Re: memetic engineering and superstition

Ton Maas (
Fri, 27 Mar 1998 17:52:35 +0200

Message-Id: <v03102809b14173b47c17@[]>
In-Reply-To: <>
Date: Fri, 27 Mar 1998 17:52:35 +0200
From: Ton Maas <>
Subject: Re: memetic engineering and superstition

Kastis wrote:

>Ton, can you explain more explicitly your idea:

>Focusing exclusively on consciousness has propagated addiction in

>conceiveable field - not only to alcohol but also to arms races,

>capitalism, stifling communism and so on - to pathological lifestyles


Allow me to digress a little in order to score my point :-)

One of the remarkeable insights of the late Gregory Bateson was the
notion that civilization and addicition are somehow interconnected.
Being a heavy drinker and a chain smoker himself, he tried to give a
formal decription of the dynamics of addiction, based on the wisdom
that's implicit in the AA method. In his analysis addiction is _not_
about the "stuff" one craves for, but has everything to do with
control. He states that the premise underlying AA is the realization
that addicition results from an epistemological error which is quite
symptomatic of western civilization: the notion of the self as
dominating over the organism as a whole, as exemplified by the old
phrase: "the mind is willing but the flesh is weak". Let me quote the
introduction to his 1971 article "The Cybernetics of Self; A Theory of

<paraindent><param>right,left</param>The "logic" of alcoholic addiction
has puzzled psychiatrists no less than

the "logic" of the strenuous spiritual regime whereby the organization

Alcoholics Anonymous is able to counteract the addiction. In the

essy it is suggested: (1) that an entirely new epistemology must come

of cybernetics and systems theory, involving a new understanding of

self, human relationship, and power; (2) that the addicted alcoholic

operating, when sober, in terms of an epistemology which is
conventional in

Occidental culture but which is not acceptable to systems theory; (3)

surrender to alcoholic intoxication provides a partial and subjective

cut to a more correct state of mind; and (4) that the theology of AA

coincides closely with an epistemology of cybernetics.


In the light of this analysis, the common plea of the partners, friends
etc. of an alcoholic, urging him to be strong and control his habit,
are precisely reinforcing the fallacy decribed above. This is what he
was trying to do all along but failed miserably (once again). The
genius of AA is that the situation is reversed by the first two Steps:
which force the alcoholic to admit that he cannot control his own
behaviour and that he has to accept a power larger than himself in
order to be healed.

One of the revealing facts of alcoholism is the "test" alcoholics
submit themselves to after having not had any alcohol for a certain
period. One must understand that to an alcoholic, the problem is _not_
that he cannot stop drinking, but that he cannot _control_ his drinking
behavior. Therefore he has to go out and prove to himself that _this_
time he can control it - and just have that _one_ drink.... only to
fail once more, and more miserably than ever. This is an absolutely
essential ingredient of the dynamics of addiction.

Bateson concludes his article with the following observation:

<paraindent><param>right,left</param>It is asserted that the
nonalcoholic world has many lessons which it might

learn from the epistemology of systems theory and from the ways of AA.

we continue to operate in terms of a Cartesian dualism of mind versus

matter, we shall probably also continue to see the world in terms of

versus man; elite versus people; chosen race versus other; nation

nation; and man versus environment. It is doubtful whether a species

_both_ an advanced technology _and_ this strange way of looking at its

world can endure.


The article was reprinted in "Steps to an Ecology of Mind"
(Chandler/Bantam 1972).


This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)