This article first appeared on Medium November 1st 2019, and forms the keystone of all HWFO culture war analysis.
If I were to ask you what the best possible tool is to master, to achieve the most tasks in the most complete way, the answer wouldn’t be a hammer, or a saw, or a gun, or a book, or a computer. It would be a human. Humans are the most versatile and useful tools on the planet. They can achieve a lot, and if they can’t achieve something they can build another tool to help them achieve it. Humans are the ultimate tool. Which means if you master controlling humans as your tool, you can achieve anything achievable.
This is the nature of cults, and of mass movements, and in the end, the nature of cultures themselves. A cult leader masters control of their cultists, a nation leader masters their citizens. A mass movement is, by its nature, mastered by a central cabal or an intellectual abstraction that’s spread virally, often both. Sometimes it’s the abstraction itself that becomes the new Master of humans. A culture is a wider entity still, comprised of a blend of personality cults and overlapping abstractions that found their origin in mass movements, all working to Master the humans to achieve X.
That X tends to vary.
These things evolve and die out, and are replaced with better ones. The very first priority on the X list, for any modern Master of humans, must be to not let the Master die. If they didn’t have this first priority, they’d be dead by now. This is game theoretical proof that all modern cultures, having been tested in the fires of historical Darwinism, have preservation as their number one priority.
This is the root of the culture war. We partake in this war because we are the tools. We are being wielded by the personality cults and layers of abstractions that make our culture, to do war for them, to preserve them. We do this because the Masters are strong. They had to be, to exist today. We are the tools in their game, and they are finely tuned to win that game.
This is why half the content on this publication is about guns. If a red/blue culture war goes hot, I will be, possibly begrudgingly, the first guy on my block to hang a red flag in front of my house. It’s safer. The red tribe has all the guns. Of all the gun people I know, maybe 10% are blue tribe, tops. And I think at a high level, the mixture of personalities and abstractions that Masters the blue tribe, is freaked out about this. But there’s nothing they can do about it. See, watch, math.
Can you imagine being an ISIS fighter during the last half decade? That’s an interesting perspective I don’t think anyone has thought about. Imagine that you were deeply religious, you fell into some internet propaganda that shifted your cultural Master over to the ISIS meme, and you traveled to the Levant. And you waged this war, and took this ground, and everything was as foretold, and then you got the shit beat out of you and watched all your friends die and then you had to blow yourself up when an armored dog came hauling ass around the corner.
Can you imagine what a pisser that must be? That might be the worst possible way to die ever. Turns out dogs are pretty good tools too. The dog didn’t even die.
On a per capita basis, 1% to 2% of the population of Syria at the heart of the war were combatants, including all sides. 98% to 99% weren’t. We have, rounding, 30% gun ownership in the United States. Let’s pretend that the government decides to round up the guns, and one of every ten gun owners resists. That’s 3% of the population. That’s as much as triple the per capita combatants in Syria, and they’re all on one side, and they’ve probably got better gear than the Syrians had too. They’re also way better marksman, culturally speaking, than those in the Muslim world. Throw in the expectation of military and police defections, it just doesn’t work. It’d be like watching Waco happen on the news, except ten times a day, every day. So nobody’s ever going to do it. They can’t. They know it. And the Master Memes and Master Personalities of the blue tribe know that they can’t.
Remember the first priority of a culture is self-preservation. The blue tribe has a ceiling. It cannot win by force. That’s what this is all about. So instead of taking over by force, their only option is to undermine the red tribe’s intellectual abstractions. Religion, individual agency, “muh freedoms,” and the core of traditional western thought must be brought down for the blue tribe to win, because they can’t win by force. And the Master Abstractions and Master Personalities of the red tribe know that, which is why they react so virulently to attacks on their Masters, particularly their abstractions.
The problem is the red tribe can win by force. It’s their Trump (ugh) card. Which means the blue tribe better be very careful to slow play this game. I fear they aren’t.
That’s the HWFO analysis framework. And every tiny bit of culture war weaponry churned out by our media organizations fits into that framework. An article or TV show is a tool, written by a human tool, to control other human tools, who each trace their marching orders back to a master meme, that is playing that game. Understand that, and apply it to every single thing you see on your glowing screen, and you will be “HWFO Woke.” Every article, every TV show, every book, is this thing happening in real time.
The HWFO Connection to Cultural Postmodernist Frankfurt School Bullshit
This analysis framework, where we model societies as nested layers of indoctrination which dictate most human behavior, was built from scratch and has its origins in HWFO thoughts about ants and game theory. But it turns out to be curiously similar to the Postmodernist Frankfurt School concept of a “Grand Narrative.” What we call “societal indoctrination memes” they call “metanarratives.” But because the two concepts are built around different seed crystals, they have a few fundamental differences that are important to identify.
Critical Theory scholars tell a story that these societal rules and behavioral patterns we all follow are set up to benefit some people over other people, and in order to forge a better culture we must deconstruct them. Deadspin authors “speaking truth to power” in their sports articles and such. The seed crystal for their entire mode of thought is who has power over whoever else, and they view all culture through the lens of power envy. “Masters Bad.” Down with the hierarchy. To hell with sticking to sports writing.
But when you realize that we are all merely tools of our culture, and every culture is defined by and guided by its Masters, be they people or ideological abstractions or both, “Masters Bad” is laid bare to actually mean “Culture Bad.” We see this on the ground level in modern times with the blooming of Cancel Culture, of feminist attacks on the “patriarchy,” and on the general attack on science itself by the postmodernists. (also) (also) (especially also)
Also “space isn’t real because no black people have been there,” even though black people have in fact been there:
This pure power envy analysis forgets the game theory of the whole cultural thing. Just because something is a hierarchy doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad, especially when the history of culture is of better hierarchies (or better metanarratives, or better societal indoctrination memes) beating out worse ones. If you smash your hierarchy, the unsmashed hierarchy next door might move in and take over. If we’re going to play this highly dangerous social constructionist game, which amounts to building ourselves new Masters from whole cloth, then the very first thing we must do is look at the issue of efficacy. Is this new Master strong? If not, it won’t last.
There’s a lot of chatter in intellectual circles in the past year and a half about “Game B,” which is basically the same social constructionist thing from a different perspective. And although that chatter is admittedly in the early stages, I haven’t seen them address this issue of efficacy properly either. Yet. Intellectuals playing dangerous games retooling our own cultural DNA, without taking any time to learn the rules of the game.
Rule one: Don’t get rubbed out.
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