Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Eric Weinstein presents Kayfabrication for addition to our cognitive toolkit:

The sophisticated “scientific concept” with the greatest potential to enhance human understanding may be argued to come not from the halls of academe, but rather from the unlikely research environment of professional wrestling.

Evolutionary biologists Richard Alexander and Robert Trivers have recently emphasized that it is deception rather than information that often plays the decisive role in systems of selective pressures. Yet most of our thinking continues to treat deception as something of a perturbation on the exchange of pure information, leaving us unprepared to contemplate a world in which fakery may reliably crowd out the genuine. In particular, humanity’s future selective pressures appear likely to remain tied to economic theory which currently uses as its central construct a market model based on assumptions of perfect information.

If we are to take selection more seriously within humans, we may fairly ask what rigorous system would be capable of tying together an altered reality of layered falsehoods in which absolutely nothing can be assumed to be as it appears. Such a system, in continuous development for more than a century, is known to exist and now supports an intricate multi-billion dollar business empire of pure hokum. It is known to wrestling’s insiders as “Kayfabe”.

Because professional wrestling is a simulated sport, all competitors who face each other in the ring are actually close collaborators who must form a closed system (called “a promotion”) sealed against outsiders. With external competitors generally excluded, antagonists are chosen from within the promotion and their ritualized battles are largely negotiated, choreographed, and rehearsed at a significantly decreased risk of injury or death. With outcomes predetermined under Kayfabe, betrayal in wrestling comes not from engaging in unsportsmanlike conduct, but by the surprise appearance of actual sporting behavior. Such unwelcome sportsmanship which “breaks Kayfabe” is called “shooting” to distinguish it from the expected scripted deception called “working”.

Were Kayfabe to become part of our toolkit for the twenty-first century, we would undoubtedly have an easier time understanding a world in which investigative journalism seems to have vanished and bitter corporate rivals cooperate on everything from joint ventures to lobbying efforts. Perhaps confusing battles between “freshwater” Chicago macro economists and Ivy league “Saltwater” theorists could be best understood as happening within a single “orthodox promotion” given that both groups suffered no injury from failing (equally) to predict the recent financial crisis. The decades old battle in theoretical physics over bragging rights between the “string” and “loop” camps would seem to be an even more significant example within the hard sciences of a collaborative intra-promotion rivalry given the apparent failure of both groups to produce a quantum theory of gravity.

What makes Kayfabe remarkable is that it gives us potentially the most complete example of the general process by which a wide class of important endeavors transition from failed reality to successful fakery. While most modern sports enthusiasts are aware of wrestling’s status as a pseudo sport, what few alive today remember is that it evolved out of a failed real sport (known as “catch” wrestling) which held its last honest title match early in the 20th century. Typical matches could last hours with no satisfying action, or end suddenly with crippling injuries to a promising athlete in whom much had been invested. This highlighted the close relationship between two paradoxical risks which define the category of activity which wrestling shares with other human spheres:

  • Occasional but Extreme Peril for the participants.
  • General Monotony for both audience and participants.

Kayfabrication (the process of transition from reality towards Kayfabe) arises out of attempts to deliver a dependably engaging product for a mass audience while removing the unpredictable upheavals that imperil participants. As such Kayfabrication is a dependable feature of many of our most important systems which share the above two characteristics such as war, finance, love, politics and science.


  1. Grurray says:

    A notable instance of kayfabe being broken was the infamous Montreal Screwjob.

    The interesting part about it was McMahon committed the screwjob, thus breaking the kayfabe, but then rolled it into a larger kayfabe that included the backstage fight and subsequent feud. It lasted years until they reconciled a few years ago. Fans and aficionados are still debating to this day who knew what and when, what was planned or not, what was real and what was fake.

    In many ways it was probably the peak of wrestling as performance art because theatrics seamlessly and permanently blurred with reality.

  2. Slovenian Guest says:

    It’s kayfabe everywhere. At least in wrestling they go home with broken bones and concussions; it’s real in that regard. There’s more kayfabe on CNN than on the Wrestling Channel. It would be only fair to rename the damn thing to KFB already.

    The lamestream media is basically one-third native advertising, one-third scare mongering, and one-third outright government propaganda, all held together by said kayfabe.

    Barry O. even reads responses to hecklers from the teleprompter…

  3. FNN says:

    Search “Bearcat Wright” plus “Gene LeBelle” for an earlier famous “screwjob.” Wright wouldn’t give up the local title at the appointed time. Promotion enforcer Gene LeBelle had to be called in to remove the problem.

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