Memetic engineers and leaders.

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Fri 12 Dec 2003 - 03:11:31 GMT

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    Ted Dace makes the comment that memetics is not making progress as a study.

    That's both true and not true. If you look into anthropology, sociology, ecology and psychology department listings memetics gets covered in a lot of upper division university courses.

    Ted's right though that memetic engineering is not taught, or rather it
    *is* taught as an empirical subject with poor or no scientific base in courses such as public relations and advertising.

    This state of affairs is not unprecedented. Animal and plant breeding was a subject in agriculture schools for at least a hundred years before the genetic basis of breeding was understood. It was 4-5 decades after Watson and Crick before plant and animal breeding programs became "genetic engineering."

    Now the practitioners are able to use the scientific knowledge about DNA and a mess of tools developed for science to splice in the genes they want. Even at that, the majority of animal and plant breeding was done before people understood what they were doing all the way down to base pairs.

    By analogy, most of what is known about influencing people (via memes) comes from pre memetics days. I think a strong case can be made that any powerful leader(ship) has the same kind of gut feel about what they are doing that a breeder did about what *he* was doing a hundred years ago.

    The whole URL at is worth reading. Here is the last part. It provides an interesting historical example of a "pre memetic" meme breeder.
    ********************* The quote offered above was part of a conversation Gilbert held with a dejected Hermann Goering in his cell on the evening of 18 April 1946, as the trials were halted for a three-day Easter recess:"


    Later in the conversation, Gilbert recorded Goering's observations that the common people can always be manipulated into supporting and fighting wars by their political leaders:

    We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.

    "Why, of course, the *people* don't want war," Goering shrugged. "Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the *leaders* of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."

    "There is one difference," I pointed out. "In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars."

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    I want to correct Goering observations in two respects. First, leaders and population alike are responding to preconditions to wars, primarily a substantial period of looming or actual decline in per capita income. Human genes were selected for well over a million years for analogies of this condition to induce warfare between neighboring tribes
    (via increased circulation of xenophobic memes). From the gene's viewpoint the common outcomes of wars between small tribes are better than starvation for winners *and* losers.

    Second, a population without looming privation is almost impossible to get to support a war, *unless* they have been attacked. The leadership of the US, particularly FDR, wanted the country to enter the war against Germany for years but did not have the support for it until Pearl Harbor.

    This too comes directly out of obvious evolutionary psychology/gene selection models. It might be noted in analogy to more recent events that the US didn't put maximum effort into Japan first, but went after Japan's ally Germany. (I.e., once you have an attacked people supporting a war, minimal manipulation can get their support to fight anyone.)

    Both of these EP based mechanisms on who starts wars and who fights back should be subject to verification in the historical record.

    Keith Henson

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