Searching for a sociology theory

Some time ago, I came across a theory of sociology that holds something like the following:

  • Subcultures come into existence when the mainstream culture that they are subgroups of are rejecting or neglecting some part of the human experience.
  • Looking at subcultures can thus be used to see what parts of the human experience are being rejected by the mainstream culture.
  • For example, this theory claims the goth subculture came into existence because society stopped explicitly acknowledging death and mourning, the emo subculture came into existence because society started repressing overt emotional displays, especially by men, the motorcycle gang subculture came into existence because society didn’t have any institutions that provided the camaraderie WW2 veterans had experienced in the war, etc.
  • Some parts of this seem to be present in mainstream discourse – for instance, I’ve often heard the motorcycle gang example cited as straightforward history outside of the context of this theory – but I’m not sure that the broader theory is.

Human memory is bad – it’s possible I made this up myself or something and am misremembering – but if this has a real name and a real background I would love to hear what it is.

Fascists Are Better At Violence Than You

So. Recently, much of T H E  D I S C O U R S E has centered around whether it’s okay to punch Nazis.

I would like to raise a concern that perhaps comes from a different angle than that which is commonly being discussed. This is not to say that the usual concerns are insignificant or unimportant – but you’ve probably heard those arguments before, and you maybe haven’t heard this one.

In brief, I want to argue not from a moral standpoint here, but from a strategic one. Punching Nazis, from a left-wing perspective, is wrong – wrong because Nazis are better at violence than the left is!

I want you to look at this picture:

(Von Bundesarchiv, Bild 147-0503 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,

The men in uniforms in the center of this picture are not members of the military. They are members of the SA (Sturmabteilung or “Storm Detachment”, commonly known as the “brownshirts”), an element of the Nazi party that focused on semi-organized street violence and riots against members of other political parties.

During the rise of the Nazis, political events or rallies were often disrupted or physically attacked by members of opposing parties; the brownshirts originated as a group of glorified bouncers that would throw hecklers or agitators out of Nazi meetings, but they quickly became more militaristic and aggressive, and soon began physically assaulting Jews and members of enemy political parties.

This violence often escalated to involve the use of weapons; the man leading the march in this photograph is Horst Wessel, who was shot and killed by Communists as a result of his involvement in these clashes and was later elevated to martyr-like status in Nazi propaganda.

The brownshirts, unfortunately, were much better at this sort of violence than their opponents. Fascist ideology greatly stresses discipline, organization, militarism, and unity – all traits that make a group effective when it comes to physical fighting. Say what you will about anarchism, but it has never been that effective at coordinating people into organized and effective military or paramilitary groups – rather, the history of anarchism has primarily been one of small cells and individual actors.

When it comes to organized violence, unity simply wins out over individualism. Those who have read George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia may be familiar with the disunity and infighting that plagued the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War. Franco’s fascists had no such problem, and won quite handily.

One might point out that the fascists and Nazis lost World War II, and certainly they did – but it took World War II, a giant military conflict of as yet unprecedented scale, to get people unified enough against fascism to put up a credible response, and there was certainly a lot of ground lost beforehand!


So, yeah. Don’t punch Nazis, even if you think it might be morally justified to do so – if political violence becomes accepted, this will play directly into the hands of the Nazis and fascists of the world.

“The Brexit Effect” – political incorrectness, polling, and a Trump win.

Some time before the end of the primary season, I was convinced that Donald Trump would be the next President, and indeed have now won a few small bets on the matter. [1] His positions, while completely untenable and offensive in the eyes of “the establishment”, seemed tailor-made to appeal to those who are fed up with that establishment, and given his expertise in reality television and mass publicity – key to charisma in the modern day – my sense was that Trump would be able to rally a good chunk this group and lead them to victory. I further thought this was especially likely against Clinton, who in many respects embodies “the establishment”.

I’m not sure if that story ended up being true or not, so insofar as I was right it may have been for the wrong reasons. Hillary did win the popular vote, after all – but it’s clear that Trump was indeed a better position than the polls and pundits would have it.

I submit, however, that the surprise result we encountered should perhaps be considered another instance of what I’ve heard being described as the “Brexit effect.” This phenomenon has gone by other names throughout history – the Bradley effect, the Wilder effect, Shy Tory Syndrome – and I’m sure there are other phrases that have been used for it was well.

In brief, this effect is one in which social desirability pressure causes people to be more reserved about their support for controversial political causes, especially those which are considered politically incorrect. As a result, polls understate support for such causes, and in-person polls especially so – but the privacy of the voting booth tells another story.

This effect has now happened – or is argued to have happened – many times in recent history. I am not an expert statistician and do not have the technical chops to determine whether or not similar effects were in play in all such cases. But what I do know is that I personally know several people who have at least some private sociopolitical opinions that they don’t share in public, and in almost all cases those opinions are those that are conservative or “politically incorrect.” [2]

I wasn’t hearing many people talking about this consideration prior to the US elections, except in the context of “Hey Hillary fans, people thought Remain would win too, be sure to go out there and vote!” Some did bring the effect up – Thomas Edsall discussed this in a column in May, and the (in)famous Scott Adams maintained that Trump supporters were being bullied into silence for some time – but insofar as these concerns did come up they were often dismissed. [3]

I suspect it’s time to take them more seriously.



[1] Before you give me points for accurate forecasting, I lost confidence in my original prediction following the Access Hollywood reveal, which seemed too big a scandal for Trump to live down, and was assuming afterwards that Hillary would end up taking it – so I can’t really claim credit for being “right all along”.

[2] This isn’t to say there can’t be secret liberal dissenters too – but the general narrative in America and much of the West these days has been a liberal/progressive one, so one would expect more secret conservative dissenters than the reverse.

[3] Indeed, many commentators immediately pre-Election Day were attacking Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight for “skewing the data” in claiming that Trump had even a 30% chance to win. It’s possible, of course, that these commentators were right and we’re seeing a lucky hit for Trump – but at least to me this win isn’t what a lucky 30% chance feels like.

My Handwriting


(Transcript of above image:)

This is what my handwriting looks like. The reason for that is simple, but you may find it funny. Back in high school, everyone told me I had messy writing. I didn’t like that, so I decided to make my handwriting distinctive in a different way. One day, I started to do the following:

-Change the “tails” of my letters to be much longer

-Change capital letters and “tall” letters to be much taller

-Write everything at an angle, as if writing in italics.

This shift basically worked, and worked immediately. Since the day I switched over, I have received many compliments on my handwriting. I personally don’t think my handwriting is all that good, but it does make a distinctive impression – and that impression, whatever it may be, is not ‘messy’! Not bad for something that took me about five minutes of effort one day in high school…


Does Current Conscious Experience Imply Future Conscious Experience?

Does Current Conscious Experience Imply Future Conscious Experience?

Here’s an intuition that I’ve had for a while. Its conclusions feel very weird, so I suspect there’s some reason that this isn’t valid – I’d be happy to hear your critiques!

So, there are cases where people lose their memory of events around serious injuries or similar experiences. In such cases, victims frequently report a “time skip”, where from their perspective they go immediately from events prior to the incident to events afterwards. A diagram of this might look something like the following:

The arc drawn in black represents the “flow” of consciousness around the skipped period – from the perspective of the victim, consciousness flows from before the incident directly to some point afterwards, and the events occurring during the interim are simply not experienced.

However, from an outsider’s perspective, the victim appears to be conscious during all of these periods, even the ones that end up being “skipped over”:

This leads to a strange observation. If we take a point that lies within the “skipped” period, we find that the victim will not be conscious of their experience during this point, despite the fact that an outside observer will see them as behaving normally:

As a result, it would perhaps seem to me that – at least from an internal perspective – the fact that you consciously perceive the current moment indicates that you will maintain continuity of consciousness with it in the future. After all, if this moment were to be lost and “skipped over”, you would not currently be consciously perceiving it, because your conscious experience would already have skipped over it.

This in turn seems to hold that current conscious experience implies future conscious experience , since it implies your continuity of consciousness with the present moment will not be disrupted in the future – in other words, your consciousness will continue to “flow forward” from the present moment into future moments.

The potential philosophical and theological implications of this – if true – will remain unstated here, but are considerable.