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

Grant Callaghan (
Thu, 5 Jun 1997 15:00:59 -0700 (PDT)

>On Wed, 4 Jun 1997, Robin Faichney wrote:
>>No. I think human greed is genetic. I think the drive to=20
>>devour everything on the planet that can be devoured is=20
>>> I don't agree. (Except in the trivial sense that=20
>>>everything we do requires that we have the capacity to do=20
>>>it -- so like everything else, some of the elements that=20
>>>are part of greed are genetic.) I think greed is=20
>>>neurotic, in words an emotional/memetic disorder. We seek=20
>>>more than we really need because we are insecure, and=20
>>>mistakenly think that possessing more stuff will make us=20
>>feel secure.

But you don=92t think the emotion part of that disorder is of
genetic origin? How do you explain the fact that just about
every species on earth will eat itself out of existence in
a limited environment? Do you think that=92s something that
humans invented? Are you aware of the =93J=94 curve? The rate=20
of increase in animal populations grows slowly at first and=20
the goes ballistic until they crowd themselves out of their=20
environment. After that, the population drops to near zero.
We=92re right on the edge of the ballistic stage of the =93J=94=20
curve. That is what my article on fishing described.

>>If you study it, you will see that every emotion we have=20
>>is the product of genetic programming.

>I don't need to study it (again), I have a degree in=20
>psychology. The emotions obviously have a genetic basis,=20
>but learning plays a very highly important part. For=20
>instance, I'll guarantee that you, like everyone else, are=20
>sexually turned on by things that you've *learned* to=20
>associate with sex.

Exactly what I=92ve been saying: Emotions are genetic, what
we learn is memetic. Learning teaches us what to do in=20
response to our feelings.

>In recent years they have found
>genes for happiness, contentment, preference for certain=20
colors, etc. This is because all of the chemicals that=20
create the feelings we call emotions are produced by genes.

>The fact that genes code for the systems that produce
>adrenalin etc, does not mean they fully control that
>production. Sure, I'm genetically programmed to feel
>fear out in the woods at night, but to suppose that
>every feeling you have comes as directly from the
>genes as does that one, is to betray not just a lack
>of psychological knowledge, but a lack of common

If genetic programming doesn=92t control it, tell me what=20

>>Anger, fear, lust, angst, all of this, is part of a=20
>>programmed reaction to what goes on around us. Memes come=20
>>into play when they are able to determine what we do with=20
>>these emotions.

>Memes are already in play whether we make an effort of will
>or not. Our reactions are programmed at least as much by
>our experiences (including socialisation) as by our genes.

Some memes are also tools that we can use to control our=20
emotions. Not all memes are in play all the time. We =20
choose the ones we want to use in specific situations.

>>We can program ourselves to do positive things with our=20
>>anger instead of negative things. Rather than smashing=20
>>our fist or our car into something...

>You think people don't know that?

Knowing something is not the same as using it. A lot of=20
people still go around smashing things when they are angry. =20
Why do you think they don=92t use that knowledge to avoid=20
destroying their hands, feet, lives and property?

>>Also, we learn what to get angry about from
>>our parents at a very early age.

>Now you're arguing against yourself!

Getting angry and deciding what to get angry about are two=20
different things. One is genetic, the other cultural. =20
People in different cultures get angry about different=20

>>What angers them will also anger us... In either case, the
>>behavior they learn came from their parents.

>So it's not genetic!

See the previous answer.

>>I believe things like the ten commandments and other=20
>>religious memes were developed to counteract the emotional=20
>>drives of our early ancestors...

>You seem to be locked into a Judeo-Christian moralistic
>framework, with genetic inheritance standing in for
>original sin. This is the kind of thinking that got us=20
>into all this trouble in the first place. If we really had=20
>only memes on the "good" side, and only genes on the "bad"
>side, the war would already be lost, but there are genes
>and memes on both sides.

You seem to think you know more about what I believe than I=20
do. Now who is being arrogant? Just to set the record=20
straight, let me tell you what I do believe:

I believe that genes and memes are on separate paths of=20
evolution and sometimes come into conflict with each other.
The path of genes is leading us straight to the top of the=20
=93J=94 curve and extinction. The path of memes is relatively=20
new (as opposed to 4 billion years of genetic evolution) and=20
its direction can be more easily altered. I don=92t believe=20
in good or evil. Whether something is good or bad depends=20
on the viewpoint of the person contemplating it. It has=20
nothing to do with the thing being contemplated. =20

It was memes that have recently given us some control over=20
the path of genetic evolution (through the study of biology=20
and psychology) and therefore hold out some slim hope of=20
escaping the path of the =93J=94 curve, wherein species keep=20
proliferating until the rate of increase approaches infinity=20
and then drops back to near zero. This is because no=20
species can live in an environment where they have consumed=20
everything except their own waste products.

I don=92t think this is necessarily a bad thing. Four billion=20
years of evolution may have taught the genetic pool some=20
things that we as a species haven=92t learned yet. The path=20
to extinction may be founded on very sound principles. I=20
don=92t find it evil for the same reason I don=92t think death=20
is evil. It is just a part of the process of nature and is=20
built into our genetic programming. =20

I don=92t believe in the Judeo-Christian philosophy. If I=20
follow any religious idea, it would be called neo-Taoism. =20
The Taoists do not divide their world into good and evil,=20
nor do they seek a relationship with something or someone=20
called God. They do seek to understand the universe and=20
their place in it, but they are more prone to dividing it up=20
into yin and yang, male and female, positive and negative,=20
and chaos and order. Neo-Taoism combines some of the=20
philosophy of Buddha with that of the Taoists, and as a=20
result propagate the idea that desire is the source of all=20
misery and the key to escaping misery is to get rid of your=20
desires. It would take a book to explain how you go about=20
doing this.

I hope you will not continue to put words and ideas into my=20
mouth that did not come from me. Knocking down straw men=20
that you have set up doesn=92t address anything that I have=20

"All the evidence in that article" was about the problem=20
itself, not its cause. =20

The problem is all we can hope to do something about. I=20
doubt that we can do much about the cause, especially at
this late date. It won=92t be easy to overcome 4 billion=20
years of genetic programming in a few years.

>Reasoning on the level of genetics=3Dbad, memetics=3Dgood has=20
>absolutely no hope of countering such problems. The=20
>internet has screeds of analysis going a very great deal=20
>deeper than this, in newsgroups, mailing lists and on web=20
>pages. I suggest you spend just a few months studying what=20
>others have to say about these issues before shooting your=20
>mouth off and making yourself look like just another=20
>eco/religious nut, again.

Oops. It looks like your genes are getting the upper hand.=20
You had better break out some of those memes you picked up=20
from your study of psychology and sublimate some of that=20

Again, you are knocking down your own straw man attacking=20
something I never said. =20

>Just to reiterate my own eco/religious thing: greed is
>caused by insecurity, and the problem will be solved when
>people realise that security is achieved by=20
>psycho/spiritual means, not by possessing things. (Though=20
>some population control, of the indirect, consensual sort,=20
>will probably be required as well.)

Insecurity =3D fear. Fear =3D emotion. Emotion =3D genetic=20

There will be no security if the population that is already=20
deleting all the fish from the sea doubles in the next=20
generation. Feeling good is no substitute for having enough=20
to eat. (You can do that with heroin.)