Re: virus: What makes memes compete?

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Mon, 14 Apr 1997 10:42:10 -0700 (PDT)

> >...a selfish gene cares not
> >about any other gene in the whole set when it comes to altruism--
> >it cares only about the probability of itself existing in the other.
> Seems to me this way of thinking about altruism is
> pre-memetics, despite their co-existence in The Selfish Gene.
> Suppose that altruism is not genetic but memetic. Suppose
> further that the genetic base upon which altruism is built (or
> part of it) is a tendency towards empathy.

Yes, that's quite possible. The point of view I sketched is
indeed genetic-only, and explains most lower animal behaviors
nicely. But if human culture has been around for many years,
then it becomes part of the genes' environment as well, and
would complicate the matter considerably.

> Q 1: What do people around here think of the liklihood of a gene
> for empathy? Before you answer, I should say I think that it
> just *could* be one of the most important bases for the
> transmission of memes, because in its most basic form,
> empathy results in the copying of behaviour. For instance,
> empathic behaviours include flocking, schooling and
> herding, and the tendency of humans to fall into step when
> walking together. (And modelling (copying of) behaviour
> has been observed in *very* young children, including
> premature babies.)

Flocking and schooling can be quite adequately explained by the
selfish gene model. A more likely candidate for meme-influenced
genetic traits would be unusual features considered attractive in
cultures where they are common: steatopygia in Hottentot women,
blondness in Swedes, obesity in Polynesians, thinness in bushmen.
Or to pick one more cultural, how about the predisposition to
achieve social status? It is likely that during most of the years
of human evolution as tribes of hunter-gatherers, that one's
status in the tribe was directly correlated to one's success in
breeding, so it is likely than humans have some psychological
predisposition to achive social status, even at the expense of
more soberly rational accomplishments. I suppose that some
altruistic behaviors might have suceeded that way too, but I don't
think it's necessary for explaining most of them.

> Q 3: We know that the concept of genetic altruism is
> highly dodgy. So how does the concept of genetic
> empathy stand up?

"We" don't know any such thing. A few crackpots doubt it, but
they are in the same class as flat-earthers or creationists.

Lee Daniel Crocker <>  <>
"All inventions or works of authorship original to me, herein and past,
are placed irrevocably in the public domain, and may be used or modified
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