RE: Machiavellian Memes

N Rose (
Mon, 29 Sep 1997 13:42:53 +0000

Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 29 Sep 1997 13:42:53 +0000
From: N Rose <>
Subject: RE: Machiavellian Memes

Great! Lots of interesting comments. Let me come back on a few
of them.

1) Who's side do we take?
I think Aaron raised this one - and quite rightly pointed out
that 'we' should not necessarily side with our genetic interests
over our memetic ones. I agree. My comments about the
biologically maladaptive properties of things like contraception
etc were not intended as prescriptive. As someone who encourages
the use of contraception, favours continuing my education rather
than having children, (I smoke for crying out loud!), etc - I am
obviously NOT suggesting that we 'should' avoid biologically
maladaptive behaviours - but perhaps be aware that the behaviours
we are undertaking are possibly biologically maladaptive.

2) Viruses, parasites, and THE analogy
I was using virus and parasite in very particular ways. A virus
being a meme which predominently spreads horizontally (i.e. to
non-kin) - regardless of it's effects upon the host organism.
Perhaps 'bacteria' are a better analogy for what I mean - they
can be 'good' for the organism or 'bad', but they are not part of
the genome and do not propogate through the same 'bottle neck' as
the host's genes.
A meme which spreads predominently vertically (Like Amish beliefs
- if you take Aaron's example) is hardly a true virus. I would
say that memes which vertically propogate are almost certainly
co-operating with the interests of the genes. This is Durham's
'Co-evolution' position, for instance.
A 'parasite' is a difficult analogy, unless you take the gene's
POV. Otherwise what is being parasitised?? Something which uses
a biological host to effect it's own propogation, whilst damaging
or reducing the ability of that biological host to
survive/reproduce - is a parasite.

3) 'self' centered selectionism
The last theme I want to comment on is the idea that 'we' as
'self' determining creatures, with free will, can choose to avoid
certain memes over others. My position on this one has been
stated many times before. I do not believe that 'free will'
exists with which those sorts of decisions could be made. I
would suggest that the only 'agents' which could select memes are
the genetic predispositions which arise in the development of the
brain, and the memetic predispositions which arise as that brain
becomes enculturated. There is no one else 'home' IMHO. (See my
interminable whining about this in previous listings)

4) A problem for theory?
As memeticists we make a bold claim (some of us). The claim is
that culture performs one independant ultinmate function ... the
survival and reproduction of culture. "X was successful because
X was a good replicator". The question is ... does it really?
Or is it's ultimate function the survival and reproduction of
genes. Is culture a tool/weapon (cheers Alex!) which we have
used and still use to obtain a biological advantage over our
chief competitors (other people)?
If machiavellian (no intentionality intended - like 'selfish')
memes exist (i.e. we use bio-maladaptive culture to compete with
each other) then how can we (as theorists and experimentalists)
decide whether memes provide for their own ultimate function - or
are merely slaves to genes (even if unruly slaves).



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