Re: Memetic parasitism and "progress": a letter

Dave Gross (
Wed, 5 Nov 1997 15:43:40 +0800 (GMT-8)

Date: Wed, 5 Nov 1997 15:43:40 +0800 (GMT-8)
From: Dave Gross <>
To: Bruce Howlett <>
Subject: Re: Memetic parasitism and "progress": a letter
In-Reply-To: <>

Thanks for your comments; some thoughts of mine upon a first reading

On Thu, 6 Nov 1997, Bruce Howlett wrote:

> Our western society in particular seems to worship the ideal of
> individual achievement, while the reality is that any significant
> variation from mediocre is treated as abhorrent, even anti-social
> behaviour. The reason for this is quite simple. To quote Edward de
> Bono, "The natural tendency of mind is towards certainty, security and
> arrogance".

You could also say, though, that the natural tendency of mind is towards
uncertainty, insecurity, and poor self-esteem and find people that would
agree with your statement. My guess as to why there is pressure to
conform to the mediocre norm is this:

In your mind is a simulation of your social environment in which you test
our potential social interactions before engaging in them, trying
different wordings and contexts to try to find the best approach for
meeting your interests. In the case of people you know intimately, you
can simulate them based on your knowledge -- in the case of strangers, you
must use a placeholder with the characteristics of the stranger's role.

If that person is not playing a culturally-sanctioned role, if s/he is
playing that role in a heterodox manner, or if s/he isn't playing a role
at all but is doing something original, or (even worse) if the person has
unexpected and heretical views on things that are taken as common sense,
then your ability to simulate their persona in your mind becomes much more

It is therefore in your interests both that you learn how to simulate the
mental processes of the currently orthodox (a process that is made easier
by becoming yourself orthodox in your views), and that you encourage those
that you come across to cluster closely around this orthodoxy.

> Dave Gross wrote:
> >
> > The task is to determine how to classify something
> > as pleasurable or painful, and to decide whether a given process that shapes
> > culture is more likely to produce pleasurable side-effects or painful ones.
> I am interested in what "given process" is known to be capable of
> shaping culture and how and by whom the decision to implement that
> process is made?

In my argument, the "given process" is natural selection operating
on memes. The process is instituted by nobody, and nobody decides
to continue it.

> And is the process of living more unpleasant? My life is certainly more
> pleasant than what my parents experienced (two world wars and a
> depression), and significantly more pleasant than my grandparents
> experience.

It is hard to compare overall life-satisfaction over generations.
It's worth noting that those of us privileged enough to be using
e-mail are living lives inside the castle, while 99% of our fellow
human beings are living lives outside the castle; while things
are arguably better these days for us princesses and dukes (and I
would even challenge this), there are a lot of people working
sixty-hour weeks at a dollar a day and living in smoky slums to
make sure that we have the toys that make our forty-hour weeks at
$100 a day more fun.

> If memes exist, I would like to keep my /good/ memes, like common sense,
> and continue to enjoy the process of learning and experiencing life.
> What else is there?

Well; is it possible to think interesting thoughts, to learn
things about the world, to do kind things, and to have meaningful
relationships with people without memes? Without parasitic
memes? Maybe; maybe not.

Can we have a more healthy relationship towards our memetic
environment by seeing memes as potentially parasitic dangers
to our happiness and well-being? Certainly. It'll be up to
us theoreticians and madmen to debate how far to push the
vigilance and how.

-- Dave

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