Re: Memetic trapping and wars.

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sat 28 Jun 2003 - 16:31:16 GMT

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    At 10:17 AM 28/06/03 -0400, you wrote:
    >At 10:03 AM 6/28/2003 -0400, you wrote:
    >>At 11:01 AM 27/06/03 -0400, Keith wrote:
    >>I am slightly amused by the dynamics of mailing lists. There are an
    >>amazing number of posts about matters that are non substantive or mainly
    >>driven by personality clashes. Then someone proposes to tie memetics,
    >>evolutionary psychology and economic privation due to population growth
    >>and/or climate change into a model for why wars occur and there is not a
    >>*single* comment. Nobody even makes the obvious application to the
    >>current situation in the Mid East.
    >>Maybe everyone went on vacation.
    >>Keith Henson
    >>>Since a group has to be synchronized into attacks, the mechanism where
    >>>privation leads to war is likely based on an evolved psychological trait
    >>>where xenophobic memes dehumanizing a nearby tribe propagate
    >>>well. Privation adjusts the gain setting on memetic propagation if you
    >>>will. Memes, being epidemic (exponential) in growth curves, respond in
    >>>very nonlinear ways to gain settings.
    >>>I think "memetic trapping" might describe such positive feedback
    >>>situations. Privation turns up the gain on xenophobic meme propagation,
    >>>which induces conflict, the conflict makes privation worse, keeping the
    >>>psychological mechanisms jammed on that strengthens the xenophobic memes
    >>>that in turn drive the war. There are lots of modern examples.
    >Was there a war in the middle east because of privation?

    I would say all of them. Privation in a tribe maps into falling income per capita in the modern world. It would take a mess of research, bet you that every war in the middle east has happened after a period of falling income per capita by at least one of the parties, usually the one that starts the war.

    (In the mid east, falling income per capita has driven by small productivity growth and expanding populations.)

    >Was the American Revolution due to privation?

    The lead up to the war was largely driven by economic issues.

    >Was the American Civil War about privation?

    I think so in both cases, at least there was relatively falling income per capita in the south. Remember this was when farmland "wore out" and could no longer produce crops. The economic base for the south was highly dependent on agriculture, and that, of course, depended on slaves.

    >When would your model predict that wars do not happen?

    Wars should not be started by places with rising income per capita. (Can you think of exceptions?) They may be attacked, and they may lash out at the wrong targets, but the model would indicate that rising income per capita (generally people don't sense privation) should inhibit the tendency for xenophobic memes to spread and induce war.

    I might add that the evolved psychological reaction is (like many other reactions) likely probably tripped by relative privation and rates of change. People who have been making a million a year think a cut to half of that is a disaster even though they are not likely to starve.

    A seeming exception would be the lack of a war at the time of the Irish potato famine. The first order model would predict one, but I think there is a delay factor while xenophobic memes build up, which could take a year or more. The famine hit too fast, not only destroying crops in the fields, but wiping out the stored potatoes. There just wasn't time for the Irish to revolt before they were in horrible shape, but it should be noted that they did revolt later.

    Keith Henson

    >Ray Recchia
    >This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    >Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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