Signaling

I’ve never really found the Hansonian line about signaling to be particularly interesting.

On one hand, it’s obvious. On the other, signals are good way to make sure you avoid the wrong sorts of people. For example, some years I travel enough to obtain one of the highest frequent flyer statuses. The best part about having status is that you get to avoid the people who don’t travel often. Sure, status could be used to signal how awesome I am. But really, it’s just nice to get away from the plebes.

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6 Responses to Signaling

  1. I have often regarded snootiness* as self-defense. I like telling people I like classical music as a way of not having to hear about American Idol. The AI fans I tell it to all get their feelings hurt immediately, since classical music is so threatening and its fans are so cruel and arrogant. Or something. Really I don’t understand the mass culture mind, but they are certainly thin-skinned. While they are drowning their exposure to someone who likes Mozart in booze, they can listen to a little pop just to have a soundtrack.

    * Whether my idea of snootiness maps directly to Hanson’s idea of signaling, I don’t know, but I figure it’s close enough.

  2. dearieme says:

    We flew business class a few years ago. It was bliss to find ourselves in a “business class lounge” where there were no milling chavs, children, or teenagers, and – above all – no loudspeakers blaring ruddy pop music at us.

  3. Vladimir says:

    I’ve never really found the Hansonian line about signaling to be particularly interesting.

    I think you’re wrong about this. For example, the dynamics of the public opinion seem much clearer once you realize that as soon as an issue has no practical implications for people’s private lives, they tend instinctively to adjust their beliefs about it for signaling value rather than accuracy.

    To take the most important example (and using Moldbug’s terminology), this is why the classic critiques of democracy have only limited applicability to the “Modern Structure” governing the present-day U.S. and the rest of the Western world. Of course, the predictions of these critiques have turned out to be perfectly accurate in numerous places and times, but to make sense of the peculiar modern situation where democratic institutions exist in a form rendered toothless by the management of public opinion, I think some sort of Hansonian analysis is necessary. The Cathedral has no central conspiratorial organs, and yet its grip on public opinion is iron-strong; how is such an equilibrium possible? The basic insight that political/ideological beliefs are mostly signaling in nature is still far from a complete explanation, but it also seems like the only plausible direction for finding the piece of the puzzle missed by the classic anti-democratic writers that’s necessary to understand the present system.

    For some good short essays by Hanson that touch on the relevant topics, see for example “Are Beliefs Like Clothes?,” “Doubling Down On US Status,” or “Politics isn’t about Policy.” (Just google for the titles.)

  4. Handle says:

    I agree that Hanson is overrated. I think “status” is a term-of-art with a specific technical meaning depending on the context. What you, Olave, and dearieme mean by it is more like “class segregation”, that is, the ability for elites to distance themselves from the necessity of exposure in confined public circumstances to the “colorful” manners of their commoner rabble compatriots.

    What Hanson means is the things we do to to manipulate and influence the psychologies of those around us in their disposition towards and opinion of us, due to altering our perceived hierarchical place relative to others in the local environment. Basically, personal advertising, marketing, pr, sales, etc.

    And yeah, that’s obvious.

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