RE: morality and memes

From: Steve Drew (
Date: Tue May 21 2002 - 21:57:13 BST

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    Date: Tue, 21 May 2002 21:57:13 +0100
    Subject: RE: morality and memes
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    > Date: Tue, 21 May 2002 12:24:52 +0100
    > From: Vincent Campbell <>
    > Subject: RE: morality and memes
    > Hi everyone,
    > Thanks for the comments. Gonna try and address peoples' comments so far
    > collectively.
    > I'll start with my question-
    >>> More fundamentally are morals innate, or culturally produced?
    > <Steve: My guess is cultural. Too many different kinds of behaviour
    > that are
    >> considered 'moral'>
    > So, the $64,000 question is where do they come from, and how do
    > particular morals take hold? Hence my comment about environment-
    >>> If the latter,
    >>> how/why do some spread more than others? Are what we perceive of
    > as innate
    >>> values, actually environmentally specific- which I mean in a way
    > distinct
    >>> from culturally specific
    > <Probably a function of both. If we knew how they spread we would
    > have a
    >> working theory of memes :-)>
    > Indeed, that's one of the things I was wondering.
    >>> (e.g. isolated communities favouring polygamy due
    >>> to a gender imbalance).
    > <Steve:?>
    > I'm sure I've read of isolated communities where the short supply of
    > one or other gender relates to the tolerance of polygamy (IIRC some
    > himalyan/tibetan community where women take many husbands, for example).
    > Hence, environment with a big E, rather than purely cultural environment.
    > <Philip: I feel that individual animals living in solitude know no
    > morals. That is, they will stop at nothing, including killing or
    > wounding other animals of their species, to get their share of food.
    > Social animals are a little different. It simply isn't good for the
    > species to have no stop at getting food if it damages the wellbeing of
    > fellow social group-members. So here's some set of morals desired
    > however basic and primitive.>
    > Yeah, hence you get the idea of reciprocal altruism, and perhaps morality is
    > born of that.
    > <Philip: Regarding memetically. Morals can be expressed linguistically. So
    > they are
    >> intrinsically memetic or culturally transmittable. If morals lead to
    >> increase in fitness of the group at hand moralistic memes may flourish. So
    >> yes, morals can very well be memetic and yes they can also have a
    >> biological basis.>
    > Hmm, I think Wade's comment is interesting here, in terms of relating this
    > to the question of ideas/beliefs/values as what is transmitted, as opposed
    > to behaviours/practices-
    > <Wade: Problems in morality are dealt with in various ways, and it is the
    >> persecution and punishment of non-accepted conduct that is transmitted,
    >> through laws and hierarchies and biases and other notices and
    >> condemnations of society.>
    > Which brings me to Grant's point:
    > <Grant: It sounds like we're back to that old arguement: is it nature or
    > nurture. I
    > thought that was resolved a long time ago. It's both. Both genes and memes
    > act on the mind and body to produce attitudes and ideas that help us live
    > together in ever larger societies. Without both, I don't think it would
    > happen. Within the individual, the values created are the result of input
    > from both the emotional and environmental forces that shape the person from
    > the day he/she is conceived. Within society, memes fight in the
    > battleground of the mind pool for survival and dominance. That, at any rate
    > is my concept of the overview. Other views are welcome to compete. ;-)>
    > Yeah, I don't mean to suggest an absolute distinction between nature and
    > nuture, but there are levels of effects in both senses. I suppose this is a
    > difference between metaethics, questions of the existence (or otherwise) or
    > moral absolutes, and applied ethics (how should one behave in a given
    > situation, and indeed how much free will do we have to make choices in
    > situations). Like religious belief, people (including the non-religious)
    > often regard moral values as somehow more fixed, more certain, more absolute
    > than other ideas/values that they may hold. As such they may be resistant
    > to the idea that their morality is not as innate (or even innate to any
    > extent) as they "feel" it to be; that it may be a product of their
    > socialisation to the community in which they live. But, there may also be a
    > sense in which environment may have had a fundamental impact on the
    > emergence of that community's consensus of moral values (in the same way
    > that indigenous people who live in mountain areas often have mountain
    > oriented gods, and people who live on the coast have sea-oriented gods).
    > And this in turn relates back to questions of the potential for humans to
    > behave in different ways in different circumstances, and to what extent
    > cultural pressure can make people conform to a (potentially) non-adaptive
    > strategy- like religious celibacy, or suicide bombing. The electric-shock
    > experiments we've discussed before come to mind again, where people did what
    > they were told by the man in the white coat, but I think I'm ramlbing now...
    > Vincent

    There seems to be a broad consensus here. Wades comments are particularly
    interesting as I was going to post the folowing.

    Blackmore argued that memes originated as a means copying successful
    strategies and reduce the harm to yourself. This snowballed into mate choice
    etc. What if part of this is that copying was also an early method of social
    cohesion. This could be the earliest form of copying as social cohesion is
    important in social animals. After this would come copying for success, with
    these two reinforcing each other. Or has some one suggested this already?

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