(2015-05-29) Chapman Geeks Mops And Sociopaths In Subculture Evolution

David Chapman: Geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths in subculture evolution. Subcultures are dead. I plan to write a full obituary soon. Subcultures were the main creative cultural force from roughly 1975 to 2000, when they stopped working. Why? (tldr: sociopaths enter the scene, monetize-better while creating-mediocrely, diluting the cool/energy; only the creator-geeks really care, because the consumer wasn't that invested anyway)

One reason—among several—is that as soon as subcultures start getting really interesting, they get invaded by muggles, who ruin them. Subcultures have a predictable lifecycle, in which popularity causes death. Eventually—around 2000—everyone understood this, and gave up hoping some subculture could somehow escape this dynamic.

The muggles who invade and ruin subcultures come in two distinct flavors, mops and sociopaths, playing very different roles.

Before there is a subculture, there is a scene. A scene is a small group of creators who invent an exciting New Thing.

The new scene draws fanatics. Fanatics don’t create, but they contribute energy (time, money, adulation, organization, analysis) to support the creators. (true fan)

Creators and fanatics are both geeks

If the scene is unusually exciting, and the New Thing can be appreciated without having to get utterly geeky about details, it draws mops. Mops are fans, but not rabid fans like the fanatics.

  • MOP” is an abbreviation for “member of the public”; it seems to be fairly common in Britain. My American (mis-)use of it here is probably somewhat non-standard. Other terms that could be used are “casuals” or “tourists.” (consumer?)

Geeks welcome mops, at first at least. It’s the mass of mops who turn a scene into a subculture. Creation is always at least partly an act of generosity; creators want as many people to use and enjoy their creations as possible.

Further, some money can usually be extracted from mops—just enough, at this stage, that some creators can quit their day jobs and go pro. (Fanatics contribute much more per head than mops, but there are few enough that it’s rarely possible for creatives to go full time with support only from fanatics.)

as mop numbers grow, they become a headache

Mops just passively soak up the good stuff. consumer

Mops also dilute the culture

Fanatics may be generous, but they signed up to support geeks, not mops. At this point, they may all quit, and the subculture collapses.

Unless sociopaths show up. (cf Gervais Principle)

The creators generate cultural capital, i.e. cool. The fanatics generate social capital: a network of relationships—strong ones among the geeks, and weaker but numerous ones with mops. The mops, when properly squeezed, produce liquid capital, i.e. money. None of those groups have any clue about how to extract and manipulate any of those forms of capital.

Mops are fooled. They don’t care so much about details, and the sociopaths look to them like creators, only better. Sociopaths become the coolest kids in the room, demoting the creators.

The sociopaths also work out how to monetize mops—which the fanatics were never good at.

After a couple years, the cool is all used up

As the mops dwindle, the sociopaths loot whatever value is left, and move on to the next exploit. They leave behind only wreckage: devastated geeks who still have no idea what happened to their wonderful New Thing and the wonderful friendships they formed around it.

Unless some of the creators are geniuses. If they can give the New Thing genuine mass appeal, they can ascend into superstardom. The subculture will reorganize around them, into a much more durable form. I won’t go into that in there. I will point out that this almost never happens without sociopaths.

The subculture lifecycle is a problem only from a geek perspective.

Geeks can refuse to admit mops. In fact, successful subcultures always do create costly barriers to entry, to keep out the uncommitted.6 In the heyday of subcultures, those were called poseurs.7 Mop exclusion keeps the subculture comfortable for geeks, but severely limits its potential.

The optimal mop:geek ratio is maybe 6:1.

Sociopaths only show up if there’s enough mops to exploit, so excluding (or limiting) mops is a strategy for excluding sociopaths. Some subcultures do understand this, and succeed with it.

Alternatively, you could recognize sociopaths and eject them. Geeks may be pretty good at the recognizing, but are lousy at the ejecting. Mops don’t recognize sociopaths, and anyway don’t care.

The “classical model” of subcultures no longer works

the fluid mode—my hoped-for future—resembles the subcultural mode in many ways.

geeks need to learn and use some of the sociopaths’ tricks. Then geeks can capture more of the value they create (and get better at ejecting true sociopaths).

Rao concludes his analysis by explaining that his “sociopaths” are actually nihilists, in much the same sense as I use the word. Serious subcultures are usually eternalistic: the New Thing is a source of meaning that gives everything in life purpose. Eternalistic naïveté makes subcultures much easier to exploit. “Slightly evil” defense of a subculture requires realism: letting go of eternalist hope and faith in imaginary guarantees that the New Thing will triumph.

Combining what works in eternalism and nihilism amounts to the complete stance —which is essentially the same thing as the “fluid mode.”

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