RE: virus: Genes vs. Memes: The War Heats Up

Grant Callaghan (
Wed, 4 Jun 1997 21:55:58 -0700 (PDT)

On Wed, 4 Jun 1997, John ''!Boolean'' Williams wrote:

> At 07:00 AM 6/4/97 -0700, Grant wrote:
> >If you study it, you will see that every emotion we have is the
> >product of genetic programming. In recent years they have found
> >genes for happiness, contentment, preference for certain colors,
> >etc. This is because all of the chemicals that create the feelings
> >we call emotions are produced by genes. Anger, fear, lust, angst,
> >all of this, is part of a programmed reaction to what goes on
> >around us.
> I'd like to point out that the chicken-egg and nature/nurture questions
> haven't been solved yet. Are the chemical reactions the trigger for the
> emotions, or are the emotions the trigger for the chemical reactions? Is
> the impulse to create memes that counteract our genetic programing also
> genetic? It seems it would have to be...

I thought Dawkins solved the chicken-egg problem in "The Selfish Gene."
> I've not read anything recently that proves that conciousness is purely the
> result of chemical reactions...

Who said that it is? I said *emotions* are. Consciousness is not
comprised exclusively of our emotions. You're shooting down something
that was never launched.

> >Memes come into play when they are able to determine
> >what we do with these emotions. We can program ourselves to do
> >positive things with our anger instead of negative things.
> Hmm. Now, I have to admit to a little bit of confusion on this. You claim
> that we are genetically "programmed" to react in certain ways to certain
> stimuli. However, we can use "memes" to reprogram ourselves to react in
> methods that are more constructive. What is the stimulus that invokes this
> particular response? On the one hand, you seem to dumped the concept of
> free will. On the other hand, you seem to suggest that we can take control
> of the situation and bend it to our benifit -- which implies some volition.
When you see the need to change a destructive life and do something about it.

> I'm probably straw-manning you here. You need to run it past me again, real
> slow like.

I never said that genes run the entire show. I said that what we call
our lives is the result of a struggle between the genes and the memes.
Many memes were invented to restrain us from genetically developed
behavior that is counterproductive to people living in complex
societies. The genes seem to be winning. We use memes in an effort
to control emotional behavior. In Transactional Analysis, for example,
we use the logical ability to analyze our behavior and pay attention
to what we do with our emotions. Then, instead of hitting people
and things when we get angry, we see the stupidity of getting angry
in the first place and stop doing it. Once you see that most of the
things you were getting angry about in a knee-jerk reaction were not
worth the results of that anger, the next time the pattern that
you were reacting to comes up you can laugh at it instead of getting
angry. But first you have to see what you were doing and understand
> >Also, we learn what to get angry about from
> >our parents at a very early age.
> Especially this: "learning" is, of course, not the same as a genetic
> response. That's another confusing assertion.
The anger is caused by genes. The reasons for our anger are learned
from our parents by watching what makes them angry. John Wayne had
a great line in a movie, the name of which slips my mind right now,
in which he said the true measure of a man is what it takes to make
him angry. He was implying, of course, that a strong man doesn't
get angry over trivial matters.

> >Men who watched their fathers beat their
> >wives and children use up the same behavior when they grow up
> >in most cases, or in some cases they rebel against what their
> >parents were doing and do the opposit. In either case, the
> >behavior they learn came from their parents.
> Yeah, I think that runs the gamut of possible behaviors. They will either
> behave the same or behave differently. :-)

There is a difference between behaving differently or choosing behavior
that is the opposite of what their fathers did. Sons of drunks often
become tetotalers. Sons of wife beaters shower their wives with extra
affection and would never think of striking them. Etc.
> >I believe things like the ten commandments and other religious
> >memes were developed to counteract the emotional drives of our
> >early ancestors. It is a conflict that is still going on, and
> >the genes are winning.
> I must differ; western religion, at least, has always had and will continue
> to have, for the foreseable future, an emphasis on the emotional. I agree
> with you that the Commandments were designed to keep people from killing
> each other, and to encourage them to treat each other with respect, but it
> wasn't to quell "the emotional drives." Just some of them.
Did I say all of them? I meant only those that were destructive to
the functional order of society or to the people who were engaged
in self-destructive behavior.

> >Tribalism reigns in most places in the
> >world and tribes align themselves against each other in times of
> >scarcity and deprivation. But we developed memes like the ten
> >commandments to keep people from different tribes who came to
> >live together from stealing from each other, coveting each
> >other's wives, killing each other, etc.
> Again, I have to differ. The Israelites, and later the Jews, were among
> *the* most fiercely isolationist groups BCE. The Old Testament is quite
> full of incidents where God punishes the Jews for mixing to much with the
> outside world; slavery under the Egyptians being one major incident, and
> the Disapora being another. They *did* decide that their God was the God of
> everyone, but they continued consider themselves "the Chosen People." Most
> of them did not *want* outsiders becoming Jews. It wasn't until the
> teachings of Christ -- or "the Christs," whichever you want :-) -- that
> Judaic religion began to consider the possibility of God's "Chosen People"
> being anyone who happened to follow God, regardless of ethnic identity.
Ah. Another straw man raises its head. Before they made the decision
they were among the mix of tribes working under the Egyptians. Before
that, they lived with the Sumerians and that is where they picked up
the legend of the flood and much else that appears in the bible. Their
time of isolating themselves was realtively short and they interacted
with many other tribes of the Middle East, such as the Syrians, etc.
But even singling out one tribe that had an isolationist philosophy
does not disprove my point. Prior to the rise of civilizations,
people were mostly tribes that consisted of extended families. Over
milliniums the developed genes that favored life under that type of
existence. Then agriculture changed hunter-gatherers into city
dwellers and they had to change their nature to survive. Thus the
code of Hamurabi was developed (now the ten commandments) and order
was restored to a deteriating situation.

> Other cultures of this time, however, tried to *integrate* cultures and
> keep them from killing each other; the Romans, for one example, and the
> Babylonians, for another. The Jews finally convinced the Romans to execute
> Christ (it is theorized) because Christ was stirring them up so much, and
> making them upset. It seemed the quickest path towards cutting off a
> potiential uprising.

Integration was the result of wars and questions of what to do with
the conquered population. It was also practiced by the Greeks,
Egyptians, and others long before the Romans came along. We run
the marathon today because the Greeks were successful in stopping
an invading army of "integrators." Alexander later went and turned
the tables on that group and the Egyptians, too.

> >...We have
> >to persuade the people of the world, very quickly, to buy the
> >idea that they must learn to live with less rather than more and
> >that what is good for everyone is more important than what makes
> >them feel good right now.
> I have no quibble with this point, although I have difficulty figguring out
> how we can do that -- if our behavior is so genetically determined, that is.
I'll send you an article that will give you some clues to the extent
of our genetic programming.

> >It's programmed into us more strongly than
> >the memes that advise us against it. Despite more than 3,000
> >years of passing down the ten commandments, we still kill each other
> >on a daily basis, covet our neighbor's wife (and steal her when
> >the emotion arises) and property, disrespect our parents, and so on.
> >Three milliniums of memetic programming have not changed us much.
> Well, maybe not the *neighbor's* wife. ;-)
If you have doubts about the ascendency of genes, look at what is
happening in Bosnia (talk about stealing wives and property) and
most of the countries of Africa. You won't see any memes holding
these people back.

> Question (to anyone): how much is the doomsday "meme" spread because of the
> availability of information from all over the world? I mean, if someone
> sets off a bomb, the news is spread all over the place almost instantly. In
> contrast, in the middle ages there were *three* Popes at the same time, and
> practically no-one except the highly educated knew!

Not fast enough to save us, I'm afraid. Of course, we all have to go
sometime. I'd just like to postpone it long enough to finish my
life in relative comfort.

> >I'm sorry if I sounded arrogant. I was just frustrated that with all
> >the evidence in that article about what was causing the problem, you
> >could only see the minor contributing cause rather than the main
> >cause in spite of all the arrows I had pointing at it. Someone
> >said once, the Tao is a finger pointing at the moon. Don't confuse
> >the finger for the moon.
> I once slammed a door on my finger, and let me tell you, *anyone* could
> have mistaken it for the moon.

Yes, but I doubt that anyone did.

> >I remember once that there was a cat in our backyard getting ready
> >to jump over the fence. I pointed at the cat and told my dog,
> >"Look, a cat." The dog kept looking at my pointing finger and
> >never did see the cat. That is how I feel about trying to point
> >out what I see as the cause of the worldwide misery that is just
> >around the corner.
> Um, genetics?

No. Genes.
> >All anyone can see is the pointing finger.
> >You can't see what the finger is pointing at by disecting the
> >finger.
> It'd be fun to try, though.

Funny, it felt like you just did.

Grant Callaghan