Inner rings, as described in CS Lewis's eponymous lecture, structurally orient around a kind of evasiveness. In this Twitter thread, Venkatesh Rao somehow evades something extremely explicit and basic in Lewis's description, but correctly criticizes Lewis for his own kind of evasion of a sort of apex inner ring.
Lewis explicitly describes the recruitment process for inner rings: being asked to transgress, implicitly in order to gain admission to the inner ring, but with no specific promises made or implied. But it turns out that's all the inner ring is made of: evasive transgression-bonding. There's no content inside it, no subject matter knowledge, only a shared unseeing of guilt, and - at most - further inner rings inside the first one.
Rao somehow has the idea that there's a game to be played in this domain, but there's no domain, there's no insider knowledge, there's no structure to the game, there's just an aggregation continually reaffirming ringhood through shared transgression.
It's notable how easy it seems to be to miss this when Lewis makes it so explicit.
Rao points out that Lewis's proposed remedy - simply not joining inner rings - effectively means declining to defend or otherwise coordinate against them, and can only work out in the long run by implying that through some nonspecific means (Jesus) things will work out in the end. Something Rao doesn't point out is that Lewis's implied advice to be an honest craftsman is inapplicable to his actual audience. The Inner Ring speech was given at an University. University students do not study to be artisans. If you occupy a white collar job in a world with inner rings, then you're in the world of Moral Mazes. Rao correctly characterizes this as recommending what he calls a Clueless strategy in The Gervais Principle.
Occupying a Bullshit (i.e. class privilege) Job while cultivating a self-image as an honest craftsman means profiting by being taken in by and thereby perpetuating the scam that your professional coverup is intellectually difficult technical expertise. Learning to distort your mind into these postures is the price students are asked to pay to join the Inner Ring of graduates. In practice Lewis is urging college students to go along with the coverup while trying to do locally valid things while posturing as experts in a technical discipline.
Ayn Rand is the only writer I've seen get both these points right jointly:
- There's no benefit to joining the inner ring except discovering that there insinuated benefit does not exist.
- Ignoring inner rings is refusing to protect oneself against a dangerous adversary
Compiled from a Twitter thread