Re: memetics-digest V1 #26: metabeliefs

Ton Maas (
Sun, 26 Apr 1998 18:57:24 +0200

Message-Id: <v03102800b16912148266@[]>
In-Reply-To: <>
Date: Sun, 26 Apr 1998 18:57:24 +0200
From: Ton Maas <>
Subject: Re: memetics-digest V1 #26: metabeliefs

Eva-Lise Carlstrom wrote:
>I agree with Aaron that doubting someone's assertion about where they got
>a meme is not on the same level as doubting their assertion that they have
>that meme. However, I don't think it's as clear as he seems to think
>that one cannot be mistaken about one's own beliefs. Since beliefs are
>digital units, but involve many factors including degrees of understanding
>and conviction, it is perfectly possible, for instance, to state with no
>intention of deceit that one believes something to be true, but also to
>act in ways derived from contradictory beliefs.

Indeed, the most fundamental beliefs - the basic premises of a culture are
a good example - are almost invariably unconscious in the sense that people
naively view their own mental program as "normal" and only become aware of
their shared identity vis-a-vis other cultures. Maybe awareness of specific
memes is more common than awareness of meta-memes, although specific memes
tend to be instances of larger and more abstract memetic patterns. One
rather nice example of the contradiction mentioned above comes from
anthropological fieldwork in New Guinea. In this particular case informants
had decribed abduction of eligible young women for the purpose of marriage
as being common practise in their society. A certain young man, however,
ended up being harassed by the relatives of a young woman he had abducted
against her will. He had taken this particular belief too literal and had
actually abducted the girl against her will. By the same token many
Westerners still claim they adhere to "traditional values", which are in
fact rather like "nostalgic" notions than actually being related to
tradition (in the anthropological sense of an unbroken chain of events). We
may say that we still stand by our principles, but how many of us would
actually be prepared to die at the stakes? Fact of the matter is that
things no longer matter to us as greatly as they used to, but we haven't
effectively changed the way we describe ourselves.


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