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

John ''!Boolean'' Williams (
Thu, 05 Jun 1997 08:26:45 -0400

At 09:55 PM 6/4/97 -0700, Grant wrote:

>I thought Dawkins solved the chicken-egg problem in "The Selfish Gene."

Hmm. Nice to know that's taken care of. I'll have to pick it up, see what
it says.

>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.

Quite likely. I *am* American, after all.

>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

Alright; hold on a second. This is the crux of my problem. If it's "genes
vs. memes," how did the memes come about? Despite the above statement you
made, your sweeping allegations against genetics consistently insist that
they are the controlling element of our lifes. You are arguing that we
cannot change behavior because it is the genes controling our emotions
which, in turn, serve as the internal stimulus to act.

I'll agree with you that some emotions -- anger, love, etc -- may have a
genetic part. After all, these emotions do cause chemical changes inside
the body, and those chemicals have to be manufactured by the body,
therefore genes have to have encoded cells to manufacture those chemicals,
which is where my biology starts slipping. "Dammit, Jim, I'm a theorist,
not a doctor!"

>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

I can go for that; but it appears much of such behavior is culturally
developed, not genetically -- which you touch on here:

>> 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.

So at this point I can say that you've offered the following. I want you to
break in here when I've ceased to follow your argument, because I'm afraid
I'm still focused on your finger.

1) People are genetically emotional beings.
2) How people respond to those emotions is culturally encoded.
3) Therefore, we must use memes to target the genetic source of our problem.

Okay; see, we can't change our genes through memes. That's like trying to
shorten the tail off of rats by breeding rats you've chopped the tails off
of. The genetic material is still there. You can, however, modify behavior
by modifying the culture; and that's a meme-vs-meme argument, not a

Why this is important: if you go around trying to attack *emotion* itself,
you're looking at a pretty much futile task. If, however, you're looking to
change the culture...hey! That happens all the time!

>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.

[Throws a chair through the window.] Smile when you say that! You want a
piece of me? Huh? Let's go!

>become tetotalers. Sons of wife beaters shower their wives with extra
>affection and would never think of striking them. Etc.

Okay; see, here's the culture/gene argument. Let's say I'm genetically
predisposed to a short temper. So was my father. Now (hypothetically), my
father's father was abusive and an alcholic. My father because a feminist
and a teatotaler. Now: if *behavior* is genetically transferred (ie, the
tendency to scarf as much land as possible), I would be prone to violence
and have an addictive personality, despite my father's memes. It would be a
constant war with my genetic self and my memetic self, and my behavior
would be unruly and violent as a child before the memes transferred by my
father take hold. I could potentially rebel and become the opposite; just
like my Grandfather. Am I reading this right?

>> 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.

Granted...but I go on to say later...

>> ...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.

No. That's wrong. By "isolating themselves," I do *not* mean that they went
off and sat in a corner. I mean that they engaged in cultural activities
which others were not allowed to participate in, and attempted to keep
Judaism "pure" through discouraging intermarriage with other cultures and
races. The Israelite culture was isolationist, much like white-seperatists
are isolationist. They *do* mix with everyone else, occasionally, because
it's hard to keep from it. They just feel that they better not mix too much.

>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.

I see where you are going, but your history is screwy. The tribe that I
singled out that had an isolationist (and, early on, genocidal) philosophy
discounts the notion that, say, the Ten Commandments were an attempt to
keep people from killing each other. Originally, they were not; they were
an attempt to keep people from killing each other within the tribe.

As for the screwy history, I have printed versions of both the Ten
Commandments and the Code of Hamurabi. The Ten fills about one page. The
Code weighs quite a bit more, and is considerably more detailed, concerning
itself with rules of state etc. I don't think it's fair to say that the
Commandments are a version of the Code, and more than it is to say that the
rules of England came from the Code. Sure, the idea of making laws and
writin' 'em down apparently spread from Hamurabi, but the Commandments are
taken from Jewish tradition, they are not a rewriting of the Code.

>> 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
>I'll send you an article that will give you some clues to the extent
>of our genetic programming.

For those in the audience, I've been sent an artical from the New Yorker
detailing the observation of identical twins seperated at birth, and the
ways in which they behave differently and similarly.

Grant, while much of this is compelling, it is not conclusive. I'm not
denying that we may be genetically predisposed to certain biases; I *am*
denying that it is as potent a force as you indicate. I think a lot of
these behaviors are perpetuated through memetic *reenforcement*, not
through the absence of meme interaction.

>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.

No, and I don't see genes killing people. I see memes allowing people to
kill each other -- memes that say "our culture is good, yours is evil." I
see that killing may be a genetic-behavior, but it's a potentiality. These
people are killing for a *reason,* and that reason is memetic.

>> 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.

That was only because they were genetically predisposed to see it as a finger.

>> >..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.

This is another "deny your body" argument, isn't it?

>> >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.

Okay: *now* I see what you are saying. "Stop arguing with me and agree with


John Williams ICQ Address: 1213689
"See my loafers? Former gophers!"
Various Artists: Raising the Tide of Mediocrity for Two Years