This incredible book explains everything an aspie has trouble understanding about human behavior. Here’s how a low-trust environment produces conformity in the smallest detail to avoid accidentally signalling covert malevolence within a rationally paranoid criminal underclass.
The second mistake occurs because of overinterpretation, namely when something that is not a signal is mistaken for one. In a menacing atmosphere people develop a heightened sensitivity to signs, which transforms mere allusions into intimidating or challenging gestures (sometimes mistakenly so). This, on the one hand, aids the signaler, as it extends the pool of signs from which he can choose to produce a threatening effect with minimum effort—the raising of an eyebrow can become a compelling menace.
One can understand why mafiosi develop a stony face; even their eye movement appears exceedingly parsimonious. They are very attentive to many aspects of their demeanor and their appurtenances. Standardizing—everyone doing and wearing the same things, because everyone is watchful about deviations—is one way of “silencing” the communication effects that could be accidentally generated by variations. On the other hand, it is easy to see how receivers’ paranoia can lead them to overinterpret certain gestures and attach a meaning to trivially mundane actions. The testimonies of mafiosi who turned state’s evidence show ad nauseam that every sentence they exchange is scrutinized for potential ambiguity and hidden messages. They are obsessed with details, minute alterations in attire, slips of the tongue.
Codes of the Underworld, pg. 172
So that explains, among about a million other things, why making the OK signal on camera will trigger a witch hunt to send you to the gulag. It also explains nigh the entirety of East Asian culture.
To briefly sum up what I’ve learned from this book: homo sapiens is a born and bred criminal signalling savant, cro magnon is a value system that emerges when you put people in an open room-style prison with high turnover for two hundred generations, and melonheads are all grypsmen aspiring to become the warden.