Re: meme as catalytic indexical

From: Dace (
Date: Sat 24 Jan 2004 - 19:38:21 GMT

  • Next message: Dace: "Re: meme as catalytic indexical"

    > From: Ray Recchia <>
    > At 05:07 PM 1/23/2004, Ted wrote:
    > >Indeed, this is exactly what we find in the historical record. We see a
    > >great many examples of cultural trends that take on a life of their own,
    > >that refuse to die even after the social context in which they once made
    > >sense have disappeared. Barbara Ehrenreich provides an excellent example
    > >this phenomenon from the late Paleolithic. Up until the end of the last
    > >Age, humans were commonly preyed upon by wild animals, especially the big
    > >cats. We developed weapons with which to fight and kill these beasts.
    > >when their populations were decimated at the end of the Ice Age, along
    > >the great herd populations they mostly fed on, instead of putting down
    > >weapons, we began wielding them against each other. The battle mentality
    > >took on a life of its own. Ehrenreich's thesis can be tested against the
    > >historical record. Indeed, the evidence for warfare goes back about
    > >years, to the end of the Ice Age, where it abruptly leaves off. She
    > >describes war as a meme that was unleashed 12,000 years ago and has
    > >successfully adapted to changing conditions ever since.
    > >
    > This is the perfect example of how something can be disproved
    > historically. Barbara Ehrenreich's hypothesis - War is a meme that first
    > began propagating in humans 12,000 years ago.
    > The proof that this is incorrect: chimpanzee wars
    > fwar07.xml
    > Ray Recchia


    That chimps are known to engage in war doesn't mean it's in our genes or that it was present in human evolution all the way back to our primate roots. With the onset of hominids, social structure radically changed, and war almost certainly disappeared. Homo ergaster, for instance, exhibited roughly the same size between male and female. This is a radical departure from chimpanzee societies, which are organized around the jockeying for power among males and the ultimate political and reproductive dominance of the alpha male. It's the alpha male who leads the charge in war. No alpha male, no war. The emergence of patriarchy and war in human society at approximately 12,000 BP is thus an atavism, much like a baby born with a tail. That the 20th century witnessed such a widespread, popular backlash against both patriarchy and war is testament to the fact that these institutions are not natural to us. They appeared relatively recently in our history and therefore demand a cultural rather than biological explanation. Ehrenreich finds nothing in standard social or cultural analysis that can account for this development. Only the memetic model provides a possible explanation.

    Professor Wrangham, cited in the Telegraph article, ignores the fact that the evidence for human war goes back only 12,000 years, beyond which there is simply nothing. He also ignores the distinction, emphasized by Ehrenreich, between ordinary violence and the organized, mass violence known as war. While males are certainly given to fighting, we are not innately predisposed to war. That it's okay to randomly kill total strangers has to be literally *drilled* into our minds during months of *dehumanizing* training. Even after all that, many soldiers simply refuse to kill. Doesn't sound like something that's natural to us.


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