between communicative acts selected by an agent, and the reputation” or signification so to speak of the act itself. That is, the interpreted (and thus, to the expressing writer, consequential) entailment(s) consists of the conventional (most frequent) correlations between expressive aspect and implied entailment.

Since this abstract description is difficult to follow, a simple example: Conventional facial and gestural representations of anger will be interpreted as anger. Therefore, to avoid being misunderstood as angry when not angry, or as not angry when angry, an individual must synchronize his behavior to others’ behaviors.5

This conformity is tethered to the type” of context or frame within which the writing is expressed, for instance, that of a subculture. As people come to know each other and become familiar/familial, this type may consist of a self” over time Ship of Theseus-style (that a gesture means” something in the context of a specific, known individual and his history). And we can say that this mimesis would exist without the benefits of imitation and conformity typically attributed by e.g. cultural evolution—even as the intrinsic return on acts is—as marginal value—the anchor which distinguishes and attracts the adoption of new practices in the first place.

Commonly, we reify the conventional, associative, common knowledge structures of reputation and inferred entailment within our culture as an inherent property of the thing itself. We do not think This style of decor is seen by many in my milieu as trashy” so much as we think This style is trashy.” This reification is computationally efficient insofar as it gets around expensive and difficult theory of mind, via the assumption that one is talking to a bearer of shared culture. When we are forced to regularly interact with those outside our native culture, this illusion may shatter. The pragmatic underpinning and recipient-indexicality of concepts and carvings are re-bared when their reified forms break on us, become present-at-hand once more.

  1. See Short-term v. long-term in selection games↩︎

  2. This is a foundational stance in ethology and animal signaling, and explored in Schelling; in a purely adversarial situation, there is no incentive to listen to to the intentional (i.e. non-leaked) expressions of other players.↩︎

  3. This is explored at length in my Epistemic Strategies” essay on legibility, illegibility, and pseudo-legibility (i.e. deceptive appearances).↩︎

  4. See “Gaming & entailment” and the Meaning of Meaning” letter exchange which begins here.↩︎

  5. This is also explored e.g. in “Reference on the Fly”’s discussion of the phrase I love her amulet!”↩︎

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Ambiguous nonconformity