Marsden (Benzon too): Rape and Gresham's Law of Memetics

Timothy Perper/Martha Cornog (
Tue, 10 Jun 1997 12:17:28 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Tue, 10 Jun 1997 12:17:28 -0500
From: (Timothy Perper/Martha Cornog)
Subject: Marsden (Benzon too): Rape and Gresham's Law of Memetics

>>Some memes, however, seem rather the opposite -- they seem hell-bent on
>>destroying as many people as possible. Such memes include those for
>>warfare and drug use. Darwinian selection does not explain why they
>>spread, since selection *opposes* them. In fact, the memes' best strategy
>>for spreading themselves is to promote not killing but *procreation* of
>>their carriers. In Richard's sense, the slogan of a *good* meme must be
>>"Make Love, Not War."
Paul Marsden>
>No! Ok so the meme wants to replicate and you are lucky enough to have the
>libido, the gigantic testicles, and the money to go around impregnating
>zillions of women and then socialising all the baby Timothys at the Perper
>Ethics Fund Institute, but the meme would probably spread to a far wider
>audience if you raped and mutilated an sweet innocent five year old in a
>horribly cruel fashion before chopping her up into little pieces and
>mailing them to her parents and then admitted it all on international news
>(mega ratings) while communicating the meme to be spread.
>The point is that there are so many memes around our serial meme detectors,
>ie consciousness, the software evolved to runs on the parallel architecture
>of the brain (hardware, and by the way here is the answer to you question
>on philosopy (of mind) Memetics is Realist Evolutionary Functionalism NOT
>Platonism, or rival Aristotlian philosophy) that memes need to be detected
>to be replicated. Now if yo had to catch the attention of as many
>potential hosts as possible how would you do it?

TP: I rather doubt that you are deliberately missing my point, Paul, but
there does seem to be some switching of ground in your answer.

1.) I was originally making two points. One is that reproduction of the
carrier benefits the memes of the parents, since the parents get to implant
*their* memes in their children without interference from other memes.
Thus, from the "strategies and game plan" game-theoretic viewpoint in
evolution, memes that enhance reproduction should spread very widely and
very fast.

The second point follows from the first. From the meme's viewpoint,
slaughtering off enemies so their skulls form piles is NOT the way to
spread memes. To the contrary. After a war, there are *fewer* carriers
than before.

A non-answer is to say that the "memes" for war do spread by war. But not
so, because such memes specifically die out during wars, when all the
"war-meme-infected" individuals go out and kill each other, leaving the
surviving population differentially enriched in individuals carrying
"no-war" memes (also known as the "head for the hills" meme).

deal with memes that spread destruction. (My original dealt with the
non-analogy between bacteria killing their hosts; this fails because
bacterial virulence attenuates with time, as predicted by my argument

2.) Raping and murdering children (and adults) certainly draws media
attention, often of the "Ain't It Awful" hand-wringing variety -- for
example, the coverage of the Oklahoma bombing trial. Are you *seriously*
suggesting that murder and rapine will spread memes for human decency?

You ask (rhetorically) "...if you had to catch the attention of as many
potential hosts as possible how would you do it?" If one wished to spread
the memes for murder and rape, and given a popular press such as we have,
then murder and rape will indeed do it. I gather that is the answer you
are aiming at. And now comes the trick, to be known as "Gresham's Law of

Gresham's law states that "Bad money drives out good." Marsden's corollary
to Gresham's Law of Memetics states that "And worse memes drives out bad
memes." "Bad" of course refers to their ethical content, as such things
are commonly judged; to the memeticist who insists on confusing efficiency
of reproduction with ethics, Marsden's corollary states that "Better memes
drive our less good memes."

Now, the usual answer to such comments as mine is to say in a tone the user
hopes combines annihilating disdain with faint boredom, "Well, Tim, we
really are not discussing right and wrong, only the mechanisms by which
meme reproduction occurs, hmmmm?"

Someone in this exponentially growing mass of memails -- Bill Benzon, I
think, and if not, I apologize -- suggested that memetics had better start
dealing with the real world. You betcha -- the issues posed by ethics
CANNOT be dismissed by media cynicism that "Rape sells newspapers" (or
memes). Eventually, one must take an ethical position about what sorts of
memes -- of ideas, values, traditions, call them what you will -- *should*
be promulgated.

Neurolinguistic programming can be fun to tinker with, and the deceits of
advertisers, including direct mail advertisers, are well known. Is that
what memetics is -- a new trendy-chic way of getting money from the
suckers? If so, then memetics is a dead issue, for it will take very
little time before everybody knows all the gimmicks and shucks that
memetics pushes when "applied memeticists" try to sell you one more piece
of biodegrading junk.

I've tried to say this philosophically and politely, but let me be more
blunt: memeticists did NOT invent any of this. Any skilled lawyer since
Aristotle has known all about it, and so do propaganda writers and
advertising agencies. The ONLY hope that memetics has is to avoid such
temptations and try to *understand* how information and knowledge are
communicated in a social species like human beings. But that activity is
useless if it is not coupled with an ethical view -- even a rudimentary
ethical view -- that says that some "memes" are not what we want.

And despite Paul's jocular recommendation, hacking up children is not the
way to do it.

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