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

Grant Callaghan (
Fri, 6 Jun 1997 15:22:32 -0700 (PDT)

Sorry I took so long to get back to you. You gave me a lot=20
to think about. I wasn=92t able to come up with any finally=20
conclusive arguements, though. You=92ll just have to reach=20
your own conclusions.

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

>>I never said that genes run the entire show. I said that=20
>>what we call our lives is the result of a struggle between=20
>>the genes and the memes. Many memes were invented to=20
>>restrain us from genetically developed behavior that is=20
>>counterproductive to people living in complex societies. =20

:Alright; hold on a second. This is the crux of my problem.=20
:If it=92s =93genes vs. memes,=94 how did the memes come about?=20

Look at them as parasites in a body that was created by=20

:Despite the above statement you made, your sweeping=20
:allegations against genetics consistently insist that
:they are the controlling element of our lifes. You are=20
:arguing that we cannot change behavior because it is the =20
:genes controling our emotions which, in turn, serve as the=20
:internal stimulus to act.

I didn't say we can't change our behavior. I just said that=20
it is difficult. In the war between the genes and the=20
memes, the genes seem to be winning. That doesn't mean they=20
win every battle. It just means that over all the genetic=20
side of our behavior usuall seems to win out against the=20
memetic side. Let's say your parents have convinced you=20
that going to college is the best thing you can do. You buy=20
the idea and are all ready to go. But you meet a good=20
looking young lady and she says, "Let's run off and get=20
married." So you do. The emotional power of your genes was=20
stronger than the logical power of your memes. When it=20
comes to a battle between what you should logically should=20
do to make your life better and what you feel like doing=20
with you life, genes (feelings) win out most often. Notice=20
that I did NOT say always. =20

:I'll agree with you that some emotions=97anger, love, etc=20
:-- may have a genetic part. After all, these emotions do=20
:cause chemical changes inside the body, and those chemicals=20
:have to be manufactured by the body, therefore genes have=20
:to have encoded cells to manufacture those chemicals, which=20
:is where my biology starts slipping. "Dammit, Jim, I'm a=20
:theorist, not a doctor!"

Genes predispose you to do many things. You'd be surprised=20
how many. But they do not dictate specific behavior. You=20
can control what you do when these emotions arise. Counting=20
to ten when you feel yourself getting angry, for example. =20
That is a case of a meme overcoming a situation created by a=20
gene. If you go ahead and punch somebody out, the gene won.

>Once you see that most of the things you were getting angry=20
>about in a knee-jerk reaction were not worth the results of=20
>that anger, the next time the pattern that you were=20
>reacting to comes up you can laugh at it instead of getting=20
>angry. But first you have to see what you were doing and=20
>understand why.

:I can go for that; but it appears much of such behavior is=20
:culturally developed, not genetically, which you touch on=20
: Especially this: "learning" is, of course, not the same=20
:as a genetic response. That's another confusing assertion.=20
:The anger is caused by genes. The reasons for our anger=20
:are learned from our parents by watching what makes them=20
:angry. =20

:So at this point I can say that you've offered the=20
:following. I want you to break in here when I=92ve ceased to=20
:follow your argument, because I'm afraid I'm still focused=20
:on your finger.=20

:1) People are genetically emotional beings.

:2) How people respond to those emotions is culturally=20

:3) Therefore, we must use memes to target the genetic=20
:source of our problem.

:Okay; see, we can't change our genes through memes. That's=20
:like trying to shorten the tail off of rats by breeding=20
:rats you've chopped the tails off of.=20

That's a great analogy. I like it.

:The genetic material is still there. You can, however,=20
:modify behavior by modifying the culture; and that's a=20
:meme-vs-meme argument, not a meme-vs-gene.

I never said that memes were all on the same side of any=20
behavior. Some memes produce just as much destructive=20
behavior as genes. Read Eric Berne=92s book, "Games People=20
Play." All of the games he describes are destructive in=20
nature. They include alchoholism, hazing, etc. One good=20
example is "Why don't you..., Yes, but..." In this game you=20
tell people about some problem in your life and they say,=20
"Well why don't you do such and such?" And you come back=20
with, "Yes, but I tried something like that years ago and it=20
didn't work." They keep offering suggestions until they=20
can't think of any more or they just get tired of the game. =20
You keep shooting them down until they quit. At that point,=20
you get a feeling of satisfaction that you've "won." The=20
truth is that you have managed to keep from finding a=20
solution to your problem. As Kris Kristofferson used to=20
sing: "I feel like I=92m winning when I=92m losing again." The=20
game is a meme. But it is a destructive meme. And the=20
feeling of satisfaction you get from "winning" is genetic=20
and is the same feeling you get when you win a game of=20
basketball or scrabble. Here, the genes and the memes=20
combine to defeat you.

:Why this is important:

: if you go around trying to attack *emotion* itself,
:you're looking at a pretty much futile task. If, however,=20
:you're looking to change the culture...hey! That happens=20
:all the time!

You'll never do away with emotion, but you can control=20
what you do with it. You can channel it in a different=20
direction. You can use it as a drive to provide you with=20
extra energy to take you in the direction you want to go.

>John Wayne had a great line in a movie, the name of which=20
>slips my mind right now, in which he said the true measure=20
>of a man is what it takes to make him angry. He was=20
>implying, of course, that a strong man doesn't get angry=20
>over trivial matters.

:[Throws a chair through the window.] Smile when you say=20
:that! You want a piece of me? Huh? Let=92s go!

I'm not saying that every line they wrote for him was a good=20
one. They weren't his words, anyway. Some writer put them=20
in his mouth. His actions, too.

>become tetotalers. Sons of wife beaters shower their wives=20
>with extra affection and would never think of striking=20
>them. Etc.

:Okay; see, here's the culture/gene argument. Let's say I'm=20
:genetically predisposed to a short temper. So was my=20
:father. Now (hypothetically), my father's father was=20
:abusive and an alcholic. My father because a feminist and a=20
:teetotaler. Now: if *behavior* is genetically transferred=20
:(ie, the tendency to scarf as much land as possible), I=20
:would be prone to violence and have an addictive=20
:personality, despite my father's memes. It would be a=20
:constant war with my genetic self and my memetic self, and=20
:my behavior would be unruly and violent as a child before=20
:the memes transferred by my father take hold. I could=20
:potentially rebel and become the opposite; just like my=20
:Grandfather. Am I reading this right?

Pretty close. We usually learn what to get angry about and=20
what to do with that anger from watching our parents and, in=20
the case of violence, feeling the wrath of our parents. =20
This is why violent homes produce a lot of violent children.
They learn that the answer to violence is more violence. =20
But some children are repulsed by what they see their=20
parents do and look for new models for their behavior. They=20
find aunts or uncles, fathers of friends, coaches or=20
ministers to supply them with a new set of memes. Your=20
genes usually determine which path you will follow. In this=20
case, your genes can do some good. It's not a case of memes=20
are good and genes are bad. Your life is the result of=20
these two forces interacting with each other and your life=20
will probably contain a lot of both good and bad. If you=20
pick up bad memes, you will suffer for it. If you pick up=20
bad genes, they will predispose you to do things that are=20
often dumb or destructive. But the road to hell is paved,=20
as they say, with good intentions (memes) that were defeated=20
by genetic predisposition. "I"m never going to touch=20
another drop of liquor," says the alchoholic, who then goes on=20
another binge. "Why?" you ask. "I just couldn't help it." he=20
replies. Alchoholism has been found to run in families and=20
is believed to be connected to a certain set of genes. An=20
alchoholic buddy of mine made the effort and stopped. His=20
father didn't. The father is now in jail for his third DUI=20
driving offense.

:I must differ; western religion, at least, has always had=20
:and will continue to have, for the foreseable future, an=20
:emphasis on the emotional. I agree with you that the=20
:Commandments were designed to keep people from killing
:each other, and to encourage them to treat each other with=20
:respect, but it wasn't to quell "the emotional drives."=20
:Just some of them.

>>Did I say all of them? I meant only those that were=20
>>destructive to the functional order of society or to the=20
>>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=20
:Testament is quite full of incidents where God punishes the=20
:Jews for mixing to much with the outside world; slavery=20
:under the Egyptians being one major incident, and the=20
:Disapora being another. They *did* decide that their God=20
:was the God of everyone, but they continued consider=20
:themselves "the Chosen People." Most of them did not *want*=20
:outsiders becoming Jews. It wasn't until the teachings of=20
:Christ or "the Christs," whichever you want :-) -- that=20
:Judaic religion began to consider the possibility of God's=20
:"Chosen People" being anyone who happened to follow God,=20
:regardless of ethnic identity.

They developed memes for avoiding people who did not follow=20
the law as they wrote it (in the Torah and Talmud). =20
Tribalism is still rampant and the memes created to oppose=20
it do little good. Serbs are "Christians" as are Croats and=20
they still kill each other, steal from each other, etc.,=20
etc. and feel good about it. The "us" against "them"=20
feeling is so deeply and genetically ingrained that some of=20
the oldest species on earth (ants, for example) still do it. =20
Memes tell us how to divide ourselves up. Genes tell us=20
what to do about it. The reverse of the usual relationship=20
and proof that it is not a case of either/or. =20

What is the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant=20
in Northern Ireland? Walking down the street, you can't=20
tell one from the other. The only difference between them=20
is their memes. Yet they use this difference to square off=20
and start killing each other. They both profess to believe=20
in the Christian ethic, but the genes win again.

> Before that, they lived with the Sumerians and that is=20
>where they picked up the legend of the flood and much else
>that appears in the bible. =20


> Their time of isolating themselves was realtively short=20
>and they interacted with many other tribes of the Middle=20
>East, such as the Syrians, etc.

:No. That's wrong. By "isolating themselves," I do *not*=20
:mean that they went off and sat in a corner. I mean that=20
:they engaged in cultural activities which others were not=20
:allowed to participate in, and attempted to keep Judaism=20
:"pure" through discouraging intermarriage with other=20
:cultures and races. The Israelite culture was isolationist,=20
:much like white-seperatists are isolationist. They *do* mix=20
:with everyone else, occasionally, because it's hard to keep=20
:from it. They just feel that they better not mix too much.

They still do. But not all of them. I think it was the=20
same 2,000 years ago. Jesus was preceded by John the=20
Baptist, etc. And lots of Jews participated in Roman=20
rituals and even became Romans. But some did go off into=20
the hills and caves and did things like write the Dead Sea=20
Scrolls. I think you had about the same mix of orthodox and=20
unorthodox as you do today. Again, it wasn't a case of all=20
or nothing at all.

>But even singling out one tribe that had an isolationist=20
>philosophy does not disprove my point. Prior to the rise=20
>of civilizations, people were mostly tribes that consisted=20
>of extended families. Over milliniums the developed genes=20
>that favored life under that type of existence. Then=20
>agriculture changed hunter-gatherers into city dwellers and=20
>they had to change their nature to survive. Thus the code=20
>of Hamurabi was developed (now the ten commandments) and=20
>order was restored to a deteriating situation. =20

:I see where you are going, but your history is screwy. The=20
:tribe that I singled out that had an isolationist (and,=20
:early on, genocidal) philosophy discounts the notion that,=20
:say, the Ten Commandments were an attempt to keep people=20
:from killing each other. Originally, they were not; they=20
:were an attempt to keep people from killing each other=20
:within the tribe. =20

:As for the screwy history, I have printed versions of both=20
:the Ten Commandments and the Code of Hamurabi. The Ten=20
:fills about one page. The Code weighs quite a bit more, and=20
:is considerably more detailed, concerning itself with rules=20
:of state etc. I don=92t think it=92s fair to say that the
:Commandments are a version of the Code, and more than it is=20
:to say that the rules of England came from the Code. Sure,=20
:the idea of making laws and writin=92 =91em down apparently=20
:spread from Hamurabi, but the Commandments are taken from=20
:Jewish tradition, they are not a rewriting of the Code.

I'm not saying they copied the code verbatim. But the 10=20
comandments and the code contain a lot of the same memes. =20
Hamurabi may have borrowed from them, for all I know. But=20
he had a complex mixture of tribes to control, among whom=20
were the Semites, and so did the Egyptians. They all had=20
sets of rules to control the people under them.

:: I have no quibble with this point, although I have=20
::difficulty figguring out how we can do that=97if our=20
::behavior is so genetically determined, that is.

>>I'll send you an article that will give you some clues to=20
>>the extent of our genetic programming.

:For those in the audience, I=92ve been sent an artical from=20
:the New Yorker detailing the observation of identical twins=20
:seperated at birth, and the ways in which they behave=20
:differently and similarly.

:Grant, while much of this is compelling, it is not=20
:conclusive. I'm not denying that we may be genetically=20
:predisposed to certain biases; I *am* denying that it is as=20
:potent a force as you indicate. I think a lot of these=20
:behaviors are perpetuated through memetic *reenforcement*,=20
:not through the absence of meme interaction.

>If you have doubts about the ascendency of genes, look at=20
>what is happening in Bosnia (talk about stealing wives and=20
>property) and most of the countries of Africa. You won't=20
>see any memes holding these people back.

:No, and I don't see genes killing people. I see memes=20
:allowing people to kill each other; memes that say "our=20
:culture is good, yours is evil." I see that killing may be=20
:a genetic-behavior, but it's a potentiality. These people=20
:are killing for a *reason,* and that reason is memetic.

I'd say the reason is a fight to control territory.=20
It sounds to me more like the old "us or them" genetic=20
program that pervades most species of higher animals on=20
Earth. =20

:I once slammed a door on my finger, and let me tell you,=20
:*anyone* could have mistaken it for the moon.

>Yes, but I doubt that anyone did.

:That was only because they were genetically predisposed to=20
:see it as a finger.

Memetically, they would only equate it with a moon if it=20
were pointed straight up. Of course, it also depends on=20
which finger it was.

>> >..That is how I feel about trying to point
>> >out what I see as the cause of the worldwide misery that=20
>> >is just around the corner. =20

::Um, genetics?

>No. Genes.

:This is another "deny your body" argument, isn't it?=20

Hey, Genes are your body. How can you deny them?

>> >All anyone can see is the pointing finger.
>> >You can't see what the finger is pointing at by=20
>> >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=20
:me and agree with me!"

Never. The arguing is what's fun. But I won't feel good if=20
I let you win.