Re: virus: The seven deadly memes?

Reed Konsler (
Sat, 29 Jun 1996 14:19:01 -0400

Sure. The most advantageous thing to do (from the perspective of your
genes) is to discourage everyone else from employing successful survival
strategies while you employ them as much as you can without drawing
attention to yourself. Catholic popes who lived debacherous lives
propagated successfully, while those lower in the church heirarchy actually
adhered to abstemious behavioral guidlines to which the pope paid lip
service. Those poor saps' genes failed to propagate themselves.

I think it's a mistake to confuse memes and genes. Genetic evolution acts on a
times scale much larger than cultural evolution. Therefore to say: cultural
situation A benifited subgroup B's genes over the all others is not reasonable.
Talking about reproductive fitness gets a little complicated in a cultural
setting. Is it better to have four children or convert four hundred disciples?
Memetics is an interesting idea becuase it changes our conception of what it
is that makes each of us unique. In the past it was held that immortality,
after a fashion, was obtainable through children. Memetics argues for a
different emphasis.

Immortality is to be obtained in the procreation of ones ideas. Having
children is an inefficient way of reproducing ones own image, though many
people find it rewarding for other reasons. A more direct way is to infect the
population with your memes, the ones that you find significant and value; give
people the proper mental tools and they will start to think like you.

Actually, the situation you described was detrimental to the Popes. No
cultural system would allow them to completely dominate the environment with
their own (genetic) progeny and the memes to which they at least payed lip
service were seriously weakened (a la The Reformation and the rise of
secularism) by their obvious hypocrisy. In addition, this hypocrisy undermined
future Popes ability to disseminate any memes whatsover, since they had the
reputation of being disreputable sources. All in all, I'd say they screwed up,
from a memetic point of view. But that's probably because they weren't
thinking in those terms at the time, anyway.

The "Seven Deadly Sins" appear, to me, to be a list of archetypes in which the
Prisoner's Dillema applies. Wrath is the most obvious, but the others are also
similar non zero-sum situations. Take any one of these situations and the
"natural" (max-min) tendency is to defect. Thus, within Religion we see an
attempt to dissemiante memes which break society out of continious defection
cycles. The problem is, instead of attempting to provide individuals with the
tools to make effective decisions, Religion tends to simply enforce those rules
which work empirically. These sins are not deadly to the individual, they are
deadly to society.

A lot of what one sees in Religious doctrine are "good ideas" which make
society function better than without them. I think it is important that we
don't throw away the "baby with the bathwater". I am not a relgious person,
but I don't think everything said in religion is wrong.