Re: memetic engineering

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Sun, 29 Mar 1998 21:38:25 -0700

From: <>
Date: Sun, 29 Mar 1998 21:38:25 -0700
Subject: Re: memetic engineering

Bruce H. recently posted:

>Before anyone suggests it is some kind of sin to want to control
>culture, please explain why "accidental" or "evolutionary" culture
>development is prefereable

In our discussion on this topic we seem to bounce back and forth between
extremes in viewpoint. Though some are very skeptical of human intention
and competence when it comes down to engineering anything, they would
probably concede that it is not 'sinful' to want to control culture.
Even Josip is probably not promoting the idea that humans should (or
can) sit back and enjoy the hell in the proverbial handbasket.

And then there are the gung-ho engineers that strike me as a little
naive in holding the view that technology and education can save our
ass...that it is possible to scientifically boil down all the memetic
constituents allowing for the pure application of reason to the task of
utopia-building. Yeah, well, I really doubt it. Not that I don't find
the idea seductive. Making a peaceful and loving world would be really

What makes most sense to me is a middle course. Yes, it is true, human
engineering accomplishments often inflict more harm than good. AND, yes,
it is true, the application of scientific methods and reason can result
in technological solutions to difficult problems. However, the
scientific manipulation and control of sociocultural evolution will be
limited by the difficulty human individuals have in reading the
sociocultural adaptive landscape. What's good for the fitness of the
culture is not always in the best interest of the genetic fitness of
members. So, who do we serve?

What I propose is that the human species sits at a unique crossroads
between two divergent evolutionary trajectories. We are at the far end
of evolution in the age of the organism. At the same time we are
muddling about as contituents in an emerging sociocultural age. From the
memetic "primordial soup" a new class of being steps forth. The adaptive
concerns and cognitive nature of the emerging being(s) are not the same
as those that have driven human evolution. Our capacity to direct these
new bodies is therefore limited. It is for this reason that I remain
skeptical of the idea that engineering, in its traditional and precise
meaning, applies.

>From this perspective human agents are not powerless. We have a great
deal of control over the development of the emerging life forms. What I
suspect, however, is that we will have to reexamine all previous
conceptions of engineering. This is not like building aircraft or
bridges. This is not like bio- or genetic engineering. Rather than
operating as the one seeing all and controlling all relevant variables
we must be willing to embrace a new role...that of the infectious agent
in an institutional, cultural or organizational body.

Advertising, propaganda and marketing technicians are representative of
sanctioned forms this role has taken. But I keep wondering, shouldn't it
be possible to infect in a less materialistic and consumer-focused
manner? Isn't there a way to out-seduce the sanctioned seductress?

yours, in bewilderment

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