Beliefs are Fashions
How elites signal their non-normiedom
To recap, we model people as rational actors deriving their beliefs from first principles, but if anything, most of human rationality is not used to create belief systems, but rather to come up with arguments to rationalize opinions the subconscious brain has already made.
People don’t even have beliefs per se, separate from the current moment and what their peers think. The idea of “belief” itself is a misnomer. Implied in “belief” is an individual, first-principles, derivation process of figuring out what’s true, whereas it’s more like a complex algorithm that takes into account one's peer group, the loyalties one owes and to whom, who has more status and what talking points fit better accordingly.
To summarize: People don’t choose beliefs according to the merits or logical value of those ideas—people choose ideas that will best improve their reputation within a tribe.
And not just any tribe, but our aspirational tribe. In order for us to remain a member of our aspirational tribe, we must also explicitly avoid all other tribes. This is why people get so offended when lower status people want to hire, befriend, or date them — the act implies that their worth is equivalent to that of tribes they consider below them. How dare you.
If beliefs are about forming tribes then it’s important to have the right belief to get you into the right tribe — while crucial to also avoid the wrong belief, lest you get interpreted as low status.
The best way to do this is by holding beliefs that both cater to elite tribes while simultaneously avoiding taking on the opinions of normies (i.e. the masses). This explains the Rotten Tomatoes phenomenon: when elites praise something that normies hate, or vice versa.
Elites are often trying to impress other elites by how non-normie they are.
Rob Henderson has a theory he calls "Luxury Beliefs", which is the idea that if people buy expensive physical luxury goods to showcase how well-off they are, people also hold “expensive” non-physical beliefs for the exact same reason.
Think of it this way: luxury goods bring people high status precisely because they're useless. The message is: "I'm so rich I can afford to waste money on this." But today, luxury goods are more affordable than before. And in a remote world, they're harder to show off. Thus, they're less reliable as indicators of social status. So instead, people signal how well-off they are by their opinions. Hence, luxury beliefs.
Let’s extend this analogy further: Beliefs are fashions.
To understand why this analogy makes sense, let’s first dig in deeper to how fashion works.
Identifying quality is a skill. So people try to convince others that they’re good at identifying quality (i.e. they have “taste”), but really what they’re doing is making their rationale impenetrable to normie understanding. By doing this, they’re also outing anyone who doesn’t “get it” as normie. Which people don’t want to reveal, so they pretend to get it.
An example of this phenomena is saying “this [obscure and relatively ugly] art or fashion is beautiful.” Have you noticed that many fashion models are either much skinnier or heavier than you’d expect? This is because the elites doing the marketing are using their taste to signal that they’re not normie. By elites establishing their tastes as different, they’re both proclaiming their loyalty to their tribe while distinguishing themselves from the pack.
The sad irony of luxury beliefs is that normies, who aspire to be elites, tend to try to adopt the opinions of the elites as if those opinions were their own. But as soon as the normies adopt those opinions, the elites move on to pursue something else — because, by definition, elites aren’t elite if they’re normie. (Unless they’re counter-elites, but we’ll discuss that another time.)
This is how trends in fashion work too. Fashion trends are deliberately obtuse in order to be seen as interesting. Once normies adopt them, the alpha in wearing them dissipates. So onto the next trend the elites go.
This is how the concept of “cool” works more generally. A certain club is “for cool people” right up until normies enter. Then the cool people have to go find a new club. David Chapman has a much better explanation of the phenomenon.
To reiterate, fashion trends are not about what normal people think is attractive. They are instead a way for elites to distinguish their tastes from those of the normies, while demonstrating in-group loyalty to the “cool” tribe.
This dynamic partly explains why elites are unwilling to change their minds on so many topics: Agreeing with the normies would put their position in the tribe at risk.
For example, consider this classic question of “is a whale a fish?”*
A) All middlebrow people know a whale is not a fish.
B) All middlebrow people also think that they are better than simpletons for knowing that whales are mammals.
C) All biologists are supposed to know that all mammals are fishes.
But the biologist cannot possibly educate the middlebrow. Why? Because the middlebrow define themselves by their being better than normies — by definition, they’re supposed to know more. Yet in many cases, they don’t know enough to realize that the normies may be right, even sometimes by accident. The minds of the middlebrow cannot be changed because any change in opinion would mean they would have to admit they were wrong and the normies were right, which is just too much to bear.
The same was true in finance circa 2008:*
A) The normies panicked when Bear Stearns collapsed.
B) The middlebrow academics didn’t panic because it was only Bear Stearns. I mean, it wasn’t Goldman, AIG or Lehman Brothers...
C) The smart money knew that Lehman was coming.
This phenomenon also partly explains the iconic midwit meme:
The middlebrow see themselves as elite by virtue of not being normies, while the true intellectuals/counter-elite are able to agree with the normies’ conclusion when they’re accurate, despite at times disagreeing with their reasoning.
This is why, in order to change someone’s beliefs it’s important to not merely address the substance of the belief. It’s more important to consider how prestigious the belief is, how prestigious the people who believe it are, and how hard it would be for normies to discover and/or believe in it.
Put differently, “It is impossible to get a man to understand something when the approval of their spouse, social circle, and/or employer depends on them not understanding it” - Upton Sinclair, probably
Which is why changing hearts and minds is often less about making good arguments and more about offering new and compelling social circles for which a person can join.
Put more simply: beliefs are fashions. To change someone’s mind, make it fashionable to do so by getting the cool kids to adopt your desired belief. And then be prepared to find the next iteration once the normies catch on.
Maybe the writer of this post has truly realized how hollow secularism can be. And/or, maybe, being anti-religious was once fashionable, then everyone else started doing it, and now we’ve come full circle and it’s cool to like it again.
And so the cycle continues. Beliefs are fashions.
*= I learned these examples from Eric Weinstein
Thanks to Molly and Natalie for edits and feedback