Re: Absolutist memes

From: Keo Ormsby (
Date: Fri 29 Oct 2004 - 20:04:02 GMT

  • Next message: Paul: "RE: Absolutist memes"

    > At 12:07 PM 26/10/04 -0700, Ted wrote:


    > >Avnery asserts that most settlers did not begin as fanatics but only

    > >developed an absolutist stance as a result of their situation. Only a

    > >minority of settlers, the "hard core," began as fanatics and remain to

    > >day totally open about their beliefs. The implication, from a memetics

    > >point of view, is that absolutist memes are more powerful than

    > >memes.


    > I make the case that which class of memes dominates is dependent on the

    > situation. A stressed population facing a bleak future is going to have a

    > high gain setting for infecting those not caught up with xenophobic or in

    > this case "absolutist" memes. Rationalist memes will prevail in

    > of lower stress/worry. This selective meme mechanism has the function of

    > synchronizing a tribe's warriors to the ultimate effort to do or die in an

    > attack on a neighboring tribe. (Irrespective of which side won, the

    > gatherer population was thinned out.)


    > Keith Henson

    I completely agree that it is the situation or context that determines if an absolutist or rationalistic meme will prevail. Even in the original piece, Averny says that "As Karl Marx observed, people's consciousness is determined by their situation". However, the interpretation that absolutist memes appear in stressed/worried populations as an inherited mechanism in order to enhance the chances of its survival against attack, is, in my view, standing too heavily on the assumption that a meme's frequency in a population is a function of the ability of that meme to increase the survival of the population. This is a debatable position (and has been debated on this list).

    An alternate interpretation is to use the meme ecology by itself, and analyze the strategies that absolutist and rationalist memes are using. Both memes have to have some component that make them "appealing" to the established meme ecology. If not, neither would be there in the first place. One could speculate that they both offer to "solve" the settlement problem. A rationalistic meme is probably more apt to "fit in" the established meme ecology, by trying to be compelling (or whatever rationalistic memes use). The absolutist meme tries to barge in the ecology, by threatening (i.e. activating fear memes) by saying that not replicating it leads to disaster. The result is that rationalistic memes tend to adapt themselves (replicate with more variation over time) to the prevailing ecology, but absolutist tend to replicate in an "all or nothing" manner (less variation). If fear memes are scarce in a given ecology, the rationalistic memes will be more likely to flourish, and if fear memes are active (more influential on the overall ecology), absolutist memes can flourish.

    The point I want to make, is that this interpretation does not say anything about whether a population with absolutist memes will have a better survival rate than another with rationalistic memes, or vice versa. It might, but it would be a side effect. Perhaps one can suppose that fear memes in general populate a special ancestral (i.e. genetic) place in our psychology, that make them important for biological survival. That would account for Keith's keen observation that absolutist memes appear in stressed/worried populations, but I do not think it is necessary to assign a biologically relevant selective pressure, or a specialized inherited psychological process to each and every kind of meme (absolutist, rationalistic, religious, etc.) It sounds a little phrenological to me.

    Keo Ormsby.

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