Re: Absolutist memes

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Mon 01 Nov 2004 - 05:27:55 GMT

  • Next message: Van oost Kenneth: "Re: Absolutist memes"

    At 01:34 PM 31/10/04 -0800, Dace wrote:
    > > From: Keith Henson <>


    > > 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
    > > situations 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.

    There is certainly feedback, but the Israelis have darn good reason to be stressed about a looming bleak future. Of course the exact same thing can be said of the Palestinians.

    It isn't hard for the Israelis to see the increase in the Arab populations is far exceeding their own. Eventually they will be swamped, and they know it. It isn't hard for the Palestinians to see they are being abused, denied human rights, houses destroyed, land and water stolen, etc either.

    The situation is not conducive to rational thinking on either side. I think they are *both* right about seeing a bleak future and it is driving them into a war. It is only the harsh reality of a technical and wealth gap that their has not been a blowup. Physical reality, ecological limits, and the sad fact that one of the local cultures isn't making the transition to low birth rate/high wealth makes the situation unstable and getting more so every day.

    > > From: Scott Chase <>


    > > 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.

    That's actually true, but the way it happened is instructive. Cuba has a birth rate more like an Eastern European country under the USSR, which is to say very low indeed. That why (along with some liberalization of the economy that allowed a little economic growth) Cuba has a relatively high standard of living. Dire way to get to close ZPG, but long term all populations have to do it.


    >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.

    You can have fear of something memes, or as I pointed out, hatred memes about another/other tribes. This is certainly a meme, it is in fact, a short description of the Nazi meme. The connection to ecology limits/economy is that under conditions of "looming privation" there are darn good reasons our hunter gatherer ancestors to have evolved a psychological mechanism to turn up the gain on this class of memes.

    (Classic fear of something meme being passed on among monkeys is that experiment where the monkeys pass on a phobia about doing something to newly introduced monkeys till there are none of the original subjects left but the monkeys all have the phobia.)


    >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 is not new. The Basque were expelled from a good fraction of Europe before recorded history, the North American settlers expelled the natives from most of the continent. The Jews in biblical times justified killing their neighbors because "God told them to."

    >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.

    I don't think so. I think each meme class is more powerful by turns depending on the conditions a communicating population sees. If the condition is right for memes that justify killing off most of another
    "tribe" then by god some meme in that class is going to be the ascendant meme.

    >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

    This is possible, but only happenstance because a tribe of a 100 people does not scale exactly into the millions. When you had only a dozen families working themselves up into a killing fury, nobody in a tribe escaped the madness. With a large population you can get enough variation and rational thinking circulating in a population to (in some cases) move things a little, maybe even a lot as the stupid effect from being attacked fades. By stone age standards, we should not even consider changing a war leader before he has defeated and killed off all the opposing tribe's males.

    Keith Henson

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