Date: Wed 26 Nov 2003 - 18:46:35 GMT
Here's a paper I've been working on, it's obviously incredibly rough, and honestly not all that original. I think however it's got a few original ideas that are worth noting. Any comments?
As long as the concept of evolution has existed people have debated, whether certain phenomenon are a product of culture, or of or genes. The nature vs. nurture debate has raged on for many years. Specific attention has been given to controversial issues such as the origins of war. Through the evolutionary model of culture, we can shed some light on this issue, and discover that in regards to the origins of war, as with any phenomenon, or behaviour is a complex combination of nature and nurture.
Before rapid transfer of information meme’s spread relatively slowly, with little meme transfer between isolated groups. Within a community there would be a large amount of meme transfer, groups of successful memes would tend to spread throughout an isolated group. The interest of the meme’s, (as Blackmore points out in her book, “The Meme Machine”) were primarily the genes, but with one fundamental difference (which Blackmore and other memeticists tend to overlook). The meme’s are interested only in the survival of the group, they are not interested in individuals, this causes a marked conflict between the interest of the selfish gene’s. This is true because a gene can only spread one generation at a time, and meme’s can spread across an entire population within one generation. There are a variety of mechanisms by which this is done. First lets conduct a thought experiment from the traditional standpoint, and than analyse it to show where exactly this perspective is flawed. If we ima
gine a mutant meme arising in some individual member of a community, that said sacrifice as much of your well being as you can for the good of your group, it would likely suffer the same fate as a mutant Gene of the same sort, because changes in a memeplex tend to be transferred down generational lines, along with genes. Individual changes in the overall structure of a belief can evolve, and be passed down generational lines, such changes are subject to the same limitations that mutant selfish genes are subject to. This is the point made by Ben Cullen in his paper, “Parasite Ecology and the Evolution of Religion” his abstract says it all,
“It is argued that the blanket view of religion as a disease, advocated by Dawkins, is inconsistent with the principles of parasite ecology. These principles state that vertically transmitted parasites evolve towards benign, symbiotic states, while horizontally transmitted parasites increase their virulence. Most of the world's established religions are transmitted vertically, from parents to children, and are therefore expected to be benign towards their hosts.”
I agree with his conclusions, if we take a simplified view of the memetic relationship to genetic evolution. Once we take a closer look at the mechanisms of memetic transmission, and how they exploit the static nature of the human genome, we see that in fact the interest of the memes, effectively lies in the group and not in the individual. The first thing we need to look at is the status of social structures, before memes arose. Memes are not necessary for hierarchal structures. A group can have a leader, or an Alpha-Male if you prefer, without any sort of culture or society. We see this sort of behaviour in just about all kinds of social animals. Blackmore makes an important point in “The Meme Machine,” about the development of altruism. She says that individuals will tend to imitate the successful, the successful being the highest ranking member of a group. The existence of leader’s can than be exploited by meme’s, in order to increase coherency of idea’s across a group. This however
is not the full picture, on it’s own it is not enough to explain how the idea of altruistic behaviour would spread throughout a group. Human beings are complex creatures, and such a simplistic view of a behaviour, especially one which goes against basic human instinct (as seen through selfish gene theory) can not spread just because a leader possess a certain idea. This difficulty comes from a lack of understanding about the mechanisms used by meme’s. They survive within the biological vessels created by our genes, their development, and mechanisms of transmission are inextricably tied to our genes.
Let us not forget, that according to selfish gene theory, each and everyone of us already contains a set of genes that have to do with altruistic behaviour. It is in our genetic interest to behave in an altruistic manner towards family members. It is much easier for meme’s to slightly distort the phenotypic effect of these already existent genes, than it is to completely rearrange human patterns of behaviour. This is exactly what religion meme’s tend to do. A meme that said roughly, “all members of the community are brothers” is very simple, and with the help of a status holding meme spreader, could spread throughout an isolated population in no time at all.
Memes us all sorts of mechanisms to promote homogeneity of idea’s within groups. Idea’s that tend to benefit the group holding them, will tend to do better than those that do not, because memes, are in fact linked to the genetic success of the group. Memes, which are able to create coherent groups, will spread faster than those that do not. Dehumanisation of outsider’s, rewarding conformists, and punishing dissenters, are common practice within many ideologies and religions. These all serve as mechanisms, for promoting homogeneity within a group. The demonazation of outsiders is useful, both in protecting the group from outside idea’s and in the exploatation of that group, in modern times through economic means, in the past through organized raids. This finally brings us to the central point of this paper, what are the origins of war?
Who benefits from war? Surely it is not the individuals engaging in it. The individuals are placing themselves at great risk often times with no direct stake in the conflict. War is in the interest of the group, as opposed to the interest of the individual. We’ve already seen that the memes are a force in the direction of group interest over individual interest, so I suggest that we look towards memes for the answer. First we must establish that war is in fact in the interest of our meme’s. Groups benefit from war, in that they establish trading posts, explore land, exchange technologies, and of course reap the spoils. Idea’s benefit from the success of the group holding the idea, so in this simple way war is in the interest of memes. However in addition war, is often used as a mechanism for spreading ideologies, a prime example being the crusades. Why than do individuals engage in war? A different way to ask this question, is what mechanism do meme’s use in order to get individuals to engage in war. Margreat Meade presents two very interesting idea’s in her paper Warfare Is Only and Invention – Not a Biological Necessity, first she says first she says, “Some Anthropologists… claim that the capacity for warfare developed along with adaptations for hunting large game.” (I will return to this point in due course) and second she points out that, “In many parts of the world, war is a game in which the individual can win counters – counters which bring him prestige in the eyes of his own sex or the opposite sex,” and later on, “The tie-up between proving oneself a man and proving this by a success in organized killing is due to a definition which societies have made of manliness.” This is a valid point, and provides a genetic reason for men to go to war. However, it is important to note that this is merely, ‘a definition’ a so cietal construct, there is nothing fundamentally more attractive about a man that has engaged in war, over a man who has not. In fact I would argue just the opposite, men who have engaged in war are if anything less fit to rear healthy children. Just look at the number of disorders which war ends up causing. Posttraumatic stress syndrome, aggression problems, and lack of empathy, just to name a few. Why than do societies find men who engage in war more attractive than those that do not? Whenever there is a societal construct, a fundamental distortion in the way we perceive the world, it serves us well to look towards memes for the answer. Let us just accept for the moment that war is in the interest of our memes, this would provide a reasonably explanation for the societal construct of associating war with manliness. Let us return for a moment to the point about warfare developing along with adaptations for hunting large game. Again if we accept that war is in the interest of or meme’s this can ea sily be seen as a distortion of the phenotypic effect of an already existent set of genes. Meade, presents use with an extension of this idea, and a clue into the mechanisms that allowed it to evolve, “A widespread tendency to dehumanise members of other tribes often using literally animalising terms to describe strangers and enemies. War-making is also typically associated with an array of rituals, with the enhancement of group cohesion, as well as with ritual purification connected with the taking of human life.” Dehumanisation of outsiders allows for the subversion of group hunting genes. Individuals engage in war, in the name of ideologies, religion is the greatest single cause of war. They engage in war, because they see it as being a write of passage, a way to become a real man. Finally they engage in war, in order to reap the benefits of being a devout follower to the ideology or group in which they are waging war in the name of.
We have observed how cultural evolution and genetic evolution are inextricably tied. We have seen how culture can distort the phenotypic effect of our genes, and how or culture can drive the very direction which evolution takes. We have also seen, how the strategies employed by culture, are a direct consequence of or genetic makeup.
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Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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