Re: Genetic fundamentalism. Was: Lynch on some taboo

Mario Vaneechoutte (
Fri, 20 Jun 1997 10:44:37 -0700

Message-Id: <>
Date: Fri, 20 Jun 1997 10:44:37 -0700
From: Mario Vaneechoutte <>
Subject: Re: Genetic fundamentalism. Was: Lynch on some taboo

Aaron Lynch wrote:
> Aaron Lynch responding to Mario Vaneechoutte:
> Mario, you should at least read about my non-parental modes of replication
> at, where you will find that I am
> anything but a genetic fundamentalist. A true genetic funamentalist is one
> who asserts that the masturbation taboo is encoded in DNA.
> You might also find my religion chapter interesting for all the ways of
> non-parental (horizontal) meme transmission, though horizontal transmission
> comes up all over the book.
> Dawkins endorsed THOUGHT CONTAGION largely because it takes the idea you
> quote and goes much further with it.
> >The constructs of Aaron Lynch on masturbation are what someone has
> >called 'genetic fundamentalism': the attempt to explain every
> >phenomenon, also cultural phenomena, by differences in reproductive
> >success of the carriers. As such, the spread of any idea or behaviour
> >has to be explained in terms of offering the reproductive advantage it
> >offers. This is based on a terrible lot of wrong assumptions.
> >
> >E.g. I can have twenty children which all become very religious and thus
> >none of them gets my memes. In other words: memes spread very easily
> >horizontally, so you'd better be a Jesus Christ without children but
> >with a lot of charisma - spreading your memes all over, than that you
> >are a very fertile parent (according to Tim & Martha, people can know
> >from this fact that you probably self abuse quite frequently as well)
> >without time for spending time to the education of your children). This
> >is so obvious.
> >
> >Why don't we just read what Dawkins has to say about it in The Selfish
> >Gene in the meme chapter. Dawkins asks: "most colleagues of mine always
> >want to find a biological advantage of cultural phenomena, but I'd say
> >that we are dealing with a completely new kind of 'replicators'" (This
> >is not at all a literal quote). This questioning of genetic
> >fundamentalism is just at heart of the concept of memes.
> >
> >Explaining the success of religions, because they offer genetic
> >advantage to an individual or a population is really not what memetics
> >are about.
> >The same is true for explaining taboos or any other meme.


OK. I didn't claim that your entire book was about similar claims like
the one for taboos. I just think that this example is an illustration of
the 'population genetics fundamentalism' explanation for the spread of
memes, as we might call this more moderate form of genetic

Also, I should correct myself by saying that it is not impossible that
in some instances certain ideas do influence reproductive success (and
this might but should not lead to better spreading of a meme), but this
will remain only a very restricted means of explanation for the spread
of a very restricted set of memes. And as Tim and Martha have shown one
could only conclude that such memes exist after thorough analysis of
available data. A candidate might be the 'The more children I have, the
more sexually potent man I am' meme, still widely spread in e.g. some
African cultures and possibly very ancient.

Mario Vaneechoutte
Laboratory Bacteriology & Virology
Blok A, De Pintelaan 185
University Hospital Ghent
Belgium 9000 Ghent
Tel: +32 9 240 36 92
Fax: +32 9 240 36 59
Editor J. Memetics:

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