Re: Significance of memetics

Lloyd Robertson (
Thu, 26 Nov 1998 16:01:20 -0600

Message-Id: <>
Date: Thu, 26 Nov 1998 16:01:20 -0600
From: Lloyd Robertson <>
Subject: Re: Significance of memetics
In-Reply-To: <>

Thanks, Derek, I appreciated your summary of the Jonestown tapes.

>So on the question of automata vs. group mind, the answer is probably
>neither. This was a straightforward case of bullying, and in the end a
>few people decided not to be bullied any more.

I have trouble accepting that Jones, one man, could have bullied nearly a
thousand to murder and/or take their own lives. He must have had allies who
listened to him and followed his direction. Were those allies automata or
were they reflecting a group or sub-group consensus?
>Footage of Jones' religious ceremonies indicates that he went to great
>pains to fake miracles with a skill that could have earned him a career
>as a stage magician. Old bits of chicken entrails were mixed with
>human blood and then produced from tablecloths held under the mouths of
>his victims during induced coughing fits. The dupes would then swear
>they had coughed up a cancer. Some still believe today that they did

This is standard fair for faith healers. Would it be safe to say that Jones
was using "miracles" to cement a belief that he was a special emissary from
their shared god? Would this become part of the group culture?
>One thing which struck me was the degree to which Jones' followers had
>become convinced by the 'evidence' he had presented to them. Many were
>skeptical when they arrived but were slowly won over by his skillful
>Copperfieldian antics. All in all, it seemed like they were undergoing
>an 'individual learning' process, being convinced slowly by their own
>(tricked) experiences. It didn't look like a contagion event.

It would be interesting to know what memes were being replaced in the
belief systems of members during this slow process. It must have created
substantial inner conflict. In memetic terms, I imagine that some of their
existing memes would have repelled the memes Jones wanted to introduce.
Still, there must have been some attraction.

>But there were many 'solutions' within the group. Some tried
>unsuccessfully to leave with the Senator, whom Jones had murdered along

There are always many solutions but sometimes our perceptions are
restricted. A large number of Jonestown people, probably a majority, did
not appear to see alternatives that were viable. About a dozen people
attempted to leave with Congressman Ryan including his daughter. She was
wounded but survived to join the Moonies.
>> It seems to me that if it was all a matter of a psychopathic Jones who was
>> endowed with plenty of personal charisma then those members left in the
>> U.S. would not have suicided during the month following Jonestown.
>This wasn't mentioned in the programme. Why did they suicide on their
>own whereas the ones in Guyana had to be bullied, cajoled and
>threatened into it?
This information I received from FactNet which describes itself as an
anticult site. Apparently one woman slit the throats of her three children
before doing herself in. They make reference to others but do not give
details. They do mention that former cultists who spoke out against Jones
were murdered in the U.S. It would appear that the effect of Jones
continued on after his death.

> A more
>> likely process is that the suicide meme easily attached to the belief
>> system shared by the whole group.
>But there was no shared belief system. They were a very heterogeneous
>group of people united solely by their unfortunate devotion to a
>charismatic trickster.
There had to have been a shared belief system or you would not have had a
group. There has to be some basis for the devotion and that basis is held
within the framework of a compatible belief system. Now the shared belief
system can evolve and maybe that was what Jones was attempting to do thru
his trickery. The suicide meme had to attach itself to the belief systems
of enough of the group to make the mass murder/suicide viable.

Finally, I did not get to listen to the program referenced by you. Would
you say that the program was relatively unbiased or did they have a
particular point of view that they were trying to sell? Was the FBI
selective in releasing the tapes or did the media have access to all the


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