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

Grant Callaghan (
Thu, 5 Jun 1997 18:59:03 -0700 (PDT)

On Thu, 5 Jun 1997, John ''!Boolean'' Williams wrote:

> At 03:00 PM 6/5/97 -0700, Grant wrote:
> >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
> >said.
> Okay, I want to ask for clarification one more time here, because I think
> we are definately out of sync.=20
> So far, Grant, I've heard you insist that behavior patterns are both
> entirely genetic, and entirely taught, which is why we seem to be somewha=
> confused.=20

First of all, where did I ever say that behavior patterns are "entirely"
genetic or "entirely" taught? I believe I was saying that our lives
are an interaction between these two forces, not the exclusive result
of either. I said "it's a war between them" and that requires that=20
both sides be in the fight.
> My position, and Robin's position, is that genetics plays a role in what
> has gone wrong, and that memetics also plays a role. Your position that
> genes are causing all the destructive behavior and memes fight that, I
> think, is overly simplistic.=20
This is not my position and I don't think you can point to any place
where I said that. I said that some genes are counterproductive
and the ones that cause us to consume and destroy our enviornment
(not all of the genes in our body) are leading us to destruction.
I also said that all animal forms that I know of also have this
set of genes. But this does not include every gene you have.

I also said that memes can be used to fight that. I didn't say they
are doing it. In some cases, such as when they are used to control
behavior for the good of the group, they fight irresponsible behavior.
In other cases, they augment it. Memes are tools that can be used=20
for many purposes. What they do depends on what you used them for.
By themselves the do nothing but exist.

> In some instances, the distinction can be important, but I don't think th=
> is such a case.=20

Since I never said that memes or genes are entirely one thing or the other
I'm not sure how to make such a distinction.

> As near as I can tell, you want to change people's behavior using memes.
> We want to change people's behavior using memes.
> We both think that can be done.
> We both would probably go about it similar ways, since memes only work in=
> philosophical and cultural realm, and do not effect biology[1]
Since biology is a meme set and is capable of carrying out genetic
engineering, why do you think it will not affect biology?

> What is at issue is whether genes are the primary source of "bad" or
> "memes" are involved as well, but I don't see how that makes an awful lot
> of difference on how we're going to approach the problem

There are no "good" or "bad" memes. Memes can be used for good or bad
porposes, but are not inherently good or bad.
> So let's cut to the chase here: *why* is it important that we accept thes=
> negative behavior patterns as genetic, not memetic? What difference does =
> make, on an application level? Why are you pointing at this particular sp=
Negative behavior patterns can be the result of either genes or memes.
The anger reflex causes chemicals to rush through our bodies that
makes our face flush and our hearts beat faster and we feel a need to
do something. What we do is not the result of the genetic reflex, it
is the result of what we have learned to do when that happens. Sometimes
we do good things and sometimes we do bad things. =20

Let me take a case in which my son (who usually does stupid things like
pound the wall with his fists when he gets mad) accidentally knocked
the ball into his own goal in a soccer game. This made him feel very
angry and ashamed. His team had not been able to score a single
goal in half-an-hour of play. But my son, driven by his anger,
dribbled the ball through the entire opposing team and scored a
goal. That time he did something good with his anger. The anger
he felt was the same anger that drove him to pound the walls, but
the difference was what he did with it. Since I pointed this out
to him, he has found more positive things to do with his anger and
is getting better all the time.

One more time, lets lay out my position:

Genes are neither good nor bad.

Memes are neither good nor bad.

Both can be used to produce good or bad results.

Memes have to capacity of helping us turn genetic behavior
that is counterproductive to behavior that is productive.

One line of genetic behavior that has been going on since=20
millions of years before apes walked the earth causes us to
destroy each other when food becomes scarce. Even dogs
will try to keep other dogs in the same household from=20
eating unless taught not to. I've seen them do it.

All animals that I know of will decimate their environment
by over producing and eating everything in sight until it
kills the entire group, unless there is someplace they can
go to find a new source of food. At the presen time, humans
as a species is following this line of behavior.

I think memes can be used to change that behavior.

That is my position.


Grant Callaghan