Re: Words and memes

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sat Feb 23 2002 - 00:42:25 GMT

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    Subject: Re: Words and memes
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    At 10:59 PM 21/02/02 -0500, frankie wrote:

    >Keith said:


    >>Is the 1850s cattle killing still alive for people in that part of the world?
    >What cattle killing? Do you mean the range wars in the American West?
    >Cattle were *the* measure of wealth there - and were "hoarded".
    >Overgrazing and desertification were major issues facing the country.
    >Before AIDS came along, that is.

    I am surprised that this group did not recognize one of the most
    spectacular obviously meme driven events in recent history.

    I mentioned it in my 1987 Analog article:

          "For a vivid example we can hark back a few years ago to Rev. Jim
    Jones and the People's Temple incident, where 912 people, including
    Jones, died of complications--poison and gunshot wounds--induced by an
    information disease.

          "The Children's Crusades of the middle ages were larger and more
    lethal; only 2 of 20,000 returned from one. The mass suicide in the
    first century by the Jews at Masada is a clear example of information
    patterns in people's minds having more influence over their behavior
    than the fear of death.

          "A more seductive example of a social movement set off by a
    lethal meme comes from South Africa. In the 1850s, a meme (originally
    derived from a dream) led to a great sacrifice by the Xhoas people
    during which they killed their cattle, burned their grain, and
    refrained from planting in the belief that doing so would cause their
    ancestors to come back from the dead and expel the whites. At least
    20,000 and perhaps as many as 60,000 starved when the predicted
    millennia of plenty failed to arrive. Known as the Cattle Killing, it
    was not a unique response for a primitive society being displaced by a
    more technically advanced one. The "Ghost Dancers" phenomenon among
    American Indians was a similar response.

    Since I did the research for that article a 1989 book came out, J. B.
    Peires, "The Central Beliefs of the Xhosa Cattle-killing." Some of it is
    on the net here.

    Definitely worth reading!


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