Re: Mind Viruses and Potential Hosts

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Tue 11 Feb 2003 - 03:55:33 GMT

  • Next message: Wade T. Smith: "Fwd: Unexpected Evolution of a Fish Out of Water"

    At 12:04 PM 10/02/03 -0500, you wrote:
    >Human beings are social animals. Our ability to relate psychologically to
    >dogs and wolves comes from our mutual instinctual understanding that an
    >individual has more success in the pack than alone.
    >The "prisoner's dilemma" from game theory models this situation. However,
    >in it's simplest form, we usually see the scoring as a "fair system" in
    >which both players receive equal benefits and penalties. The principle at
    >the core of the game is the same in circumstances where the payoffs are not
    >equal. In most real situations the payoff for various members of a social
    >institution is not equal. Dominant individuals receive greater benefits and
    >suffer milder setbacks than lower ranked individuals. And yet, even under
    >these circumstances, it is usually better for the lowest ranks to be within
    >the hierarchy as opposed to outside it.
    >Every human institution is structured on this basis: governments,
    >businesses, religions, education. The complexity of modern life that our
    >instincts have not prepared us for is the vast number of different
    >organizations that we are either compelled or given the opportunity to join.
    >Unlike our ancestors, we are no longer simply members of family and tribe
    >but also church, state, company, school and listserv.
    >People value those hierarchies which they rise in.
    >Atheists tend to be people who consider themselves relatively more
    >intellectual. People of faith tend to think of themselves as more
    >disciplined and moral. Accomplished businesspeople are more cunning and
    >industrious in their own eyes. People who become teachers were usually good
    >students. In a sense, those are all cults.

    While it is true that the same reward mechanism that turns people into cult zombies works to reward (motivate) people in ordinary life situations, I would reserve "cult" for the extreme cases.

    >People value what they are good at and look for organizations and ideologies
    >where those talents lead to dominant positions. Academics or Amway, there
    >isn't a difference.

    Yep. Attention is the common factor. And we are sensitive to attention because it is indicative of our social status--and for more than a million years your chances of becoming an ancestor were strongly affected by your social status (esp. for males).

    >When thinking about organizations it's easy to focus on the structure and
    >not the individuals. Except in circumstances of almost complete isolation
    >(the Amish come to mind) most modern people have many options. We can think
    >about how an organization entices and how it treats it's members once they
    >are within. But, a more interesting question might be: what type of person
    >would join a "cult" anyway?

    "Gullible" is one word that comes to mind. Also those highly rewarded by attention or those very sensitive to the chemicals the brain releases when a person is the object of focused attention.

    >How do you decide what groups to be a member of? I think most people watch
    >what happens to the people around them. If your father was a minister then
    >you'll probably be faithful. It might be because you were indoctrinated.
    >But, it might be because you were the child of a person of high status (and
    >thus high status yourself) within the organization. If your mother was a
    >professor at MIT and your father a Doctor teaching at Harvard Med then you
    >might be desperate to do well in school because you have been inculcated
    >with the proper values. Or, it could be status seeking inside a familiar

    Both I would say are factors.

    >In blighted areas of America's cities it's hard to convince black children
    >that excelling school is better than drug dealing and gangs.

    Especially when you consider that money is only a part of the equation. As a ghetto child, you are not likely to get attention/recognition/status from doing well in school, to at least from the members of the 'hood.

    >Members of the
    >community find few examples of successful graduates. It might be because
    >those people have the wrong values. Or, they might have the right ones, at
    >least the ones we all share.

    True. Virtually everyone is wired up by evolution to find attention rewarding.

    >So, what kind of person joins a cult? Who would sell all their possessions,
    >leave friends and family, and focus all their energy into an organization
    >with a nonexistent or questionable track record? Several incidents of
    >sexual abuse and cover-ups have lead many Catholics to question or even
    >abandon a faith with two thousand years of history in which they were
    >probably raised from birth. A bad season could result in attendance at
    >local sporting events dropping by half or more. Most people seem relatively
    >assiduous in choosing organizations in which they can feel like winners and
    >avoiding the opposite.

    Simple chemical rewards.

    >Why do people make these decisions which, from the outside, seem so
    >obviously self destructive?

    The exact same thing can be said for taking up chemical rewarding substances from heroin to cigarettes.

    >I propose that focusing on the individual psychology might be enlightening.
    >For instance, I hypothesize that people joining cults feel estranged from
    >their families (whatever the members of the families may claim). They have
    >few or no close long term relationships with friends or lovers and no circle
    >of friends. They weren't fraternity members and probably don't play poker
    >with the guys every weekend. They may have recently moved to a new city.
    >Their work doesn't interest them and they don't feel involved in their
    >church (even though they might go through the motions in each). In short
    >they are isolated from the stable organizations that most people devote
    >their energy to.

    Good suggestions for research. There are enough life stories posted on alt.religion.scientology alone to do a substantial study. I suspect, however, that genes are a major factor.

    >Under such circumstances joining an unknown organization might seem
    >relatively advantageous.
    >In times of instability when old institutions falter membership in new
    >organizations should see an increase.

    That was certainly the story of the Nazi party.

    Keith Henson

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