Re: sex and the single meme

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sat Jan 26 2002 - 18:43:01 GMT

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    From: Keith Henson <>
    Subject: Re: sex and the single meme
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    At 02:18 PM 26/01/02 +0100, <>
    >On 25 Jan 2002, at 19:25, Keith Henson wrote:
    > > Short term, I can give you all kind of examples
    > > where memes and genes were at odds.
    >I think one shouldn't be to fast with deciding whether memes are
    >working against genes in some example. Take the suicide attacks
    >as an example. I think there are mostly used to gain attention for
    >some situation.
    >Anyway let's just consider that a sucide attack helps a certain
    >culture to survive. Okay, so one person gets killed and his genes
    >won't survive too. Really? Is the person who committed suicide the
    >only person who carried these genes? When you look at
    >populations there are quite a high number of genes which are
    >shared by most of its members. If someone commits suicide then
    >this one instance of dna won't spread but if he saves the life of
    >people who share 99,9% of genes with him, then his at first glance
    >memetic-driven behavior also makes sense on a genetic level.

    That's too wide a net to cast. A gene that benefits the entire species
    does not have any feedback to spread. The math for it to spread means it
    must save more copies of itself than are lost.

    >This all works because memes indeed select genes, but we can
    >define which memes become widely spread in culture. And suicide
    >attacks are quite efficient so to speak. A suicide meme is not only
    >that - it also has sourrounding memes which referr to some
    >cultural/social problem which might have to be changed. And if it
    >gets changed then some people (genetically) benefit from that.

    You are getting close to the models constructed by the late William
    Hamilton (Dawkins cites him a lot.) You don't initially even need memes to
    see how this evolved. People take great risks for those they are related
    to. Since we are not all that good at determining exactly who we are
    related too, psychological mechanisms bias us to take risks for those we
    grew up around--and in tribal days most people in the tribe were related so
    taking risk and even being killed let genes for that behavior spread.

    Through capture-bonding and reward-bonding, people relate to people in a
    (meme driven) cult as if it were their tribe. As a result you can expect
    them to take actions which risk them getting killed. Thus a genetically
    based mechanism has been hijacked into the "service" of a meme.

    But as a guess, for every person who is killed or neutered by a cult, tens
    to hundreds of relatives are saved from burning buildings (at considerable
    risk and sometimes death to those who rescue people). So in spite of
    people taking insane risks, killing themselves, or whacking their nuts off
    (or both for the Heaven's gate cult) the genetic bias for taking extreme
    risks for family and cults is likely to persist.

    The western cultures are very different from the one in which we evolved,
    the cultures of the middle east are much closer to the tribal way of
    life. It would be a worthwhile study to see how the genes of the hijackers
    fair. I know that in Israel those who commit suicide benefit their
    families by increased prestige. I don't know if that turns into enough
    more offspring from their relatives to make up for their genes being lost,
    but I would not be surprised if it did.

    Keith Henson

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