Invisible Winks

Ben Casnocha:

“Inside baseball” refers to using jargon, specialized knowledge, acronyms, first names instead of full names. … They subtly increase the bond between the people in the know. … [It] reinforces a defined ingroup based on our common experiences, knowledge, vernacular. …

Where it gets tricky is when … you make inside references and outsiders read/hear them … and … feel excluded. … One idea: use “Invisible Winks” … insiders get the wink while outsiders do not notice the wink; additive to insiders, neutral to outsiders. … David Foster Wallace did this a lot … with hidden references and allusions, but not in a way where outsiders (i.e., people who don’t pick up on the allusion) feel like they’re “missing” something. …

Does this all sound insanely oveanalzyed? Maybe, but I think it’s important. When I think about socially brilliant people, they possess a remarkable sensitivity to insider/outsider dynamics when speaking and writing to groups. It’s part of what makes them socially brilliant. (more; HT Tyler)

Reading Ben you might get the impression that invisible winks are a special advanced technique, used only by the most sophisticated. But while only the most “socially brilliant” may use it consciously, my claim is that all humans are born with sophisticated abilities for related behaviors. Selective communication is a core capacity that enables humans to coordinate to hypocritically evade social norms, and I’ve argued that such hypocrisy is, after language, humanity’s most distinctive mental capacity.

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  • Ely

    I am fairly new to some of these ideas and so when you say, “Selective communication is a core capacity that enables humans to coordinate to hypocritically evade social norms, and I’ve argued that such hypocrisy is, after language, humanity’s most distinctive mental capacity,” I feel there are many ways to challenge it. However, I would prefer to read some sort of sequence of posts that outline the definitions and meanings you’re giving to these things, to avoid arguing against a straw-man and to simply learn more so I can see if my objections are credible.

    Do you have an idea for what the important posts / papers / links are for understanding your theory of social hypocrisy, at least at a basic level? Maybe this is better saved for the monthly “open topic” post.

  • Chris Gregory

    Australian butchers use retchub klat, a backwards-vocabularly, to comment on customers without them realising. Of course it doesn’t work if someone has a nice pair of boobs.

  • Chris Gregory

    Oops, vocabulary. Although vocabularly sounds useful.

  • Dave

    Are you accusing people of what you are doing your self?

  • Surely *many* male animals try to convince females that they have virtues that they do not actually have. If there is something distinctively human about hypocrisy, I think it needs more spelling out.

  • My favorite example of this is the use of a specific form of ambiguity in paper chain letters – shout-outs that look Catholic to a Catholic, and Protestant to a Protestant (or invisible to the non-shouted-out group), are features that are associated with chain letter replication:

    Many Ancient Prayer versions prescribe sending a copy one day at a time: “. . . he who will write it for nine days, commencing the day received . . .” [1908]. This keeps track of the deadline by counting it out. It also associates the chain letter with the Roman Catholic Novena devotion, which involves daily observances for nine consecutive days. This would have been apparent to Catholics at the time, but invisible to most Protestants. Collecting has revealed a small but long lasting niche in North America for an explicit Novena devotional chain letter [1945, 2000]. As discussed in Section 3.4, there is an advantage for a letter to be identified as one’s own by different ethnic or religious groups. A similar device (ambiguity) may be at work in “This prayer was sent by Bishop Lawrence, recommending it to be rewritten and sent to nine other persons” [1905]. Bishop William Lawrence was the Episcopalian Bishop of Massachusetts and an author, well known among American Protestants of the time. Likely many Catholics would have presumed by his title that he shared their faith. Incidentally, Lawrence had nothing to do with the chain letter, but received complaints from all over the world for his alleged endorsement. [Links removed.]

  • Duncan

    One of his commenters correctly points out that there’s already a term for this, albeit one with negative connotations: ‘dog whistle’.

  • Srivatsa

    I would like to add one comment. We as a society value verbal skill less for the poetry or the ability to clearly verbalize concepts, rather we value them for the ability to misguide others. People with better language skills are better hypocrites and we value this property.

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