Re: Absolutist memes

From: Dace (
Date: Sun 31 Oct 2004 - 21:34:06 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: Absolutist memes"

    > From: Keith Henson <>
    > At 12:07 PM 26/10/04 -0700, Ted wrote:
    > >According to Israeli journalist Uri Avnery, Jewish fanaticism has
    > >such a fever pitch that the country is now obsessed with the possibility
    > >civil war. The fanatical Jews, no different in principle from fanatical
    > >Christians or Muslims, want to abolish democratic institutions and turn
    > >Israel into a fundamentalist state. The fanaticism is most prevalent
    > >Israelis who have illegally settled on Palestinian land.
    > >
    > >
    > >
    > >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.
    > 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.

    Yet Israelis are a very prosperous and comfortable people, including those in the Occupied Territories where the fanaticism is strongest. The only major source of stress is the suicide bombings, but these are relatively rare and clearly result from the Israelis' own actions against Palestinians, such as stealing land and water, cutting down olive groves, demolishing houses, random shootings from snipers, and so on. When confronted by Palestinian oppostion, instead of removing the problem, the Israelis react by exacerbating it. It does seem like a positive feedback loop. The xenophobic meme perpetuates itself by favoring conditions that will only increase the stress that's apparently so conducive to it.

    > From: Scott Chase <>
    > Taking the discussion away from the Levant for a
    > moment, I have recently gotten interested in the
    > history of US-Cuba relations. No doubt that Castro is
    > an intolerant absolutist ruler who has outlasted many
    > administrations and jailed his post-Revolution
    > competition, but the exile community that escaped his
    > rule has also developed its own brand of absolutism.
    > Exiles that are moderate and see dialogue and
    > normalization as alternatives to the status quo are
    > subject to being branded traitors to the anti-Castro
    > cause and could suffer being ostracized or worse
    > (given the historic nature of the exile underground).
    > The ideological differences between the Cuban island
    > and South Florida are stark and those who dissent from
    > the absolute stance of Castro or hardline exiles in
    > Miami do so at their own risk. In this polarity
    > between Havana and Miami is a great example of
    > absolutism at work.

    Taking it back a step, Castro's stance can be seen as the most rational option in the face of intense hostility toward the Cuban Revolution from the US, which has tried to destroy it both militarily and economically. Unlike the US stance, which is based on the absolutist position of "socialism bad-capitalism good," the Cuban stance is based on the quite rational desire for ordinary people to enjoy a decent standard of living, something no other Latin American country has achieved.

    > From: "Keo Ormsby" <>
    > The absolutist meme tries to barge in the ecology, by threatening (i.e.
    > activating fear memes) by saying that not replicating it leads to
    > 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.

    Well, this is a very interesting point, but I can't quite wrap my brain around the idea of fear memes. A meme is a kind of idea. It can be a conceptual idea, mathematical idea, musical idea, fashion idea, behavioral idea-- what have you, but it must be some form of idea. Fear is far too primal to be a meme. So, while you might notice that everyone is wearing safari jackets, and you'd like to wear one too, it just doesn't work that way with fear. If you hear a gunshot and notice that everyone around you is in a panic, you don't stop and think, "Gee, maybe I should join the crowd and be in a panic as well-- otherwise no one will like me or pay attention to me." Instead the panic takes hold regardless of your thought processes.

    But memes can certainly exploit fear, as they can exploit narcissism. At its root, Israeli fanaticism stems from the narcissistic sense that God favors Jews over Arabs and that Jews have the right to expel Palestinians from their land. This of course triggers violent reaction, which induces fear among Israelis, further cementing the fanaticism.

    I think it's a really useful insight that absolutist memes replicate in an all-or-nothing manner while rationalist memes can vary and thus evolve. Absolutist memes are inherently more powerful than rationalist memes. If a rationalist meme is a flower in a delicate ecology, an absolutist meme is a bulldozer. The monolithic mindlessness of the absolutist meme is the source of its power but also its vulnerability. Ultimately, our fate comes down to our ability to determine our beliefs based on our capacity for dispassionate evaluation. This is how nearly half the population of Israel manages to transcend the cycle of fear and fanaticism and assess a way out of their turmoil.


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