Re[4]: Memetic Parasitism

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Mon 25 Jul 2005 - 14:11:32 GMT

  • Next message: Robin Faichney: "Re[5]: Memetic Parasitism"

    At 09:34 AM 25/07/05 +0100, Robin wrote:
    >Hello Keith,
    >Sunday, July 24, 2005, 9:25:36 PM, you wrote:
    > > At 06:12 PM 24/07/05 +0100, Robin wrote:
    > >>Sunday, July 24, 2005, 3:39:47 PM, Keith wrote:
    > >>
    > >> > At 10:36 AM 24/07/05 +0100, Robin Faichney wrote:
    > >><snip>
    > >> >>Neuroticism is pandemic due to unhealthy attitudes, opinions and
    > >> >>lifestyles, such as religious fundamentalism (but emphatically not
    > >> >>only that). It first instills guilt and anxiety, telling you you're a
    > >> >>sinner and will go to hell, and then provides a dramatic catharsis in
    > >> >>the experience of being "born again": rather a successful strategy.
    > >>
    > >> > I won't argue with your analysis, heck, I wrote very similar things
    > myself
    > >> > many years ago, but it really needs to be grounded at a lower
    > level. How
    > >> > did "chronic anxiety," "guilt" and related become human psychological
    > >> > traits? I.e., how did they (or something else that they are a side
    > effect
    > >> > too) convey a selective advantage during the millions of years we
    > lived in
    > >> > hunter-gatherer societies?
    > >>
    > >>The answer regarding chronic anxiety is very, very easy: it's the
    > >>result of NOT behaving in the ways that evolution has determined suit
    > >>us.
    > > That's an awkward way to describe the process. The process of evolution
    > > results in adaption to an environment. In the human case, adapting to the
    > > environment of bands of hunter-gatherers living in a world with an erratic
    > > food supply.
    > > It is also demonstrably not the case--unless I misunderstand you. I behave
    > > in many ways that are extremely remote from the hunter-gatherer
    > > environment. Today so far I drove an automobile 50 km, watched a few
    > > trains thunder by from close range and shopped in two stores that between
    > > them had several hundred customers and at least 100,000 items. (I would
    > > have bicycled 15 km as well had a tire not gone flat.) None of these
    > > behaviors result in anxiety chronic or not. (Not that I noticed anyway.)
    >I didn't say the problem is behaving in ways that aren't determined by
    >evolution. I said it's NOT behaving in ways that ARE inherited
    >tendencies. Big difference. In a previous message you mentioned
    >motivation. We have needs and are motivated to fulfil them. One
    >result among others of failing to fulfil our needs is chronic anxiety.
    >Here's a neat formulation: failing to do what we THINK is right (or
    >doing what we think is wrong) causes guilt, while failing to do what
    >we FEEL is right (or doing what we feel is wrong) causes anxiety. Our
    >feelings about our actions are, at base, inherited behavioural
    >tendencies, though of course they're much modified by upbringing and

    Can you put in some concrete examples? I am just not very good at following arguments this abstract.

    > >>Guilt is perhaps more difficult, as it might have an adaptive
    > >>social function in hierarchical groups.
    > > There certainly are hierarchical groups, but that's not the way evolution
    > > of humans came about. The critical thing with the evolution of humans (and
    > > for that matter chimps) is kin groups.
    >I understand a little about kin selection, but I don't see how that
    >excludes hierarchy in humans.

    It doesn't.

    >And if you're saying that there is no
    >human tendency towards hierarchy, with dominance and submission in
    >relationships... well, I'd be astounded. Just look at any cult.

    You hardly need to tell *me* about cults. :-) But the point is that human genes were selected in an environment where the others around you were mostly relatives. You need to consider this in the context of understanding the genetic driven motivation of hunters and warriors. The risks they took were to a large extent for the benefit of *copies* of their genes in other tribe members.

    > >> > Pascal Boyer's book _Religion Explained_ doesn't provide a full
    > explanation
    > >> > either, but his observations and insights look like they are leading
    > in the
    > >> > right direction. I think they will have to be incorporated into an
    > >> > evolutionary psychology explanation of religions.
    > >>
    > >>Religions are extremely complex and diverse phenomena, but I don't
    > >>think a general theory of them is possible without consideration of
    > >>their relationship with sub-clinical mental illness.
    > > True, especially religions on the cult end of the spectrum. Witness Tom
    > > Cruise's behavior of late. But the question then becomes: Did these
    > > people have evolved and biologically based mental problems that led them
    > > into cults such as Heaven's Gate? Or are all people vulnerable and just a
    > > few "catch" one of these "mental disease" such as scientology?
    > > While both factors probably interact, I lean strongly in the former being
    > > the more important. I can make a case that cult behavior is based on
    > > psychological traits that were important in stressful times to
    > > hunter-gatherers, but that would make this post too long (by about 20
    > pages).
    >I agree with some of this, but it's too easy to say "these people have
    >mental problems". What's much more challenging is to ask (a) what makes
    >cults and religions attractive to such people,

    The same reason addictive drugs are attractive to some people.

    >and (b) whether, in
    >some cases, such people might be genuinely helped and even cured by
    >"religious experiences".

    "Genuinely helped," as much as any junkie is helped by another shot or a psychoanalytic patient is helped by "analysis."

    I don't think you would be asking these sorts of questions if you had read the paper you can find through Google:

    Results 1 - 10 of about 3,590 for sex drugs cults "Keith Henson"

    (my ghod the link count is up this morning!)

    Sex, Drugs, and Cults. An evolutionary psychology perspective on why and how cult memes get a drug-like hold on people, and what might be done to mitigate the effects By H. Keith Henson Abstract

    In the aggregate, memes constitute human culture. Most are useful. But a whole class of memes (cults, ideologies, etc.) have no obvious replication drivers. Why are some humans highly susceptible to such memes? Evolutionary psychology is required to answer this question. Two major evolved psychological mechanisms emerge from the past to make us susceptible to cults. Capture-bonding exemplified by Patty Hearst and the Stockholm Syndrome is one. Attention-reward is the other. Attention is the way social primates measure status. Attention indicates status and is highly rewarding because it causes the release of brain chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins. Actions lead to Attention that releases Rewarding brain chemicals. Drugs shortcut attention in the Action-Attention-Reward (AAR) brain system and lead to the repeated behaviour we call addiction. Gambling also causes misfiring of the AAR pathway. Memes that manifest as cults hijack this brain reward system by inducing high levels of attention behaviour between cult members. People may become irresponsible on either cults or drugs sometimes resulting in severe damage to reproductive potential. Evolutionary psychology thus answers the question of why humans are susceptible to memes that do them and/or their potential for reproductive success damage. We evolved the psychological traits of capture-bonding and attention-reward that make us vulnerable for other maladaptive functions. We should be concerned about predator and pathogen memes and the mechanisms that make us vulnerable. The possibility of modeling important social factors contributing to the spread of dangerous cult memes is discussed. The history of the author's experiences that led to understanding the connection between drugs and cults is related.

    Keywords: evolutionary psychology, memetics, Stockholm syndrome, capture-bonding, reproductive success, dopamine, endorphins, cults, drugs and attention rewards, brainwashing, mind control, deprogramming, scientology.

    Keith Henson

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