Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Apostaspiphates, Heresiarchs and Institutional Change: A Euvoluntary Conjecture

Me: I found the word "heresiarch" totally by accident. Happy accident. Like a rainbow in the dark.

Ride the tiger.

 Adam: And now it is my new life's ambition to become one.

 Me: I can't seem to find a similar word that defines the originator of an apostalic movement.

 Adam: Let's make one up. Is apostiarch too obvious?

 Me: Hm. Apostasy is necessarily personal. Heresy is doctrinal. I'm not sure there even can rightly be such a word. We need a Sarah Skwire to sort this out.

~five minutes pass~

Me: Apostaspiphate: from the Greek, meaning "the spark that lit the revolt." Someone who incites widespread apostasy.

A "heresiarch" (used here yesterday without explanation) is a leader of a heretical sect. Usually, it's someone who pens the doctrine and gathers the followers, though strictly speaking, I suppose those roles need not be occupied by the same person. And the word itself is neither good, bad, nor indifferent. Jesus of Nazareth was a heresiarch, so was Vladimir Lenin, so was John Maynard Keynes. The defining characteristic was an active challenge to the orthodoxy, followed up with at least some attempt at proselytism. Perhaps it's the lame attempts at the latter, coupled with tiresome saturation that prompted David Brooks to pen his marvelously lulzy jeremiad against thought leaders in the Thymes.

Contrast heresy with apostasy. Heresy is an active sundering; it implies the presence of a cleaver-wielding ideological chef. Apostasy is quiet, personal. Apostasy is the foam on the cappuccino brewed single-serving in the Keurig of despair. Apostatic cascades need fuel for the spark to light a conflagration. And I suspect this is much to the chagrin of wannabe Che Guevaras and Thich Quang Ducs out there. If it hasn't been raining, that mean ol' levee just ain't gonna break.

This is relevant to EE because my bro Adam (G., in the opening dialog yonder) and I have been scritching each others' noggins over the seeds of regime change for a while now. He's got a pretty good theory about how ideas (moral intuitions included) coalesce into institutions, and I'm leveraging the S&T paper to work on the game theory behind constitutional formation and duration. But the teeny-tiny element that could use a spit-polish is the transitional point. Why apostasy? Adam's been modeling it as a random event, but I've found this remarkably unsatisfying. I think my insipid little neologism can maybe shine a little penlight into a previously dark nook. All else equal, it's a minor point, but it fits with this series, so I think it's appropriate to include a few words on it.

The flusterating bit is that it's pretty tough to know ex ante if an apostaspiphate will pivot the ex post constitutional arrangements towards a more euvoluntary suite of institutions. Modeling that will take some more noodling.

Apologies if this post is as insufferable to you as it seems to me. Think of it as an extended footnote if that helps.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?