virus: Memetics, Intent, and Salvation

Reed Konsler (
Tue, 19 Aug 1997 11:07:50 -0400 (EDT)

Is the difference between a con artist and an artist intent?


During the Reformation, one of the great debates within
Christendom was the role of intent as opposed to action
in attaining salvation. Since the spirit/flesh duality had
already been accepted, there were two ways to be a "good"

The first was to be "pure of spirt", good in essence, or
of pure thought. This was the position supported by the
Catholics and the Papacy. For Catholics, at the time, it
was not as important that one acted always in a good
way. The flesh was weak, life was complex and hardship
and temptation were endemic. This created (and continues
to create) a congregation in continious cognitive dissonance,
commonly known as guilt.

To purge this guilt, the faithful would participate in the
cathartic rituals of communion and confession. This
atonement/forgiveness by an outside agency (in this
case the priest acting on behalf of God) dates back at
least to the ancient practice of the Scapegoat sacrifice.

The second camp--and this was IMHO, the heart of the
reformation--declared that for one to be saved they must
be pure in mind and body, thought and deed. It was not
enough to think good thoughts, one must also act good
as well.

This led Calvin into a philosophical tangle. If the world
was rife with misery, hardship, and
could you be sure you were "acting" as well as thinking
on the path to salvation. Were good deeds rewarded?
What, in fact, defined "good" deeds?

Calvin took the pragmatic approach. He MIGHT have
declared, as many previous Catholic heretics did, that
poverty, chastity, and the like were good deeds. He
MIGHT have declared, as Christ did, that moneylenders
and merchants--the worshipers of Mammon--were to
be despised.

But he did not. Was he a memetic engineer? Or did he
just come up with the right melange of recombinant ideas
by random chance? Perhaps a little of both.

What Calvin DID--and in retrospect this is one of the
best bits of networking you could imagine--was declared
that you could recognize those people that were
performing "good" deeds by their EARTHLY rewards.
You could recognize "the elect" by their success. Calvin
didn't oppose the bankers and burgomeisters...he embraced
them. Calvin validated an uneven distribution of wealth
and power by claiming that the wealthy and the powerful
were the good guys.

I wonder why he was so successful?

Whenever I discuss this scism I always bring up the third
alternative that never really seemed to enter into the debate,
although I'm no biblical scholar (so if you have any references
for this position, I'd be very interested):

One could be "good" in action only--sort of a reverse
hypocracy. One could think and believe all kinds of strange
and evil things without guilt and still be saved as long as
one acted in a "good" way.

These are complicated ideas, and by no means finished. I,
myself, don't accept Calvin's pragmatic definition of good
--which, by the way, you might recognize as the root of the
Puritan "Work Ethic" and the central moral theme of the
Free Market. From the memetic perspective, Calvin's
ideology was still centered in the "Arguement from Design".
Like Hume, he was unable to conceive of the order in the
universe as arising from anything other than an concious
creator of vast magnitude and power...the One True God.


>From our perspective, Darwin's proposal of complexification
by evolution allows us to at least entertian the notion that the
wonders of the natural world are, in fact, the result of
something other than a concious creator. This doesn't
neccesarily mean that the universe is a pitiful and pitiless
clockwork...but it does seriously weaken the "Argument
from Design".

One of the correlaries to this deconstruction of AfD is
the principle--championed in modern times by our own
Richard Brodie--that parts of culture (memes) will propogate
and grow independent of their "utility" or "inherent
goodness" and according, instead, to their own rules
of natural selection.

This is, in my mind, a direct refutation of Calvin's
solution to the concept that success = goodness; "the
elect" are actually "the *S*elect"...and the engine
of selection is not neccesarily the engine of God
or "good".


So, who cares?

Well, our debate of Science and Shamanism is a
recapitualtion of this great debate of the reformation.

Wade is playing Calvin in declaring that we must be
pure in deed as well as thought. Here is the isomorphism:

Sincere Shaman <===> Thought +, Deed - (Fool)
Insincere Shaman <===> Thought -, Deed - (Con Artist)
Sincere Scientist <===> Thought +, Deed + (Elect)

[and (as usual) my position is always left out, or misinterpreted]

Insincere Scientist <===> Thought -, Deed +


What is a "good deed". Do we still believe that "the *S*elect"
are "the Elect"? From a memetic perspective, can we take
ANY assurance of the accuracy of science based upon it's
apparent success? Is it possible that another model of reality,
perhaps a "magical" one, could have lead to similar material

How closely is theory coupled to practice? Is the scientific
model the ONLY accurate way of understanding reality?
Is the scientific model the BEST way of understanding reality?

Or is it simply our inheritance? Is science the wave of the
future, as we commonly believe--or is it, as memetics seems
to suggest, a conflation of echoes from the past?

And how would one tell?


Reed Konsler