RE: Meme-strongholds

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Wed 10 Sep 2003 - 00:06:17 GMT

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    At 06:19 PM 08/09/03 -0700, you wrote:
    >A memetic stronghold is essentially, the ruling class in an emerging or
    >existing complex society. In a feudal society, for example, the
    >meme-stronghold would be the feudal lords and those individuals who are
    >directly engaged in spreading the memes contained within the meme
    >stronghold. Obviously memes upholding the power and material wealth of
    >the feudal lords would be a clear candidate for a memes that would
    >perpetuate themselves by spreading from the security of the stronghold.

    I am not sure you need a concept like memetics to account for a ruling class. If you did, it would have to include the whole supporting information package, particularly military memes, that is passed on to the new generation plus such meta rules as primogeniture.

    Being engineering oriented, I tend to think of mutually supporting technologies based on wood, leather and iron which, grew out of the previous bronze age technologies. There is a remarkably smooth technology transition from the dawn of the industrial age to the present. It is fascinating to trace for those who have an interest in technology history.

    >As for a priesthood, there are good reasons why a meme existing within a
    >priest class that was also a meme stronghold would not be subject to the
    >same selective forces. Examples of these reasons are that priest classes
    >often derived material benefit from the memes that they themselves
    >spread. Priest's would have often been the ones who were able to write,
    >to stand in front of their congregations and preach, and to spend more
    >time than say, someone subsisting on agricultural labour, communicating
    >inside their class and providing a richer environment for the evolution
    >of newer, stronger memes.

    If you have not already read it, I highly recommend Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained. It lays out the mechanisms for religious memes.

    >I guess the basic thing that I found interesting about the idea of
    >meme-strongholds, (and more generally the application of memetics to the
    >problem of why complex societies emerged at all and why they have the
    >features they do), is that previous theories used to explain the
    >emergence of civilization have tried to justify it on a largely material
    >basis. As in, what material benefit did all or some of the members of
    >the society derive from increased complexity and features such as
    >monumental architecture, agriculture, writing, etc. But from a memetic
    >perspective, these things don't have to be explained materially, the
    >benefit of these things to the reproduction of memes seems really clear
    >to me. Some examples of the direct benefits of the defining features of
    >complex society to competitive memes: agriculture - increased population
    >density resulting in increased horizontal transmission, writing - a
    >robust for memes to reproduce and travel, monumental architecture -
    >almost always symbolic of power or a particular memeplex, increased
    >trade - increased spread of memes, development of a class system - a
    >class that can be used as a robust meme-stronghold.

    It is certainly true that ascendant cultures tended to mash local cultures
    (meme sets). The most spectacular is of course western culture, poorly defined and inclusive as it is.

    >And one of the consequences of the memes being the driving force behind
    >the development of meme-strongholds and complex societies, is that it is
    >irrelevant whether or not individuals survive or reproduce, as long as
    >their lives is some way strengthen the meme stronghold or encourage
    >transmission of the meme. Martyrdom would be an obvious symptom of this,
    >an example of a person losing their life to fortify the meme-stronghold.

    Memes are deeply connected with wars and related social upheavals. I have made the case recently that xenophobic memes thrive during times of looming privation and thus are in the causal chain leading to wars--and that this mechanism is the result of adaption of the evolutionary psychology kind.

    An old article with somewhat of the flavor of what you are talking about is here

    Keith Henson


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