virus: Observations on Virus

Tyson Vaughan (
Wed, 25 Oct 1995 11:22:44 +0000

Well, I joined Virus maybe a month ago or so (after stumbling on the web
page), and I've been lurking and observing the conversations. I have a
number of comments on various recent threads, which I will offer in no
particular order....

First, I think that David and cohorts came up with a lot of great ideas in
forming Virus. I think there were a lot of seemingly disjointed concepts
floating around out there which were synthesized in a cogent, aesthetically
pleasing way. I see Virus largely as a sub-sect or outgrowth of
Extropianism. While Extropianism appears to be a movement which evolved
from existing values within a certain community (primarily Gen-X digerati)
and then codified, Virus is a more deliberately constructed meme-complex.
I'm more impressed with the depth of thought that has gone into Virus than
I am with the depth of thought in Extropianism. But this is probably to be
expected considering the origins of each.

However, I think Virus suffers from a critical flaw, which may be inherent:
Virus is too dogmatic.

You may be gasping in disbelief, but I keep seeing evidence of this irony
again and again. My understanding of Virus in general is that it is
ideally to be a "religion" (I will use that word for convenience's sake)
WITHOUT dogma, but rather with a totally adaptable complex of memes. That
way it may evolve with changing cultural values, etc., and remain relevant
over a long period of time.
Yet the memes in this meme-complex have been written down. That is dogma.
Certain memes have been stated unequivocally. Such as:
There was one statement somewhere on the web page -- I don't even remember
what exactly was being asserted -- all I remember was reading "Many people
think... [blah blah blah...]. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG." How can a religion be
flexible if its creators write such unequivocal language into the original

The fact that Virus is supposed to be a "place" for people to find answers
to life's great questions...... Any answer provided is tantamount to
dogma. If Virus is to pass judgement on abortion, euthanasia, and other
contemporary moral quandaries, as someone has requested, it will become
intolerably dogmatic.

I personally find the idea that life does have a specific, definable
meaning as rather disappointing and anti-climactic.

The very concept of a religion based on adaptable memes and meme-complexes
is itself a concept indigenous to the 1990s. It is appropriate for
contemporary society (at least part of it), but that very concept may be
outdated in 100 years. One thing is certain: it WILL be outdated. It is
only a question of WHEN.

I tend to think of religions as (among other things) collections of values
common to a culture. In fact, I think that might define the difference
between a cult and a religion. A cult doesn't become a religion until it
represents an identifiable culture. (An ethnic group or socioeconomic
class with common values may count as a culture. A group of nuts in Waco,
or in the labyrinths of Rome, does not.) Obviously there are serious
ambiguities to be considered in that definition. But I'll leave it at
that. In any case, Virus represents the values of a relatively small group
of people. As I understand it, part of its original purpose was merely to
articulate those values. Unless it undergoes morphing to the point of
changing its identity, Virus will probably never represent a broad culture.
Therefore it will never progress beyond cult status.

The thing is, I don't think it's necessarily desirable for Virus to become
a broadly practiced religion. I don't think the ritual "low tradition" must
be developed. I think Virus should be as streamlined as possible, a kernel
of a philosophical gestalt. While I don't think that it should be
deliberately elitist and inaccessible for "the average bear", I think it
should be true to its own values. Ritual is rarely adaptable. Ritual is,
almost by definition, fixed. It is replicated as accurately as possible
for as long as possible. Its purpose generally appears to be accurate
replication of fixed memes. Ritual seems to be inherently anti-Virus.

Not being a philosopher or had much philosophical training, I can't comment
too extensively on the Popper-Hegel debate except to say that reading the
excerpt from Popper had a similar effect on me as listening to Rush
Limbaugh. That is, he seems to be making sense until he draws a conclusion
which seems diametrically opposite from what logic would dictate. That was
just my general impression. Hegel I've read some things about and am
fairly convinced the guy was a visionary and extremely influential on our
society today.

I'm uneasy with Virus insofar as it draws inspiration or ideas from
Extropianism. While I strongly agree with some Extropian principles, I
loathe others. The two which which really disturb me are: 1) the
unquestioning faith in technology; 2) the belief that evolution is a
progressive process. Also there seems to be a general affirmation of our
right, of humanity's right, to expand, to dominate, to control. All of
this looks to me like hybris against the universe. I won't go into details
because I understand that Virus is NOT Extropianism. But there do seem to
be some similarities. The one thing that concerns me is that Virus appears
to have replaced technology with reason. Reason is not only fallible, but
(IMHO) inadequate as a source of answers for the nearly infinite range of
human experiences and problems. I don't think it can even contain
descriptions of that full range. Many things can only be experienced and
understood viscerally, not cerebrally.

I'll stop rambling now. I've pointed out a number of criticisms, but I
hope that they will help to constructively provide perspective on Virus. I
guess that my concerns boil down to the fact that I don't know if this
small complex of memes constructed by a small group of people is
appropriate to be anything other than just that. Nor do I think it should
necessarily aspire to anything more than that. I think the choice of
symbols, language and nomenclature used in Virus (e.g., biohazard logos and
words like "infect") is an indication that the creators of this
meme-complex had something very specfic in mind and were not concerned with
diluting their ideas for popular appeal or accessibility. Maybe it should
stay that way.

Tyson Vaughan
Memetic engineer