Date: Thu, 26 Mar 1998 00:06:40 -0700
Subject: memetic engineering?
Recent posts (Josip, Ton, Kastytis, Rob & others) have got me to
thinking. The very concept of the engineerability of something as big as
global human culture seems silly. Where are the handles? Where are the
Rob points to education as a mechanism for steering the behemoth but I
am not convinced. Education, in an institutionalized sense, arose to
serve the needs of newly emerging sociocultural life forms...nations,
religions, markets etc.
Josip's got the 'fear' springing from the hard-to-shake dichotomy
between humans (their science, technology & groupforms) and nature. We
are screwing up the world? But what if we truly embrace our membership
among the terrestrial march of lifeforms? There is no reason to separate
humans from all other life-bearing frames. Our products are natural. Our
waste is just as 'natural' as horse manure. It just doesn't work so good
for tomato plants.
While it may indeed come to pass that this orb is rendered unsuitable
for our progeny, so what? It's not like Paranthropus or Neanderthalensis
had a signed lease! Life comes and goes. Why should it be any different
for us than for the previous tenants? New life forms emerge and some
pass on. Homo sapiens s. has proven to be a tenuous life form and we are
going to be hard to shake. We do problems extremely well. Even those
resulting from our own actions.
I tend to side with Kastytis on this one. I see genetic and
bio-technologies as extensions of our living endowment. Evolution is not
something that humans 'interfere' with. As cognitively sophisticated
agents of life we cannot help but apply ourselves to the extension of
life. Without waxing teleological, isn't this a valid observation on the
general tendency of terrestrial evolution? Life swells to fill the place
The fact that our inquiry and production may prove catastrophic for the
status quo is just the kind of stakes cognitively sophisticated beings
have to deal with. Moving onward carefully and thoughtfully is a good
idea but it is not going to eliminate the risk of destructive outcomes.
To finish here I would like to swing off of a limb extended from Ton's
recently posted text:
>How does one go about "inventing" rituals and myths? The tragedy of >modern myth-makers is that they end up producing fiction.
Ritual is no further from us than it has ever been. We are steeped in a
ritualistic broth...sort of like the 'primordial soup.' Whether I'm
flailing in the mosh pit or interviewing for a job I am ritualistically
engaged. This is the milieu of memetic exchange from which sociocultural
life forms emerge. Unlike genetic engineering, where we work on systems
of less overall complexity than ourselves, memetic engineering suggests
the opposite orientation..sort of like Jonah trying to 'engineer' his
way out of the belly of the whale. Can a single component of a larger
system impact the evolutionary progress of that overlying system? How
about when the overlying system swells to global proportions?
Now there's a modern myth.
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