Re: Absolutist memes

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun 31 Oct 2004 - 02:50:04 GMT

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    At 02:04 PM 29/10/04 -0600, Keo wrote:


    >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).

    That's not at all my position.

    My point is that the increasing circulation of xenophobic memes (in this particular example called "absolutist") during times of "looming privation" or related ecologically based psychological stress on a population is a mechanism to *induce* attacks, not one for survival against attack.

    >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.

    According to modern evolutionary theory, it is the *genes* rather than a population that get selected.

    If the future is seen as so bleak that none of your children are likely to survive, then even a suicidal attack on a neighboring tribe makes sense for your *genes* since most of the time the tribe's female children will be incorporated into the tribe you attacked (and wiped out your tribe in response). This might be rational for your *genes* but it isn't what we normally call "rational." Thus the claim that getting into "war mode" makes you stupid (or at least seriously interferes with what we call rational thinking).

    > 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.

    I don't know that xenophobic memes exactly fit "fear memes." Hate memes would be closer.

    >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.

    I agree partly. There just isn't enough information in the genes to code for very many specific, environment switched memetic susceptibilities. I think war-inducing (xenophobic) memes are an exception since for hunter gatherers facing hard times there were few other options and it made such a difference in the survival of your genes.

    "Rational" would just be the situation when war mode is switched off by ecological good times.

    Keith Henson

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