Re: Memes For Peace

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun 09 Mar 2003 - 15:21:45 GMT

  • Next message: Bryan Thompson: "Re: Memes For Peace"

    At 09:53 PM 09/03/03 +1100, Bruce Howlett wrote:

    (Thoughtful posting, hope you don't mind my commenting on it.)

    >While I tend to agree with Joe on the humanitarian aspect of the Iraq
    >situation, there are other issues implicit in the wording of Bryan's post
    >which cause concern. The least not being the concept of "memetic
    >engineering", which I think is an oxymoron.

    So far, perhaps. But in analogy to the other two similar classes, computer viruses and genetics, I think we will get memetic engineering just like we have genetic engineering and "designer" computer viruses. Both depend on understanding the environment of the replicators involved.

    >Even the opposing forces within the memetics definition debate agree that
    >a meme is a cultural unit.

    Heh, I wish.

    >Is not culture the conglomerate of inherited ideas, beliefs, values and

    I have said similar things in my articles on the subject. Values I might quibble about. It is true that we learn values to some extent, but I think some are wired in and not learned.

    >Have not all attempts to overtly "engineer" culture failed?

    While I certainly agree that a lot of such attempts have failed or even backfired, your statement could be falsified by one example. As a counter example of overt cultural engineering, consider compulsory primary education. As a measure of it failing, list the places where it is required and where it is not, then compare the literacy rates for those places.

    Another example might be the legal enforcement of racial discrimination in the US and the opposite post WW II.

    >I think what Bryan is contemplating is more correctly termed a cult - a
    >quasi-religious organisation using psychological techniques to gain and
    >control adherents.

    Might be, though I don't completely follow your thinking. Could you expand on this point?

    >While memetics is seductive by its ability to provide insight into the
    >illogical and normally inexplicable aspects of human behaviour, it is not
    >a manipulative tool.

    Not exactly, though *any* model may be used to effectively manipulate. As an example, take the models people used to figure how far an artillery shell would go. These models had no effect on the shell after it left the barrel, but they provided knowledge used to point the gun which *did* effect where the shell landed.

    If you had good memetic models, you could feed memes into them and reject memes that don't accomplish what is desired. Ghod knows governments could use such models.

    >Even the advertising spin doctors can only hope that their carefully
    >crafted images and words may produce a memetic event.

    I see advertising and PR as analogous to animal and plant breeding before we had knowledge of what was really going on. Memetic related theory just hasn't been applied to advertising and PR yet.

    >The most useful tool for understanding current world situation is systems
    >theory relating to competition and cooperation. So who gains and who
    >loses? Why are the French and German leaders so opposed to the Americans
    >intervening? What about Korea? Do you really think that this is just
    >about "weapons-of-mass-destruction"? As usual it is about economics, but
    >that does not mean there are any simple answers.

    Good thinking tools to be sure, but I think you are missing human nature, i.e., that we are social primates with millions of years of evolution pointed to successful reproduction in small tribes. Among the things that drive people is far more than they appreciate is social status. And while status can be a non-zero sum game, it is more often treated as zero sum. If there is an area of study that will help understand human motivations it is evolutionary psychology.

    "The goal of research in evolutionary psychology is to discover and understand the design of the human mind. Evolutionary psychology is an approach to psychology, in which knowledge and principles from evolutionary biology are put to use in research on the structure of the human mind. It is not an area of study, like vision, reasoning, or social behavior. It is a way of thinking about psychology that can be applied to any topic within it.

    "In this view, the mind is a set of information-processing machines that were designed by natural selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors. This way of thinking about the brain, mind, and behavior is changing how scientists approach old topics, and opening up new ones. This chapter is a primer on the concepts and arguments that animate it."

    >"Peace" is a convenient concept for those of us on the inside of a
    >comfortable western lifestyle that gives us a reasonable amount of free
    >choice, but even that depends on how wealthy you are.

    True. And standing up for various human rights is not a way to a peaceful life. (Put my name in Google to see why I can say this.)

    >Bryan, I think you deal mainly in the realm of paranoia. The give-away is
    >the tag line in your signature block, "Government secrets/biological
    >weapons/human subjects". I don't think you will get much support from the
    >users of this list.

    >Bryan Thompson
    >Living Proof - Berkley paperback - March 2003
    >Government secrets/biological weapons/human subjects

    I don't understand Bryan's relation to Peter (if any) but this is an ad for a novel.

    Keith Henson

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