Re: Lynch's Memetic Theories about Masturbation (Long)

Bill Benzon (
Thu, 19 Jun 1997 15:22:31 +0000

Date: Thu, 19 Jun 1997 15:22:31 +0000
From: Bill Benzon <>
Subject: Re: Lynch's Memetic Theories about Masturbation (Long)

Aaron Lynch wrote:

I've decided to comment on this debate despite the fact that I have not
met the minimal requirement of reading CT. Sorry about that.

> Why do pro-contraception memes spread even anti-contraception memes
> have
> spread? It's discussed in my book. But the above paragraph suggests
> that I
> never even thought of the subject! But I guess part of the problem
> arises
> from this instantaneous medium, which favors responding quickly and
> often
> instead of reading a whole book, or even a chapter first, or even
> looking
> up "birth control" in the index. Why are you trying to comment on
> memetics
> without reading a serious book on the subject? I hope you aren't just
> trying to waste my time.

Aaron -- surely you must realize that this sort of dialog does not
endear you to your opponents. Has it occurred to you that we may feel a
bit like you are asking us to waste our time? We too are serious people
and we have devoted a great deal of time and effort to understanding
human behavior. The fact that we may not know Lynchian memetics chapter
and verse does not mean that our knowledge and intellectual experience
count for nothing. In my case, there are certain issues I'm interested
in (e.g. musical styles in 20th C American culture) and I have a very
extensive background in cognitive science and have read more than a
little in neuroscience; I know more than a little about what goes on in
our heads, which is where memes (in the orthodox view) reside. While I
know perfectly well that you are talking about population psycholgy, not
individual psychology, I still find your way of talking about what goes
on in our heads to be uninformed. And that means that I'm unlikely to
want to devote much effort to thinking seriously about your work.

That's no big deal. I've got my interests you've got yours. At the
moment they don't seem to be congruent. so be it.

> This is not a "proof by assertion." It is a hypothezed mechanism of
> belief
> proliferation which does indeed require new surveys for confirmation
> or
> falsification. As yet, I don't know of any such
> anti-masturbation/fertility
> survey, and I doubt that one would have been conducted without a
> hypothesis
> under test. A small reproductive advantage of 5% per generation gives
> a 15
> billion fold increase over 480 generations, so the survey should be
> sensitive to fertility differentials much smaller than those caused by
> oral
> contraceptives.

So, as a point of information, just what is your hypothesis? Are you
saying, for example, that at some point in the past there were no taboos
against masturbation, and all groups had more or less the same
reproductive rates. Then, through some mechanism we don't know (and
which we can safely treat as a black box), some of those people decided
not to masturbate. Somehow that decision took root in a community.
Presumbably there was some belief structure around non-masturbation
involving ostensible reasons for not doing it and probably some
illustrative stories; but the ideology did not contain the explicit
assertion that "we're not masturbating so that we might be more
fruitfull." People told these stories to one another for whatever reason
and stopped masturbating. In particular, the members of the community
passed that belief to their off-spring. As a "hydraulic side-effect" of
this belief, the reproduction rate of this community rose above that of
neighboring communities and, in time, the non-masturbators
out-reproduced the masturbators and so now we live in a world full of
ideological opposition to masturbation.

> TP/MC: >Thus, young men masturbate less often and father fewer
> children; men
> >between ages 25-34 masturbate more and father more children; men
> aged
> >35-39 have lower masturbatory and fathering rates, and men still
> older
> >masturbate even less and have even fewer children. This pattern is
> the
> >OPPOSITE of what Lynch's argument predicts.

> AL: This only continues a line of statistically confused thinking on
> the
> matter. Reproductive biology is OF COURSE highly age correlated. We
> want to
> see is either the LIFETIME reproduction of those who held masturbation
> taboos versus those who remained free of masturbation taboos, or else
> comparisons of taboo and non-taboo individuals of equal ages. You
> don't
> impress me by saying that middle age men masturbate more and have more
> children than do male infants, and that therefore frequent
> masturbation may
> cause reproduction.

I don't hear them saying that frequent masturbation may cause
reproduction. I think they're saying that frequent intercourse causes
reproduction and that people who have frequent intercourse also
masturbate relatively frequently. They aren't implying any causal
relationship between the two, but only pointing out that the correlation
is not what one would expect if the causal relationship were what you
hypothesize. You are the one who is imputing causality to their

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