Who's right Pinker, Dawkins or Brodie?

From: Philip Jonkers (P.A.E.Jonkers@phys.rug.nl)
Date: Fri Sep 21 2001 - 19:13:13 BST

  • Next message: Scott Chase: "RE: Dawkins was right all along"

    Received: by alpheratz.cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk id TAA13209 (8.6.9/5.3[ref pg@gmsl.co.uk] for cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk from fmb-bounces@mmu.ac.uk); Fri, 21 Sep 2001 19:17:32 +0100
    From: Philip Jonkers <P.A.E.Jonkers@phys.rug.nl>
    X-Authentication-Warning: rugth1.phys.rug.nl: www-data set sender to jonkers@localhost using -f
    To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
    Subject: Who's right Pinker, Dawkins or Brodie?
    Message-ID: <1001095993.3bab8339b6117@rugth1.phys.rug.nl>
    Date: Fri, 21 Sep 2001 20:13:13 +0200 (CEST)
    References: <2D1C159B783DD211808A006008062D3102A6D016@inchna.stir.ac.uk> <1001090657.3bab6e61767cb@rugth1.phys.rug.nl>
    In-Reply-To: <1001090657.3bab6e61767cb@rugth1.phys.rug.nl>
    Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1
    Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit
    User-Agent: IMP/PHP IMAP webmail program 2.2.5
    Sender: fmb-bounces@mmu.ac.uk
    Precedence: bulk
    Reply-To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk

    Hi everyone,

    Steven Pinker, one of the leading authorities
    in evolutionary psychology, argues in `How the Mind Works'
    that warring parties are able to round up soldiers to work out their
    armed conflicts by exploiting the human characteristic that
    people are willing to fight and die in a war provided they don't
    know if or when they are going to die. If death is imminent
    and unavoidable, Pinker argues, people strongly tend to withdraw
    from scenes of battle.

    Although this argument may account well for the typical kind
    of warfare it falls terribly short of explaining suicide commandos.
    The argument simply ignores the existence of kamikaze pilots,
    Shiite terrorists, and the recent plane-as-bomb bombers.
    Surely these kind of soldiers know perfectly well that they
    are going to die. Evolutionary psychology fails to give a reason.

    This is where memetics provides some answers. By using memetic tools,
    suppose an authoritative person is able to brainwash people in
    such a way that they are made into believing that if they die
    they go on living forever in some sort of perfect blissful paradise
    invisible to mortals. For people fearing death as the ultimate end,
    this is a welcome change of play as it denies death as the ultimate end.
    It doesn't matter too much if the basis of the persuasive arguments
    are anything but sound, since the following applies to the average Joe:
    `People are not rational but instead they rationalize'
    (I forgot who originally said that). Being able to be rational is an
    art brought about after mastery of a lot of rational/logical memes
    that typically requires years of rigorous training and practice.
    The ability to rationalize fades in comparison for you learn to do this
    already at an early age as a means to verbally defend yourself to others and
    explain your actions towards peers and relatives if they are affected.

    So suppose then that people are relatively easy lured into believing
    all kind of crazy stuff, as long as the promises are great enough
    to rationalize away any doubts regarding its truth content.
    This is precisely the vulnerable and sorry human trait that terrorist
    organizations eagerly tap into. By laying down their lives,
    in order to defend the values and interests of the religion
    of some group or simply to try to preserve its safety, suicide
    bombers (plus family and friends) are promised eternal heaven.
    Young naive studs eagerly line up as volunteers.
    This is a free translation of Dawkins argument.

    Brodie's argument basically says that the terrorists were motivated after
    their psychological buttons to save their kin were pressed. This does not
    necessarily contradict Dawkins' view if you realize that in a lot of religions
    its members consider each-other as `brothers', `sisters', `fathers' and
    `mothers'. Thus, an act of self-sacrifice as an attempt to preserve the group in
    a way saves the lives of the commandos kin, when kin is taken with the widest
    possible meaning. Perhaps religion does press that button, but without the
    prospect of forever ending up in a privileged place in an attractive heaven,
    however, it seems to me that potential suicide bombers are then significantly
    harder to find.

    Regarding the question of the heading, it's obvious that Pinker immediately is
    outclassed by Dawkins and Brodie. Regarding the latter two, it seems to me
    that Dawkins is right (also given the testimonies of surviving suicide bombers
    on an impartial tv station) although Brodie and Dawkins' explanations aren't
    necessarily mutual exclusive but rather possibly complemental.


    This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
    see: http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Fri Sep 21 2001 - 19:22:31 BST