[Previous] Rational Sex? | Home | [Next] On Banishing Iniquity From Children

Memes I

Some children are *impossible*. Some parents fight with their own children. Some girls are stunningly hot. Some guys are no less attractive, even if less effort has gone into describing it. Some people have midlife crises -- all of a sudden -- when the problem was visible for many years. Others waste their lives on trivialities and never notice. Some people go to great lengths to please others and be socially acceptable. Those same people exert effort to hurt anyone who doesn't do likewise.

These seemingly disparate situations all have a common thread. I now wish to introduce a matter of some consequence. First we will consider the effects, and afterwards I will explain how it happens. So bear with me if at first some notions strain your credulity.

Imagine that all the sins and vices of humanity are not natural, innate, inherent, God-given, or genetic. Consider that they are ideas, passed on through the generations, just like the knowledge to build fire or speak a language. This is not a very popular proposition, because it plants responsibility for the failures of humanity squarely on people and their mistakes. But that is no reason to think it untrue, and it is deeply optimistic because it insists that we are not stuck with our problems forever.

For an idea that isn't naturally reoccurring to survive very long, it must be able to get from older people to younger people. The best known and most effective means of transferring knowledge to the next generation has always been the teachings of a parent to his child. It is rare that any source rivals the influence with a child that his parents have, especially for very young children whose minds are most malleable. So if we consider that sins are ideas, and we further suppose that children do not invent all their sins anew, the most likely source of vice is from their parents.

It may seem a strange concept that parents would teach vices to their most loved ones, who they would do anything to protect. Surely no parent wants to hurt his child, or worse, doom him to a life struggling against vice and immorality. But what happens is not always what is intended to happen. It is well know that everyone has flaws, and that must include parents, no matter how virtuous their desires. Why should not their flaws make them do wrong unto their children?

Here I will ask you to again imagine a fact that seems foreign to the reality you know. We normally think of flaws in simple terms. A person might be a poor judge of romantic partners, or investment opportunities, or quality appliances. A person might have an angry streak and hurt his loved ones, or a cruel streak and hurt acquaintances, or be gullible or miserly or stupid. But where do such characteristics come from, if they are not inherent traits of humanity? They are not well liked like math, and no parent gives lessons to teach his child to be angry. So imagine that a part of the flaw was that the person behaved in such a way that he *did* teach the flaw to his children. Consider what reality would be like if this were true:

The shortcomings of humanity are now comprehensible, explicable phenomena, and we can do something about them. If defects in children are the result of parental behavior, then they can be prevented if parents behave differently. If our neighbors deficiencies are just ideas, we can reason with them. Most importantly, those parts of our own character that we find most distasteful are not outside our power to change. This view, while superficially it seems to cruelly blame people for qualities they'd do anything to give up, in actuality is a message of hope and optimism that we can all change for the better.

To see how it may be plausible that what you have imagined is accurate, let us turn our attention now to a concept that is already well accepted: the meme. A meme is an idea that, in the right circumstances, causes behavior in people so that the meme is copied into other people's minds essentially intact. Earlier we imagined flaws that caused themselves to be copied into the minds of children. If flaws are ideas, memes are a good fit.

Memes function according to the principle of evolution. Evolution simultaneously accounts for how the complexity of memes came to exist and gives us logic to see what sort of memes would come to exist. Complexity comes from competition over many generations. Over time, changes that make a meme more competitive will be favored. It is an easy proposition that improvements that help memes spread effectively would increase complexity. Think of a serious, involved debate like over abortion. Both sides have complex positions, and if you removed most of the complexity from either side it would become unconvincing.

What do memes compete over? Being passed on to younger people. Only a limited (large, but limited) amount of information is passed on. The logic of memes says that only the most competitive ones will survive, so we should expect all memes to have some characteristics to ensure they are passed on to more and more (younger) people (or to be new and on their way out).

How do memes compete? What makes a good one that will survive? It takes knowledge. This can either be knowledge of how to survive directly, or it can be knowledge of reality that people find valuable. This suggests (following David Deutsch) two distinct categories of memes: static and dynamic. The names will make sense shortly. Static memes embody knowledge of how to survive: they have knowledge of how to cause people to spread them. They contain mechanisms to cause human behavior, and function in any environment where people don't know how to resist those mechanisms. Dynamic memes have knowledge about reality, like an explanation of how to fix cars, or a theory of gravity. They function in any environment with people who value good ideas and actively seek them out.

Static and dynamic memes have different methods of ensuring continued survival, and that's where their names come from. Static memes, in essence, work to create a world of stasis. If nothing changes, they live forever. Dynamic memes are so named because they always change. They survive only as long as they remain the best ideas we have, but they are only replaced by better ideas, so the tradition of dynamic memes lives on.

Static memes might sound like a dark fantasy. Ideas that control people and suppress creative thought? However, their logic can and would work if the right ideas existed. So the only issue of their reality is in whether they were ever invented. Designing an idea capable of controlling human behavior and suppressing creativity would be virtually impossible. No one has the necessary knowledge and understanding of human behavior. However, static memes could have begun extremely ineffectively, and evolved to become more effective. At first, one might control human behavior in only a few rare cases, and only be able to suppress a few specific sorts of thoughts. But new variants that were a little more powerful -- that controlled people a little better -- would be selected for. Other qualities that would be selected for include being harder to notice having the meme, being harder (more complex or more painful) to get rid of the meme, and being better at causing people to copy the meme to children.

Returning to our initial queries, the common theme is that static memes offer an explanation of each situation. The child is impossible because his parents are hurting him which makes him irrational which makes him more accepting of static memes that don't make sense. People being attractive makes not enacting the romantic ritual painful and makes choosing mates an irrational process thus ensuring less competent parenting. People waste their lives because they are living statically. And social norms are a method by which static memes suppress new ideas.

Elliot Temple on January 1, 2006

Comments (23)

suppose memes are this way: what doe sit matter? as a basic 'evolutionary' trait, most [satic?] memes must be at a subconscious level - take anger, for example. I can totally see the way one acts when angry as being taught [not that theres strong proof of it, just nothing going against it], yet one also find anger in animals, and I can not imagine any person who has something resembling emotions lacking it. perhaps lacking the expression of it, learning to deal with it, but not lacking it per se. Thus, for the most irrational and illogical memes, emotions, nothing can be done. Perhaps with the new, conscious, short lived dynamic memes, we might say "gravity isn't true" or "not ALL baby's should be smacked upside the head" recognize their source and discard them, but to suggest that we really control memes presents the problem of how an meme [we can control memes] can be controlled by humans while we also say memes control humans - control of memes, or humanity, or fate, or chance, or logic, is a delusion at worst, and a true paradox at best. Are we manipulating the ideas with the ideas that are manipulating us? In tru evolutionary fashion, is the idea that one evolutionary offshoot as preferable to the another a mere conceit?

Sitraahra at 5:41 AM on January 28, 2006 | #73
wud u still write this essay the same now?

i want to show it to someone who is trying to solve an anger problem.

Anonymous at 5:20 PM on May 17, 2016 | #5307
if u like it, u like it.

Anonymous at 5:30 PM on May 17, 2016 | #5308
I'm gonna try some crit b4 deciding to show it to the person i mentioned. 

> Some children are *impossible*. Some parents fight with their own children. 

not true. nearly all parents fight with their own children. like >99.9%

> Some girls are stunningly hot. Some guys are no less attractive, even if less effort has gone into describing it. Some people have midlife crises -- all of a sudden -- when the problem was visible for many years.

isn't midlife crisis kinda a myth? ppl have crises at all times of their lives. there's nothing special abt midlife.

> Others waste their lives on trivialities and never notice. Some people go to great lengths to please others and be socially acceptable. Those same people exert effort to hurt anyone who doesn't do likewise.

gp. ppl don't usually see or want to see that social acceptably involves hurting others.

generally i liked the style of the opening paragraph - it hooked me.

> These seemingly disparate situations all have a common thread. I now wish to introduce a matter of some consequence. First we will consider the effects, and afterwards I will explain how it happens. So bear with me if at first some notions strain your credulity.

"disparate" and "credulity" seem like complicated words.
 
why not use "ideas" instead of notions?

> Imagine that all the sins and vices of humanity are not natural, innate, inherent, God-given, or genetic. 

sins and vices being "God-given" is not how religious people see things.

> Consider that they are ideas, passed on through the generations, just like the knowledge to build fire or speak a language. This is not a very popular proposition, because it plants responsibility for the failures of humanity squarely on people and their mistakes. But that is no reason to think it untrue, and it is deeply optimistic because it insists that we are not stuck with our problems forever.

nah "insists" is not what it does.

i think the paragraph needs breaking up. there are several important ideas and they are served up at once. it's gonna fly over the head of person i mentioned.

> For an idea that isn't naturally reoccurring to survive very long, it must be able to get from older people to younger people. The best known and most effective means of transferring knowledge to the next generation has always been the teachings of a parent to his child. It is rare that any source rivals the 
influence with a child that his parents have, especially for very young children whose minds are most malleable. So if we consider that sins are ideas, and we further suppose that children do not invent all their sins anew, the most likely source of vice is from their parents.

what abt schools?

> It may seem a strange concept that parents would teach vices to their most loved ones, who they would do anything to protect. Surely no parent wants to hurt his child, or worse, doom him to a life struggling against vice and immorality. 

some parents do want that.

> But what happens is not always what is intended to happen. It is well know that everyone has flaws, and that must include parents, no matter how virtuous their desires. Why should not their flaws make them do wrong unto their children?

that last sentence is hard to parse.  and there's an appeal to the authority of "It is well know[n]".

> Here I will ask you to again imagine a fact that seems foreign to the reality you know. We normally think of flaws in simple terms. A person might be a poor judge of romantic partners, or investment opportunities, or quality appliances. A person might have an angry streak and hurt his loved ones, or a cruel streak and hurt acquaintances, or be gullible or miserly or stupid. But where do such characteristics come from, if they are not inherent traits of humanity? They are not well liked like math, and no parent gives lessons to teach his child to be angry. So imagine that a part of the flaw was that the person behaved in such a way that he *did* teach the flaw to his children. Consider what reality would be like if this were true:

i had to read that paragraph a couple of times. it's getting hard to understand. like i'm struggling with "They are are not well liked like math, ... ".

the idea in the second last sentence seems important but I think ppl like the person i wanna show this to are gonna be confused by now.

finishing for the moment.

👉 preview would be useful to check my formatting b4 posting

Anonymous at 11:36 PM on May 17, 2016 | #5311
> These seemingly disparate situations all have a common thread. I now wish to introduce a matter of some consequence. First we will consider the effects, and afterwards I will explain how it happens. So bear with me if at first some notions strain your credulity.

this is way way too fucking fancy

> not true. nearly all parents fight with their own children. like >99.9%

99.9% is some. technically, some is any amount above 0.

the reason for calling it "some" instead of e.g. "many" or "most" is stylistic. it's about whether to make a stronger claim or a weaker claim. i was less specific because the more specific claim wasn't what i wanted to talk about at that time.

i am not coding to spend time coding a preview feature.

curi at 12:11 AM on May 18, 2016 | #5312
> i am not coding to spend time coding a preview feature.

i am not GOING to spend time coding a preview feature.

Anonymous at 12:11 AM on May 18, 2016 | #5313
sounds like having to do ur own coding is getting in the way of improving the blog?

Anonymous at 1:11 AM on May 18, 2016 | #5319
you sound hostile. there are upsides and downsides. you're just saying "omg there is a downside therefore you made a stupid decision". you are saying it in a very common mean social way, along with deniability that you are being mean (which makes it meaner).

Anonymous at 1:39 AM on May 18, 2016 | #5320
do you actually know of any blog software package that does quoting, bold and italics this way?

Anonymous at 1:40 AM on May 18, 2016 | #5321
I don't think the blog author made a stupid decision. but it sounded like he has a problem now. I thought my question was straightforward. no hostility intended.

how could I have put it better?

Anonymous at 3:52 AM on May 18, 2016 | #5322
also why would I be hostile?

Anonymous at 3:55 AM on May 18, 2016 | #5323
> I am not GOING to spend time coding a preview feature.

No indication if the suggestion had merit or not. No indication if suggestion might be followed up later. Just a flat out Nope. Seems like an irritable response. That's why I thought there's a problem.

Anonymous at 4:28 AM on May 18, 2016 | #5324
when u talked about saying what I said in a very common mean social way basically u meant it is tearing down the good for being good right? the good have problems like everyone but the bad use those problems to shit stir and make out the good is not good.

Anonymous at 4:50 AM on May 18, 2016 | #5325
no

Anonymous at 4:51 AM on May 18, 2016 | #5326
> 99.9% is some. technically, some is any amount above 0.

technically, some people people died under communism in the USSR. but saying "some" people died is wrong. it diminishes the huge and horrific scale of what happened. parents fighting with children is a massive problem. readers shouldn't get the impression that it's not.

> the reason for calling it "some" instead of e.g. "many" or "most" is stylistic. it's about whether to make a stronger claim or a weaker claim. i was less specific because the more specific claim wasn't what i wanted to talk about at that time.

I don't understand what u mean by stronger and weaker claims.

Anonymous at 2:22 PM on May 18, 2016 | #5328
"more than 10 people died from communism" - weaker claim

"more than 9999999 peopled died from communism" - stronger claim

both claims are true. both are useful in some contexts.

Anonymous at 2:27 PM on May 18, 2016 | #5330
not being specific means "weak" claims are not good for learning. they rely on vagueness and arbitrariness. they help ppl dodge and evade. they mask disagreement.

the weak claim that "both are useful in some contexts" is true but it hides that weak claims are bad in many contexts.

Anonymous at 5:25 PM on May 18, 2016 | #5339
you're over-generalizing.

one of the many things you're missing is that it doesn't work well to argue about everything at once.

Anonymous at 5:29 PM on May 18, 2016 | #5340
u mean like how I'm "bang bang bang ... here's a bunch of reasons why weak claims are bad"?

Anonymous at 6:10 PM on May 18, 2016 | #5342
> do you actually know of any blog software package that does quoting, bold and italics this way?

I like the quoting. ppl don't seem to use the bold and italics much. no I don't kno

Anonymous at 11:32 PM on May 18, 2016 | #5344

Test

top
Bbbn
Bbbbbbbc jbggj
Chhvv bn
Aaaassdfgfssssdffcssfdsaddddssddssddzdddddc
Jbggj night
Bbgjb

[{#^>,£!?€!
Gvbm
CB

rdivy
Chchcydhduw👬👯👨‍👩‍👧👨‍👩‍👧‍👦👬👬

Gxfhv *,>£,€£*
>
>>
>>>
>>>>
>>>>>>>>>
*hello* **hello**

Anonymous at 11:55 PM on May 18, 2016 | #5345
you forgot ***hello*** :)

Anonymous at 11:57 PM on May 18, 2016 | #5346
👬👯👨‍👩‍👧👨‍👩‍👧‍👦👬👬

FF at 3:22 AM on June 11, 2017 | #8715

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)