Identity Formation and Indirect Signaling

Robert Wiblin and Katja Grace ponder why conflict, rather than compromise, is such a popular feature of fiction. Robert's answer is that cheering for an uncompromising character "allows us to signal how much we value loyalty and justice" without the costs that we'd have to face if we applied the uncompromising strategy in real life. Katja points out that this leaves unanswered the question why we should not use fiction to signal willingness to compromise. Her answer is that
there is no point in demonstrating that you will compromise. As a default, everyone can be expected to compromise, because it’s the rational thing to do at the time. However it’s often good to look like you won’t easily compromise, so that other people will try to win you over with better deals. Celebrating ruthless adherence to idealistic principles is a way of advertising that you are insane, for the purpose of improving your bargaining position. If you somehow convince me that you’re the kind of person who would die fighting for their magic tree, I’ll probably try to come up with a pretty appealing deal for you before I even bring up my interest in checking out the deposits under any trees you have.
This jibes well with my view that a nonnegligible portion of human behaviour can be understood as signaling power (see here). It also nicely illustrates that much of "signaling" is not really signaling to others, but rather to yourself, i.e., internal affirmation of identity. Think about it: Watching movies that feature uncompromising heroes is not really going to make others more likely to believe that you are the uncompromising type. Indeed, they may conclude the opposite: "He likes tough guy movies because they make him forget he's such a loser in real life." But identifying with the tough guy may help you see yourself as a tough, uncompromising guy. That, it turn, is going to make others more likely to believe you are. It's signaling alright, but it's indirect. This kind of indirect signaling seems underappreciated by many; as a consequence, they misinterpret indirect as direct signaling.

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