Re: Giving a presentation on memetics

From: Dace (
Date: Fri 02 Dec 2005 - 21:58:45 GMT

  • Next message: Ben Dawson: "Re: Giving a presentation on memetics"

    > From: John Wilkins <>
    > On 30/11/2005, at 6:52 AM, Dace wrote:
    > > Ben,
    > >
    > >> I'm an undergraduate University student in Derby, England. As part of
    > >> my coursework for the Philosophy of AI module I am studying, I am
    > >> giving a presentation on memetics, which is an area of great interest
    > >> to me.
    > >>
    > >> Does anyone have any ideas? Or any advice about the talk in general?
    > >
    > > You might want to bring up the concept of agency. In pursuing
    > > replication,
    > > memes become causative agents within human culture. The result is
    > > that
    > > human agency is displaced by memetic agency. Instead of rationally
    > > determining what we believe, we let memes do our thinking for us. An
    > > obvious example is the rise of Nazism in Germany following World
    > > War I. The
    > > Nazi meme successfully replicated because it enabled Germans,
    > > including
    > > Hitler, to expel their shame and anxiety by shifting the blame for
    > > defeat
    > > onto Jews, Roma, etc. Just as natural environments select for some
    > > species
    > > over others, the psychological environment of post-Versailles Germany
    > > selected for the Nazi meme. Wherever human agency is displaced, for
    > > whatever reason, memes must pick up the slack.
    > I think this is wrong for two reasons - one is that memes are not
    > agents - they don't "think" any more than genes "strategise".

    When I say "letting memes do our thinking for us," I'm speaking figuratively. Neither memes nor genes think, but they're both agentic, i.e.
    "selfish." In pursuing their goal of replication, both play a causal role in their respective fields.

    > The other is that whether or not agency is involved here (and in biology
    > many organisms surely are agents with intentions and goals: the lion
    > wants to catch the gazelle, and equally the gazelle doesn't want to
    > *be* caught), evolution occurs. An evolutionary account of culture is
    > irrelevant to the distinct issue of whether agents are involved.

    There's no cultural evolution without a shift of agency from meme to person. Like natural evolution, cultural evolution is characterized by punctuated equilibrium. Memes are nothing more than collective habits of thought and behavior. When memes are in charge, culture stays roughly the same. Only when a new meme is unleashed as the result of conscious intervention does culture move forward. As agency shifts back from people to memes, cultural equilibrium is restored.

    > From: "Scott Chase" <>
    > >Just as natural environments select for some species
    > >over others, the psychological environment of post-Versailles Germany
    > >selected for the Nazi meme. Wherever human agency is displaced, for
    > >whatever reason, memes must pick up the slack.
    > >
    > Just as a mental exercise, what exactly is "the Nazi meme". We hear
    > proclamations of "the gene for eyes", yet eyes develop due to a cascade of
    > genetically influenced cellular processes. In the same sense that it's
    > misleading to speak of a gene for this or that, especially when looking a
    > phenotypically complex results (such as a structure or a behavioral
    > pattern), it might be equally misleading to speak of a meme for Nazism (or
    > "the meme for Nazism" as if there's a discrete packet of information that
    > results in the outcome of someone becoming a Nazi).

    There's no meme for Nazism. Nazism is the meme.

    > In the case of Germany, the events of WWI and its outcome played a role in
    > the emergence of Nazism, but things get really complicated and messy when
    > you delve into the historic particulars. What influence did Germanic
    > Romanticism play? Did Gobineau's pessimistic racial rhetoric about the
    > decline due to miscegenation play a major role? Did Wagner's anti-Semitism
    > serve as an ur-Nazi memetic foundation? What about Haeckel's *Darwinismus*
    > and his *Monistenbund*? Did Houston Chamberlain help integrate Wagnerism
    > the Bayreuth mystique into the emerging Nazi memeplex? What about Hitler's
    > failed beer hall putch that sent him to prison? How important was Hitler's
    > book (crafted during said prison term) or Alfred Rosenberg's views?
    > Where does eugenics enter the picture? Galton in England? The
    > laws in the US? When does eugenics merge with anti-Semitism to result in
    > Holocaust? The horrid Nuremberg laws were a critical turning point. How
    > of a role does Germanized evolutionary biology play versus goofy
    > of Nordic myth? Lorenz became a member of the NSDAP not long after the
    > Anschluss according to my sources (Ute Deichmann and Theodora Kalikow).
    > Lorenz was a hardcore evolutionist, yet some Nazis believed in Aryans
    > stemming from Atlantis or some wacked out junk like that. They couldn't
    > all been one the same page in that respect, so I'd assume it would be hard
    > to separate something out of that terrible chapter in history that could
    > pointed to as "the Nazi meme".

    Rather than denying the Nazi meme, you're simply elaborating its roots. Vagueness, the lack of definitive boundaries, is a fundamental and unavoidable feature of life, both natural and cultural. That we can't say exactly where eugenics leaves off and Nazism begins doesn't mean we can't speak of eugenics and Nazi memes. This is no different than the problem of coming up with precise boundaries between species. That's the trouble with evolution. It all bleeds together.


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