Re: JCS: Of memes and witchcraft

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Thu, 20 May 1999 20:02:20 EDT

From: <>
Date: Thu, 20 May 1999 20:02:20 EDT
Subject: Re: JCS: Of memes and witchcraft

In a message dated 5/20/99 2:32:47 PM Central Daylight Time, forwards a message from Mary Midgely from the JCS
list to the memetics list:

>>Two kinds of thing can be wrong with this story. First, of course, it
may not be seriously meant, it may just be a casual way of talking that
has accidentally been expanded into a piece of ontology. In that case it
should promptly be checked for meaning and, since there is none, be cut
off with Occam' s Razor. On the other hand it may be seriously meant.
The intention may really be that we should believe that all our own
opinions, ideas, attitudes etc. - including, of course, those that we
approve as well as those we disown - are simply alien beings pursuing
their own ends on our premises. What we call our SELVES are then merely
empty sites or mechanisms where they can grow and reproduce. We are no
more responsible for harbouring these ideas etc. than we are for
catching measles or being struck by lightning. Indeed 'we' are items too
vacuous to be responsible for anything.<<

I think Midgely is hitting damn close to the core of what is going wrong with
memetics. I don't share her judgement, but I do think that that ontology is
the problem. Some have grown so enamored with the shiny new paradigm that
they have abandoned perfectly fine-functioning ontological premises, for new
and unneccessary ontological premises that have highly questionable function
(other than perhaps serving as a "scientific" sounding confirmation of their
personal religious beliefs). We don't need memetics to turn the universe
upside down to be useful, but unfortunately many have decided that is exactly
what needs to be done. At best it is philosophical voodoo grandstanding, and
very irresponsible at that. At worst some even believe it and seek to
legitimate it.

Turning to Midgely, however, responsibility is an issue of control, and
selves are not vacuous in this regard. Memetics on the other hand engages
more issues of causation, instead of control, and thus are more useful for
broader contexts beyond the individual domain (though clearly and necessarily
interacting with and including it). Midgely seems to have lost sight of the
fact that issues of free will ARE issues of control and NOT causation (or
perhaps she never saw in the first place? I dunno - I am not that familiar
with her). If that is the case, perhaps her confounding of those issues
causes her to erroneously see the "danger" that thinking in terms of memes
will deprive (or exonerate) people of responsibility. That just isn't so.
Not all entities are entities of control to the extent and or in the manner
that selves are. Unfortunately some in memetics have recently made it seem
as if memes are by suggesting that *having selves* is only a meme illusion.
As long as they continue to do so, Midgely continues to make sense.


P.S. I would be interested to hear what she might have to say if someone
wants to forward this to the JCS list. I personally do not subscribe to it.
I may also try to EM a copy of this directly to her if that EM address in the
headers can actually recieve it. I am including those in the CC of this EM
and hope that they do not kick it back to me. If it makes it onto the that
list, may the participants understand that I won't see their responses there.


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