virus: Shaman

Reed Konsler (
Sat, 16 Aug 1997 14:23:04 -0400 (EDT)

>Date: Fri, 15 Aug 97 18:42:43 -0400
>From: "Wade T.Smith" <>

>When did a con man let any of his marks in on the game? The shaman can
>claim 'supernatural' powers and beg off in that way. He is keeping
>'secrets', that is all I meant.

Hmm. It seems to me as if you are trying to create a sorting system. In
your mind there is a DISTINCT difference between a "scientist" and
"artist" and a "shaman". Several people have tried to point
out the flaws and/or inconsistencies in such a categorization but, despite
paying lip service to the vagarities of language and life, you are sticking
(and why shouldn't you?) to this idea that there exist a sub-set of people
who practice "shamanism" fakery, confidence swindles, etc.

I see your point of view. I understand the need to make some sort of
moral stand against homeopathy, pyramid razor shapeneners, UFO
abduction cults and paranoid conspiracy theories. I agree with what
I believe is your underlying sentiment: We must have some rigor
of analysis. We must be practical. We have to practice a little
discipline in our thinking and encorage others to do the same.
"Anything" does not go...mass society is too dangerous to believe
any old thing.

But the point of memetics, IMHO (and I think Richard has been trying
to communicate this idea without directly stating it) is that sorting
systems of the type you are trying to create are the ROOT of such
problems, not the cure. People, since the development of language,
have conflated words and memes. Words (like: science, magic, shaman,
logic, fallacy, rigor, religion, faith, reason, etc.) are fluid and, in the
end, irrelevent except as tribal shibboleths. It is the underlying
meme-structures, the patterns of thought and behavior, which are the
structure we which to see duplicated.

The fact is that life is anything from simple. Sometimes there are
conspiracies and it behooves one to be paranoid. Sometimes strange
counter-intuitive things turn out to be true. Acupuncture might work
or it might not. I think there is the assumption that the majority of
life is "normal" and "wierd" things are uncommon.

The opposite is true. Those things which are consistent--which fall
into an apparent pattern, which are easily manipulable, which are
"normal" and generalizable--are exceptionally uncommon. We tend
to concentrate on "normal" mode becuase it is comfortable, reassuring,
and much less stressful than the chaos of total experience.

But it is also hide-bound, rigid, non-adaptive, and ultimately manipulable.
Scientists are as easily manipulated as tribesmen, if you know their
magic words. In my view, memetics is the practice (I hesitate to call
it a "science") of learning to throw off the curtian of semantics (not
to denigrate semantics, which I think is a vitally significant discipline)
to reveal "the wizard" --underlying pattern--meme-structure.

Memetics also involves a rigorous practice of continious self-analysis.
One of the main benifits of this self-criticism is to avoid the pitfall of
the Deconstructionist's Fallacy, which I invent on the spot ---

Deconstructionist's Fallacy:

The erroneous belief that the construction of a model which explains
a phenomenon makes that phenomenon disappear, or implies that the
phenomena ought to disappear or be altered.

I think, if I may be so bold, that you are expressing this belief
with respect to "shamans". You have expressed frustration on
a number of occasions that, despite the fact that pop-gurus are
obvious and obviously dangerous they fail to disappear and
the community seems to be doing little to regulate or censure

I also detect an underlying absolute evaluation system that
differentiates the following:

The Church of Christ, Scientist
Roman Catholicism
The Church of the Sub-genius
The Church of Virus
Constitutional Law
Capitalism (the "free" market)

I think we all have a tendency to sort these words. But an accurate sorting
system is a "semantic map" in which all the words are interconnected, some
overarching, some making connections across space. A simple subdivision
into "good" and "bad" is not very useful. Calling one person "Shaman"
and another "Doctor" is a too-simplistic reduction, in my opinion.

Another important point:

We often conflate an area of study and the institution, but never an
area of study and it's "heretics". For instance "Medicine" is the study
of human health, disease, physiology, and physical process. Our
institutions of medicine: AMA, medical schools, journals of medicine,
HMO's, pharmecudical companies and such often claim to cover all
of medicine--in fact they are simply our most apparent provider
of "medicine", that is, health and well-feeling.

So, when the AMA declares some foreign practice or another ineffective
they do not exclude it from "medicine"--no person or institution can control
hypotheses within a field--what they DO is exclude it from their institution.
If you choose to rely on the AMA, as our government does (and not without
reason), then the AMA has the power (granted to it by us) to restrict the
PRACTICE of certian kinds of heretical medicine.

The important thing to remember at all times, though, is that these
restrictions may or may not be in our best interest. Often they are;
the instiutions we have erected protect us from chicanery. Sometimes
they are not, and these occasions are common enough that we must
always view our institutions with a suspicious eye.

A memeticist has the tools to help in this process. However, it takes
work--research and analysis--and there is no sure path. The memeticist
recognizes that "truth" is obfuscated beneath layers and layers of language
and history and discovering the underlying pattern in things is an
equal parts self-discovery and subject-discovery.

Sometimes you do what Scientist says, but you never have to believe.


Another point:

Institutions change. They can become more or less useful and more
or less memetically fit. There is a tendency (call it "Memetic Entropy")
for institutions to drift away from utility and towards memetic
fitness during "normal evolution". Under pressure and in times of crisis
or revolution this drift can be rectified--but not without great risk.

In the end, it is always the individual human beings which make an
institution or an idea valuable or valueless. A responsible astrologer
will provide something for their client, if only entertainment and
reassurance--the same goes for a responsible psychiatrist.



>No jargon-spouting professional is _unwilling_ to let you in on things,
>given the time, and he would certainly offer to show you where to find
>the information.

Yes and no. A professional will take you as an apprentice if you wish to
practice and speak in the authority of the institution. The process is
Also, a professional has little respect for the self-taught. It doesn't
matter how
much "medicine" you know, if you don't go to "medical school" you
aren't a doctor.

Professionals look askance at the "popularization" of the knowledge of the

So, yes, professionals will direct you to the knowledge. But in the end,
if you want to be a chemist you must have faith in the body of chemical
knowledge. It's just a more complicated kind of snake oil. What is
communicated to one in school is as much the meme-code of the
institution as the "knowledge" one seeks. That isn't insidious,
it's a memetic process.

Shamans aren't that much different. If the scientists and doctors can't
convince John Q. Public of the value of rigor, reductionism, and
strict critical thinking...well, who ya gonna call? In the end the
people are the best source of information about themselves, their
needs, and their desires.

There isn't any use whining about astrology. People desperately crave
the illusion of control. If you sell it to them they will pay you. They
will pay you more if they have some talismans and omens to back up
that illusion. If doctors can cure polio this is a good omen--people
trust doctors more and crave a doctor's opinion more still.

But people craved a Doctor's opinion when the Doctor was feeding them
mercury and bleeding with leaches. The institution, the shaman, preceeded
the control. It is a fallacy to think that the AMA or the sciences arose
as institutions becuase the citizens of the Western world, after critical
evaluation and public debate, judged them to be truely useful. Advances
in medicine and science were a result of information technology,
communication, and surplus...and only incidentally the good will and
professionalism of Doctor.

Our institutions represent those things we WISH to control. If we
CAN control them is more or less independent of this...and if
we DO control them is the most indeterminent variable of all.


Reed Konsler