One of the many concepts that has entered the mainstream from the Dissident Right is signalling. It’s first appearance came as criticism of social justice warriors, who were signalling their virtue by opposing someone or some thing, real or imagined. Virtue signalling is not new. It has probably been a part of human society since people began to settle into agricultural communities. Scipio Africanus, the great Roman general, who defeated Hannibal at Zama, was also famous for his virtue signalling.
These days, you will hear guys on the alt-right talk about counter-signalling. The easiest example of this is the newly minted rich guy going out and buying expensive display items, like cars or gaudy homes. NBA players are prone to this. They want to signal their wealth by acquiring highly visible, expensive items. An old money guy, in contrast, counter-signals by living in an old farmhouse that has been in the family for generations and driving a 40 year old Saab. He’s the sort of rich that feels no need to advertise it.
Signalling is a basic human trait. We all do it to one degree or another. Walk into a prison and you will see an array of tattoos on the inmates. These will signal gang affiliations, time served in the system, facilities in which the inmate has served and the individual’s violence capital. That last part is an important part of keeping the peace. To civilians, a face tattoo is always scary, but in jail, the right neck tattoo can tell other inmates that they are in the presence of an accomplished killer for a particular prison gang.
Virtue signalling and danger signalling are the easiest to understand, but people also use verbal and non-verbal signals to indicate trust or test the trustworthiness of others. A criminal organization, for example, will have a new member commit a pointless crime to demonstrate their trustworthiness. This is not just to sort out police informants, as is portrayed on television. It’s mostly to ascertain the willingness of the person to commit to the life of the organization. It’s hard to be a criminal if you will not commit crimes.
Outlaw biker culture is a good example of the use of signalling to establish trust relationships. Bikers have always, for example, adopted Nazi symbols as part of their display items. Bikers are not sitting around reading Julius Evola. What they are doing is signalling their complete rejection of the prevailing morality. By adopting taboo symbols and clothing, the outlaw biker is letting other bikers know his status, as much as he is letting the squares know he is a dangerous guy, who should be avoided.
This type of signalling is also defensive. Someone who is not serious or unprepared for life in a motorcycle club will try hard to hide this from himself and the club he is trying to impress. When those club members all have visible tattoos and swastikas on their vests, no one can kid themselves about what is expected from members. The visual presentation of the outlaw biker does more to chase away posers and trouble makers than character tests and initiation rituals. A biker is a walking entrance exam for prospects.
It’s not just an in-group/out-group thing. When you start prospecting for a biker club, you are routinely forced to choose between the moral framework of society and the morality of the club. The same process works in cults, interestingly enough. The prospect is always in a position where he must either divorce himself emotionally from his old life and the old world, or leave the club. It’s why one percenter clubs take their time patching in new members. It takes time to leave the old world and fully commit to the lifestyle.
That’s the way to read the alt-right and the stuff they say and do on-line with respect to non-whites, Jews and women. They don’t actually spend a lot of time talking and writing about these groups. They spend most of their time talking about how to organize themselves, the issues that face white identity movements and the philosophical points of their thing. The offensive memes and the racists language are mostly signalling. If you freak out over Hitler themed twitter avatars, then you are never going to be in their thing.
As with bike culture, it is defensive signalling to ward off entryists and the posers, but it is also a signal that joining their thing is more than just a secret handshake. If you are on-line talking about white identity, you’re never going back to the squaresville world of normie politics. You are rejecting that world as illegitimate in favor of the new thing. In effect, the racist memes are an offer. Accept it as a price of admission, but understand that by accepting the offer you are leaving the old morality behind for the new moral framework.
What this sort of signalling suggests is that the alt-right may have more staying power and more momentum, than their current numbers would suggest. Political movements come and go because they are rooted in the moment. “Free Silver” stopped being a rally cry once the currency issue was put to bed. The “Happy Warrior” stuff from the prior generation no longer has any relevance, as those ideological wars are now a part of history. Political movements are born to die, as soon as their issue is resolved.
The other thing about political movements is they are inherently open. The whole point of the Tea Party, for example, was to rally a lot of people from different ideologies to challenge the Progressives, who sacked Washington. The Tea Party people welcomed anyone who opposed the bailouts and reckless spending that was ushered in by Obama and the Democrats. That openness is what allowed the army of grifters from Conservative Inc to sail in and hijack the movement, turning it into a fundraising arm of the GOP.
Cultural movements, like identity or race movements, are closed and exclusive. They certainly seek to grow their numbers, but only on their own terms. They place narrow rules on members and never accept divided loyalties. You are either in the thing or outside the thing. There is no in between. This is why the American Left has been so persistent and able to re-spawn after each collapse. It’s not a list of agenda items. It’s a lifestyle with a moral code and a wide array of symbols for the members to accept and display.
That’s what is evolving with the alt-right. There’s no way to be “sort of alt-right.” You’re either in it or you’re not in it. That’s become clear with the schism between the civ-nat guys and the alt-right. Rejecting a guy like Milo Yiannopoulos forces guys like Gavin McInness to decide. He can be edgy TV funny guy or he can be in the alt-right and everything that implies. The result is his thing is dissolving as some people bite the bullet and join the alt-right, while others go back to sleep.
The jury is still out as to whether the alt-right is the long hoped for response to the rise of the New Left in the 1960’s. Ironically, the worst thing that could happen for the alt-right is for Trump to be everything his critics in Washington claim. White identity politics can only flourish when whites believe they must be an intolerant minority, battling other intolerant minorities for space. What is clear is that the alt-right is not another Tea Party. It has staying power because it is a cultural movement, not a political one.
¹The title of this post comes from this excellent book, Codes of the Underworld.