Re: Words and memes

From: Steve Drew (
Date: Sun Feb 24 2002 - 22:41:36 GMT

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    From: "Steve Drew" <>
    Subject:  Re: Words and memes
    Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 22:41:36 +0000
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    >Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 11:17:07 -0800
    >From: "Dace" <>
    >Subject: Re: Words and memes
    >>>From: Francesca S. Alcorn
    >>>>Keith said:
    >>>>>"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
    >>>>>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!
    >>>>How tragic. It reminds me of something I read a few years ago that
    >>>>said that people who blamed themselves for their misfortunes
    >>>>recovered more quickly from traumatic events because it allowed
    >>>>them to preserve a sense that they had some control over what
    >>>>happened. At least they had the illusion that they had some control
    >>>>over their demise.
    >>>In the case of the Xhosa there was no illusion. They were entirely in
    >>>control of their demise.
    >>>What the cattle killings demonstrate is that mass suicide is primarily a
    >>>phenomenon of culture, not cult. Of course, cults can also commit
    >>>collective suicide, but it's just an act of idiocy, as the only threat to
    >>>their freedom is themselves. As authentic group-level expressions of
    >>>human consciousness, cultures commit suicide when they face the
    >>>propspect of enslavement. To be human is to be free. Better to die.
    >>Ah, Ted, did you *read* the URL? Cult or culture, it was clearly a
    >>situation where a mutated meme got lose and did a fair job of wiping out
    >>the population.
    >I readily concede that the cattle killing involved a delusion, as did the
    >Jews at Masada. But the inaccuracy of a belief doesn't necessarily make it
    >"mutant." Myth is universal among pre-scientific cultures and is extremely
    >important at binding communities. The idea that the Xhosa would regain in
    >paradise all that they had destroyed on earth helped them to resist their
    >absorption into an alien culture. It enabled them to control their demise,
    >to retain their human dignity to the end, just like Masada. This is a
    >healthy meme. If everyone resisted enslavement to the death, there would
    >no imperialism, no systematic injustice and inequality. We would indeed be
    >inhabiting paradise.

    Interesting about the Xhosa. I only recalled it vaguely till you explained
    As for Masada, i don't think delusion has a part, though dignity does. The
    people at Masada had a good idea of what would happen to those who resisted
    Roman rule, particularly after the effort that was expended in attacking
    Masada. Examples need to be set to run an empire.

    Myth, to a lesser extent, is still within human society to help explain and
    accept those things that seem inexplicable or threatening to people.

    I've just watched a programme on Channel 5 (UK) called 'Kamikaze In Colour'
    which was about the Japanese in the second world war (no suprise there i
    guess). They were resisting unto death for a Divine Emperor.

    Some would see the West as being slaves to materialism at the expense of our

    Before any accuses me of being some sort of PC wet liberal who thinks that
    cultural practices should be allowed even when they denigrate others, i
    don't. The only real rule that will make your belief come true Ted, IMO is
    if every one followed the rule "do what you wish but don't harm another by
    your actions"

    Just as idealistic, i guess,



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