Re: Significance of memetics

Fri, 27 Nov 1998 09:07:34 -0500 (EST)

Subject: Re: Significance of memetics
Date: Fri, 27 Nov 1998 09:07:34 -0500 (EST)

On Thu, 26 Nov 1998 16:01:20 -0600 Lloyd Robertson
<> wrote:

> 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?

There was one particular lieutenant, a female, who was heavily involved
in administering the poison.

> 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?

It seemed that some believed in Jones and others had serious
reservations about him; the latter group had loyalty towards the sect
as a whole. Some spoke about how good life was in the Guyana colony
before Jones arrived in flight from the FBI. It seems doubtful that
the latter group could have believed he was an emissary from any god,
but probably did acknowledge him as their leader, albeit grudgingly.

'Fanatics' are often less loyal to their leaders than outsiders or the
leaders themselves might believe. Abimael Guzman of the Sendero
Luminoso got turned in by his own people.

> 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.

Well, I prefer not to see beliefs in these terms. I think you'll need
to consult Aaron if you want to go further down this road.

> 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.

But suicide wasn't the only alternative.

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.

That does seem like a suicide contagion phenomenon which is well
documented in other cases (see Paul's article). But the mass suicide
was clearly not a contagion. I think we're looking at different
phenomena here.

> > A more
> >> likely process is that the suicide meme easily attached to the belief
> >> system shared by the whole group.

Again I'm not sure that I can interpret this. You're assuming a
thought contagionist mechanism, so I can't really comment.

> There had to have been a shared belief system or you would not have had a
> group.

No, I think you make too many assumptions here. There are plenty of
other reasons why groups coalesce.

There has to be some basis for the devotion and that basis is
> 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.

No, again I have problems with attaching a behaviour (suicide) to a
belief, and analysing them on the same terms.

> 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?

It seemed to ba straightforward historical acocunt of Jones' career
from his early days as conventional non-conformist church pastor,
through his SF radical period and onto Jonestown. It was biographical
in its orientation. I didn't get the impression that they anything
specific to say regarding the psychology of religion or suicide as a

Was the FBI
> selective in releasing the tapes or did the media have access to all the
> tapes?

I don't know.


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