Re: memetic engineering

Ton Maas (
Sun, 29 Mar 1998 13:54:07 +0200

Message-Id: <v03102800b143e0f3ad5d@[]>
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Date: Sun, 29 Mar 1998 13:54:07 +0200
From: Ton Maas <>
Subject: Re: memetic engineering

Bruce wrote:
>Edward de Bono describes untrained thought processes as pattern
>identification. Even very intelligent people may fall into the trap of
>defending perceptions rather than thinking rationally. Granted we
>should move ahead carefully, but why re-invent religion?

I know that it isn't "bon ton" to question the blessings of secular
society, but I happen to be convinced of the fact that it has serious
shortcomings. The rational or scientific worldview is self-validating (up
to a point) by means of its technology, but at the same time it is shoving
all kinds of experiential phenomena under the mat - hence the rising
popularity of spiritual movements, sects and worse. Gregory Bateson _knew_
he wasn't going to score high points when he addressed the universals of
religion (although not _any_ one particular religion) in his last book
"Angels Fear", but nevertheless he wanted to start tackling some of the
great unanswered questions of his intellectual pursuit: what exactly is
"the sacred"? Well, for one, religion (in any form) is a way of dealing
with the unspeakable - that which cannot be consciously communicated.
According to popular mythology science has (or should have) the answer to
everything, but _good_ scientists know this is not true. Science, like
consciousness or rationality, is a restricted enterprise with limited
relevance. Scientists are _never_ going to answer the big questions of
life. Now this leaves us in a delicate situation, as "reinvented" religion
is not the same things as the original stuff. I was being slightly ironic
in my provocation, but what I wanted to communicate is that the task is a
formidable one indeed. Any society needs ways of dealing with the
unspeakable, needs to deal with its own relations to the larger wholes of
which is only a part. This is _not_ a plea for re-institutionalizing
traditional religion, especially since - in the case of christianity - this
was predominantly transcendence-oriented and, again following Bateson, I
would say that what we need at this stage is a more immanence-oriented view
of the world, much more in tune with ecological insights.

>resulting from religious beliefs is one of the major problems facing the
>world today. If there is a constructive use for memetics, it is the
>engineering of culture to produce a society that not only is tolerant
>and just, but values ecological and spiritual balance as highly as the
>material comforts enjoyed by the few affluent individuals in the
>info/techno/material rich world which includes anybody who owns a
>computer and can afford the technology to connect to the internet.
>Before anyone suggests it is some kind of sin to want to control
>culture, please explain why "accidental" or "evolutionary" culture
>development is prefereable

Simply because they are not singularly purposive. Consciousness is a
double-edged sword. On the one hand it's a pretty neat trick, allowing for
many impressive achievements, but it's alse a curse, because of its
systematic ignorance of larger sircuits, of which it sees only short arcs.
Note also that not all religions were made equal. One of the big problems
with modern islam is that it lies rather flat on the page and thereby
allows for notions of unilateral control (see the ayatollahs in Iran). The
mystical branches of islam, such as sufism, are much richer in poetic,
spiritual and "dreamy" stuff. Christianly itself has gone through many
stages. Early mystical traditions (such as the gnostics) were succesfully
eradicated by generations of hardliners, but at the height of their reign
(during the Middle Ages) opposition was brooding. It is obvious that in
modern, secular societies, many christian churches are re-discovering their
spiritual roots.


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