Power talk is complex signaling

This is a very trivial connection, but I think it’s an important one. I’m tempted to make the stronger statement “All charisma is complex signaling”, but I don’t have the go-ahead from my intuition. (Aha, I’ve just realized why: if the audience is homogeneous, then charisma consists of signaling the message “Am Alpha”.)

Power talk description is here.

Signaling description is here.

Most human speech is simple socializing, meant to imply (through signaling) “You should see that I have trait X” where X could mean “smart”, “funny”, “confident”, “American”, “subgroup Y of group Z”, and so on. A person who proclaims “Wittgenstein was an idiot” in a social gathering is more likely to be signaling “You should ascribe trait ‘smart’ to me” than to be engaged in description.

Good example is Roosh’s video featured on AlphaGame. This video is mostly simple signaling, where the message is “bet on this horse over that one”, or more to the point: “Am Alpha, They Not Alpha, rawr”. Roosh’s success in communicating this is determined by whether people are convinced and bet on him over MGTOW and the red pill subreddit.

Power talk is when you signal more than one of these traits at a time. This is the primary language of modern American politics, which is built on demographic statistics. For instance, Democrats walk a fine line on the subject of Israel because on the one hand are rabid ideologues who tend to be pro-Palestine and anti-Israel, and on the other hand are a few rich Jews who comprise the majority of Democratic campaign donations. But they have to talk to both crowds through the same televised speeches and interviews. Usually, they just hedge “I am on neither side, and also both!”, but the more clever ones will try to deliver two different messages to two different audiences, “I am on your side, but please understand I need these useful idiots on the other side.”

Unfortunately, we don’t get to see this so much anymore because the demographic situation is becoming so complicated that the only way to win is to say nothing at all. Nobody in politics is clever enough to avoid gaffes, and these are costly enough that only the sinecured Vice Presidents will risk them. Hence Obama. What do black people see? Black guy! What do white people see? Safe black guy!


Most human communication is of types 1, 2, and 3 because type 4 requires more mental energy and verbal IQ than most folks possess. Rather than consider two competing arguments, it’s easier just to decide which person is “right” based on signaling, and then agree them. This underlies the existence of rhetoric, which short-circuits the argumentative function with signaling and descriptive heuristics.

As Vox put it:

For example, this was written for dialecticals. Rhetoricals only see “blah blah blah, I’m so smart, blah blah blah, Aristotle” and scan through it seeking to find some point of attack they can use to minimize or disqualify me. And if they can’t, that’s when they strike a bored pose or return to the snarky ad hom.

Vox Day

Descriptive communication is mostly used for communicating information, usually dealing with concrete reality (and not abstractions). For instance, a person describing how to get to a nearby gas station is not engaged in signalling, expression, or argumentation. This example (of giving directions) also illustrates the fact that the descriptive function, like argumentation, is also not for everybody. It requires a surprisingly high baseline nonverbal IQ, maybe in the area of 100.

About Aeoli Pera

Maybe do this later?
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2 Responses to Power talk is complex signaling

  1. Pingback: Friday Night Fragments #31 – The Legionnaire

  2. Pingback: Impressionability (and deceptive body language) | Aeoli Pera

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