Re: "Retarding the Progress" - Some Specifics

Paul Marsden (
Sat, 27 Feb 1999 10:12:46 -0000

From: "Paul Marsden" <>
To: <>
Subject: Re: "Retarding the Progress" - Some Specifics
Date: Sat, 27 Feb 1999 10:12:46 -0000

Oh Aaron, I give up - I cannot be more clear and the fact that you still do
not understand is probably more a reflection of me than you: I have been as
specific as I can about your Hutterite example, and it's my shortcoming not
yours if you don't appreciate what is being said. Any credible analysis of
religious movements and social influence should begin with a literature
review, and a working knowledge of the field. Yours doesn't, and pays the
inevitable consequences (as described in my commentary, and in my last

Please post the inevitable last word you always have to have, and let's just
leave it at that and move on to a more constructive debate.

Paul Marsden
Graduate Research Centre in the Social Sciences
University of Sussex
tel/fax (44) (0) 117 974 1279
-----Original Message-----
From: Aaron Lynch <>
To: <>
Date: 26 February 1999 19:47
Subject: Re: "Retarding the Progress" - Some Specifics

>At 05:37 PM 2/26/99 -0000, Paul Marsden wrote:
>>Aaron wrote
>>>Now from Paul Marsden's commentary, we have a remarkable quote from his
>>>second paragraph:
>>>"As Gatherer notes, the thought contagion metaphor persists largely
>>>of what could charitably be called a `disregard' for linguistics and
>>>cognitive science. To this I would add a dangerous `disregard' for the
>>>corpus of social science in general, and evolutionary social science in
>>I'm glad you find it remarkable - you'll make me blush with pride ;-)
>>>Now I could make a case that it is others, not myself, who have been
>>>dangerously ignoring the social science work done on the Hutterites, but
>>>that is not my purpose here.
>>Then why bother to say it? Who, for example?
>>>Rather, if Paul sees me as "dangerously"
>>>disregarding linguistics, cognitive science, and other social sciences,
>>>then he can presumably tell me how this has affected my discussions of
>>Your if... then... claim does not necessarily follow. But anyway, the
>>answer is because the example is uninformed and unsubstantiated where it
>>not vacuous (see previous list).
>>>Therefore, I would like Pual himself to tell me how how HIS
>>>explanation of why the Hutterites have spread instead of going extinct
>>>linguistics, cognitive science, etc. I didn't see any linguistic or
>>>cognitive science arguments in his posts on the Hutterites, but my
>>>invitation affords him an opportunity to share those insights.
>>I wasn't aware I had an explanation. Aaron, I have nothing against what
>>say about Hutterites per se (apart from the above) - simply that what you
>>say has nothing to do with contagious thoughts, how they combine and
>>separate etc. You are simply saying beliefs survive because they can be
>>passed on non-genetically (the only way they can get passed on). This is
>>simply saying that those beliefs that survive get passed on, and their
>>prevalence depends on how may get passed on.
>>>Specifically, Paul, how do you propose to use linguistics and cognitive
>>>science in a memetic explanation of why the Hutterites spread instead of
>>>going extinct.
>>By a) dropping vacuous and misleading neologisms, and b) building on the
>>literature on group psychology c) drawing from studies that have already
>>been conducted on Hutterites, d) backing up my claims with evidence.
>>Culture is transmitted non-genetically, by definition, and a group
>>standard techniques of social influence and compliance, especially with
>>reference to authority and power structures of groups and families will
>>increase its survival chances (see Cialdini 1988 for an introduction to
>>social influence (and a more limited introduction in Richard's Virus of
>>Mind), Petty and Cacioppo 1981 for an overview of techniques). Memetics
>>does not need to reinvent the wheel - especially where it has nothing new
>Paul, this looks more like an effort to dodge the question than to explain
>specifically how you would apply linguistics and cognitive science to
>understanding the non-extinction and expansion of the Hutterites. Yes,
>there is more work that one can do on the memetics of the Hutterites. What
>you have not done is shown specifically how to apply linguistics or
>cognitive science to the Hutterite case. I do not wish to be told to go
>read Cialdini 1988 unless you can tell me here on this list what Cialdini
>1988 says that helps memetically explain the growth of the Hutterites.
>In your other message, you said:
>>As one who would rather not "retard the progress of memetics," I would
>>to see how either my JoM-EMIT paper or my book might have done so in a
>>specific topic: the Hutterites. Both Derek and Paul have just joined me in
>>discussing the Hutterites (in the "Group Selection" thread), so perhaps
>>they can now apply their insights to that specific case.
>>Aaron, let's look at what you actually say about Hutterites in the two
>>thirds of a page you devote to the subject in TC. You start with a number
>>of statements
>>You state that Hutterite couples have on average more than ten children
>>(no source).
>The source is Hostetler, 1974. This work was cited in the text, but not in
>an academic style. I believe it is clear from context that this is my
>source of information on the Hutterite fertility rate. I will, however,
>attempt to make the source more clear when I get around to writing "Thought
>Contagion II: The Believing." :-)
>>You state that they superficially resemble the Amish in terms of agrarian
>>life-style and "old-fashioned" attire
>>You state they are hosts to many Christian memes, and cite a single
>>of monogamous marriage
>>You state the biggest memetic difference (to what?) concerns family
>>structure - where all adults share responsibility for each child, and that
>>children MUST not develop closer ties to their biological parent.
>>Then you make one claim
>>"By distributing parental responsibility, the Hutterites greatly dilute
>>usual pragmatic motives for regulating fertility. Having only one more
>>child only slightly raises a couple's expected share of care and support
>>efforts. This, then, accounts for their extraordinary achievements in
>>and go on to make one further ancillary point that due to their isolation
>>there is a "resulting dropout rate (under 10%) [which] allows the high
>>fertility to yield rapid net expansion".
>>Now there are a number of specific points that can be made about this.
>>Firstly, so what? Any social scientist will tell you that non-genetically
>>transmitted information (AKA culture (by definition)) in humans can affect
>>their behaviour, including reproductive behaviour. (Notice we are talking
>>about behaviour here). In this sense, your claim is entirely predictable
>>within standard social science - you don't need contagious thoughts to
>>this claim - socialisation/learning will do nicely.
>Non-genetically transmitted brain-stored information is what I refer to in
>less technical terms as "contagious thought," "self-propagating ideas,"
>etc. Not all of culture consists of such brain-stored information.
>>Secondly, and in a related fashion, you use meme/thought contagion simply
>>a synonym for culture - this is fine, but again so what? Using a partial
>>metaphor for a perfectly good term (culture) seems highly disingenuous and
>>invites confusion. We have to look at what the TC metaphor adds to/is
>>different from standard social science to assess its usefulness - your
>>Hutterite example sheds no light on this.
>>The term "culture" is less specific, and includes artifacts and behaviors.
>When Dawkins used the word "meme" to discuss beliefs in God, etc., was he
>being highly disingenuous?
>>Thirdly, it is not at all clear that "parental responsibility" is the
>>motive for regulating fertility. If that were the case, societies with
>>child care facilities (reducing the responsibility) would have larger
>>families. This is not the case, for example in France, a nominally
>>country, where child care is heavily subsidised, and is often completely
>>free, where the fertility rate is so low the
>>government gives you a reduction in the income tax for each child you
>>and will pay for Nannies.
>I do not claim that parental responsibility is the only motive, but merely
>say that it is greatly reduced in the Hutterite case. I agree that
>countries with low fertility rates have been giving incentives for
>reproduction. This would explain the presence of such programs in France.
>Did the government subsidies raise fertility rates from an even lower
>level? The question of whether reducing the labor and financial
>responsibility of raising a child promotes having more children is
>certainly a good research topic in general, and a good subject of
>investigation in the Hutterite case in particular. But how does proposing
>the hypothesis of incentive-mediated fertility in the Hutterite case
>"retard" the research? If anything, it seems more likely to prompt someone
>to investigate the subject. Until then, there remains circumstantial
>evidence of the sort that supported early Darwinism. Specifically, this
>group with a very unusual family structure has a phenomenally high
>fertility rate and just so happens to be rapidly growing.
>>Fourthly, you provide absolutely no evidence for the statements or claims
>you make.
>The evidence for high fertility rates, low dropout rates, old-fashioned
>attire, doctrines, etc. are in Hostetler's book.
>>So to answer your question, of why the use of your Hutterite example is
>>retarding the progress of memetics. The answer is because your
>>are either
>>a) self evident, to which the thought contagion metaphor adds nothing,
>This is a particularly poor complaint, as the whole idea of "natural
>selection" can also be called "self evident."
>>b) vacuous
>This is vague and unsubstantiated.
>>c) unsubstantiated
>Point c is unfalsifiable, in that I expect you can always call a conclusion
>"unsubstantiated" unless it is absolutely proven. What remains
>unsubstantiated even to a circumstantial degree is the claim that anything
>I have written on the Hutterites has "retarded the progress" of memetics in
>the Hutterite case.
>>Your central argument in TCP is that given parent-child fidelity in
>>transmission, that the culture held by one generation will increase in
>>prevalence at a rate correlated with the fertility rate. Well, yes, this
>>simply common sense. However your premise of high parent-child fidelity
>>modern society where culture jumps genetic lineages, is fallacious
>>(particularly related to sexual mores and norms which change faster than
>>genetic deadtime) EXCEPT in culturally isolated communities - where as I
>>said you claim is simply common sense, if not a tautology.
>I do not have a premise of high parent-child fidelity in modern society. I
>allow for different ideas to show different fidelity rates, and have even
>expressed those rates as mathematical parameters that need to be measured
>in future work. I fully accept the idea that fidelity rates have declined,
>and that this has affected the prevalences of all sorts of beliefs.
>>Now, you ask why the Thought Contagion metaphor is retarding the progress
>>memetics. Derek and I have listed why this is the case in 1) the original
>>article,2) the focus, and 3) my commentary, please read them again if you
>>are still unclear.
>The original article, focus, and commentary did not give a specific example
>how "the thought contagion metaphor" had "retarded the progress of
>memetics" in a case to which it was actually applied--as distinct from
>hypothetical cases involving Windsor knots and Napoleonic death dates.
>Given the invitation and the opportunity, you still have not given such an
>example, leading me to conclude that the claim you made on this matter was
>itself vacuous.
>--Aaron Lynch
>This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
>Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
>For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)