Re: No Subject (Memes/War)

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Fri 28 Nov 2003 - 02:50:16 GMT

  • Next message: "Don't be too sure it's over yet, Keith"

    At 09:03 AM 27/11/03 +0000, you wrote:
    >Keith: Unfortunately it only takes one society with a
    >falling income per capita to attack a neighbor and
    >when *that* happens, the attacked group has a well
    >evolved mechanism to fight back and crush the
    >attackers. (And even to lash out at third parties who
    >were not your
    > attacker but just looked a bit like the ones that
    >attacked you.)
    >Joe: Yep; that's why jihadis are journeying from all
    >over the Ummah .... etc
    >Derek: Come on, Joe, cool it. You've got Keith
    >back-to-front. The nation with the falling per capita
    >income is Saudi Arabia, as is made clear in Aaron's
    >recent article (What am I doing? recommending people
    >read Aaron? urgent need coffee......) The nation
    >doing the crushing is obviously the USA. The third
    >party is obviously Iraq. Nobody is suggsting America
    >will be crushed. I'm sure Keith is not making the
    >point you seem to think he is making, but rather the
    >opposite point.

    Correct--though we didn't evolve with nations, only tribes. Thus you have to kind of guess how the people in a nation, or a whole bunch of them (like the peoples of the Islamic world) will react to falling income per capita
    (which is *already* mapped from a hunter-gatherer tribal situation of the game and berries getting scarce). Saudi Arabia is not the only problem, I don't believe there is stable or rising income per capita in any but a few of smaller Islamic-Arab countries, and I think every one of those is from resource extraction. (Not sure about this though.) The response probably isn't anything close to deterministic either, likely depending on the particular memes already circulating *and* the people who obtain "war chief" status. (i.e., Ben Ladin and Co.)

    I really should not open this up due to a local limit on topics, but it does directly relate to memes, particularly the "drivers" behind the xenophobic memes that are part of the mechanisms that lead to wars. I want to point out to those who follow up (and the moderator) that the particular memes of the mid east are not of concern here, though we can, of course, use particular memes as examples to illustrate more general points--such as what is happening in Turkey and why German tolerance is causing them problems. [note 4]

    To analyze, the reaction of the US "tribe" in supporting a war against Ben Ladin's "tribe" was an example of an attacked strong tribe clobbering a weaker one that attacked them [note 3]. Ben Ladin's "tribe" (even counting the Taliban) was too small to burn off the psychological "energy" that was raised in the attacked US "tribe." [note 1] The left over went into
    "finishing" the legacy of an incomplete war from the days of the father of the present US "tribe leader." Much as I might like to simplify and put all the blame on him, I can't. There was support for the Iraq war from a wide population base and large circle of US tribal leaders. (Of course, some of the support was due to propaganda of wishful thinking or perhaps outright lies.)

    Even though the US walked over the Iraqi army, it *was* a big enough war to fairly well get the population here satisfied that we had made up for the 9/11 attack. Even if we were clobbering a "tribe" who had virtually nothing to do with 9/11 at least they spoke the same language.

    Now we apply the psychological "reaction to being attacked" *again* and low and behold, the US is having the devils own time with resentful Iraqis. Saddam may be a sadistic son of a bitch, but nobody stole the utility pipes and lines when he was in power!

    Times really have changed because what the genes of Bin Ladin were
    "expecting" (if he lost) was for him and all of his male relatives to be put to death and his sisters and daughters to be absorbed into the tribe he had attacked (which for genes beats the heck out of starving). But is just isn't politically correct to deal with enemy tribes today the way they did in biblical times. [note 2]

    I think this material is strange to us moderns simply because we are so far in psychological distance from living in tribes. Places where tribes are in living memory or still important might have an easier time understanding these obvious aspects of evolutionary psychology.

    Keith Henson

    [note 1] The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor did the trick on getting the US "tribe" into WWII. But Germany, not Japan, bore the brunt of the counter reaction at first. WWII was plenty big enough to use up the psychological energy from being attacked.

    [note2] Num. 31:1] "And the Lord said unto Moses, "Avenge the children of the Mid'-an'ites.. They warred against the Mid'-i-an'ites, as the Lord commanded Moses, and they slay all the males. And they took all women as captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods. And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire. Moses said,
    "Have you saved all the women alive? Now kill every male among the little ones and kill every woman that has known a man by lying with him, but all the young girls who have not known a man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves."

    The Old Testament provides a remarkable set of historical examples of how things were in tribes when war was a major element of population control.

    [note 3] Amplifying xenophobic memes is a step in the causal chain leading to wars. After 9/11 there were a number of cases where xenophobia attacks and killings occurred, often against people who were not even Arab, but had features such as darker skin that the attackers identified as making them part of the "attacking tribe."

    [note 4] Re Turkey, from my 1987 memetics article in Analog:

          A successful theory of the development of social movements will have to provide a unifying theory for events that make up much of the evening news. It will have to discover common features that lie behind the diverse trends causing problems in Nicaragua, South Africa, Northern Ireland, and the Middle East. [snip] The theory should be able to predict the conditions under which Turkey will be subverted by a fundamentalist version of Islam similar to that which led to so much grief in Iran.

          A tall order! But an emerging field of study, _memetics_, holds just such promise. Sometimes thought of as "germ theory applied to ideas," memetics is an outgrowth of evolutionary biology. It provides models where social movements are seen as side effects of infectious ideas that spread among people in a way mathematically identical to the way epidemic disease spreads. [snip] At a deeper level, research in neuroscience and artificial intelligence is starting to develop an understanding of why we are susceptible to
    "infectious information," both the benign and the deadly.

          As useful as these models may be, they are not without the potential to seriously affect our cherished institutions. A good understanding of the mechanisms of our minds and the dynamics that underlie the spread and persistence of *any* social or political movement has the potential to forever alter the way we think about all other social movements, including those of our own culture, religions, and nation. When viewed from the perspective of tolerance that has been developing in Western culture since the Renaissance, the changes in outlook seem to be positive, but it would not surprise me to find memetics condemned from the pulpit even more than evolution has been.

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