Re: Absolutist memes

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Fri 05 Nov 2004 - 00:35:09 GMT

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

    At 02:16 PM 04/11/04 -0600, Keo wrote:
    >----- Original Message -----
    >From: "Paul" <>
    > > This is really getting interesting. Ruling out thepossibility of a
    > > genetic biological relevance on selective pressure ora specialised
    > > inherited psychological process of memes with regardsto memes appearing
    > > in a stressed/worried population; what process inyour view would have
    > > to take place in order for the absolutist memes to establish an ESS?
    >It would vary a lot with each situation, but I have a
    >strong feeling that if you consider the ESS associated
    >with "fight to the death" behaviors in organisms, you
    >might get an idea of how absolutist memes establish
    >themselves. In behavioral ecology studies, actually
    >risking your life to mate is very seldom a good
    >strategy, but under certain conditions it can appear.
    >Usually these strategies are only part of a more
    >complicated overall strategy in the form of "if
    >condition X, be prudent. If condition Y, fight to the
    >death" in a niche where condition Y is rare and would
    >mean an absolute impossibility to mate.

    Conditional responses to environmental conditions is indeed the key. Under a lot of conditions, ganging up with the rest of the men in your tribe to go kill the neighbors is really dumb. The neighbors will fight back and you aren't going to leave any more offspring after being killed by defenders.

    But if ecological conditions are such that you and your children are going to starve before the next rains come, then fighting it out with the neighbors *is* a good strategy. Worst that normally happens is all the males in the tribe get killed. But that's not worst case for their *genes* since the warriors' female children are likely to be made into extra wives if they lose and are killed. (Not good of course, but better than losing all copies of the genes to the tribe starving.)

    So what's a really dumb action in some situations becomes a sensible one in others.


    >In the case of absolutist memes, I believe that the
    >"all or nothing" aspect of it is also a strategy that
    >should appear only under certain conditions. For
    >instance, Nazi memes were forcefully imposed over other
    >political memes in the public arena, but I am sure that
    >in many (if not most) instances where parents and
    >school personnel transmitted them to children, they
    >used a more rationalistic and loving approach. It is
    >the right combination of these strategies that makes
    >them evolutionary stable.

    There are two levels going on here. First is the meme level. I have largely discounted the *specifics* of xenophobic or "absolutist" in this case. When the ecological conditions are such that you and your family are going to have a hard time living through the next season then *some* meme of this class will become common--given enough time, of course.

    When the ecology of Easter Island collapsed from severe over exploitation, the natives sorted themselves out into "long ears" and "short ears" and went at each other with rocks till 95% of the population was gone. At that point the environment was able to recover its productivity to some degree. With improving "income per capita" war memes were quickly displaced by memes for a peaceful religion (the bird cult) and two or three generations of warfare ended.

    In some ways, what I am talking about here is just specific evolutionary psychology based reasoning. People have acted as if they understood this model for a *long* time. As an example, the rebuilding of Europe after WW II was on purpose because the people in power had the (correct) feeling that an economically stressed population was fertile ground for nasty social movements (memes).

    What this means is that various classes of memes do better or worse depending on the conditions of their hosts. So you simply don't have a consistent environment for memes.

    Keith Henson

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