Memetic trapping was "Excerpts . . ."

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Tue 17 Jun 2003 - 05:45:24 GMT

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    At 10:07 PM 16/06/03 -0500, Joe wrote:
    >"XXXXX will exist and will continue to exist until YYYYY will
    >obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it."

    I think I may have another and less contentious example of memetic trapping, i.e., when two groups are at each others throats and seem to have no way to disengage short of one group (or both groups) going extinct.

    I just finished reading Prehistoric Warfare in the American Southwest by Steven A. LeBlanc. There is a decent summary of the book here:

    In short, the population of corn farmers in the American Southwest built up over a long period of good weather. When the weather turned cold and dryer, there were shortages. Groups took to raiding each other. In defense they built large fortified towns, but in doing so, they had to abandon a high fraction of their farmland, making their resource crisis much worse.

    Of the 27 rapidly built, fortified, mutually supporting clusters of pueblos on the Colorado Plateau, 24 of them failed. Only the Hopi, Zuni and Acoma were left after a generation or two--and these had large distances between them. Bad as the weather was for these people, the memes about how to "get along" with neighbors and how to protect themselves from the same neighbors resulted in a more-than-weather caused massive population shrinkage, perhaps as high a percentage as what happened to the Easter Island inhabitants before they were contacted. (It is fairly clear that Easter Island was headed below the minimum interbreeding population size for long term viability.)

    (Read all the way to the bottom for the memorable "inflammatory taunt that suggests a time of cannibalism 'the flesh of your mother sticks between my teeth'!")

    It might be less contentious for this mailing list to consider (from our hundreds of years of accumulated knowledge over what these people had) if a
    "better" set of memes could have made a difference? If we can come up with a better solution than cannibalism (and some way to impose it) there might be a current application in the mid east.

    For that matter, we might need good solutions (memes) ourselves. A year or two of major crop failures in a "Globalized" world and we will all start to get very hungry.

    Keith Henson

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