Re: virus: Re: virus-digest V2 #295

David McFadzean (
Sun, 09 Nov 1997 14:18:29 -0700

At 06:07 AM 11/9/97 +0100, Reed Konsler wrote:
>David, I agree with you. The "why" questions are imponderable, though.

If you really think the "why" questions are imponderable, then please
step out of the way of people attempting to do the impossible.

>We can make reasonable guesses as to our own motives and as to the
>motives of others. But those guesses are themselves non-falsifiable and
>prone to the lens of interpretation in which "my" view is always right
>and correct and "yours" is misguided.

I don't believe the guesses are non-falsifiable. The "lens of
interpretation" you mention is an excellent example of the kind
of faith-based belief I think is avoidable.

>This is my point of view: There are two ways to approach "faith" as it
>is commony defined...religion, superstition, conspiracy theory, paranormal
>obsessions, hysterical anti-communism, fanatic patriotism, alien abduction,
>etc. etc. etc.
>The first is to assume they are a problem and ask "how do these viruses
>infect us? How do they continue to propogate and how can we control
>The second is to assume they are the products of evolution and thus serve
>some adaptive purpose. Then you ask "what is this good for, how can we
>us it, and how can we make it work for us in modern society".

<faith> is the product of evolution, and definitely serves an adaptive
purpose. But not for us (people). It serves the meme-complexes that can't
stand up to critical analysis.

Here's a couple relevant paragraphs from "The Power of the Meme Meme"
by Susan Blackmore (Skeptic vol.5 no.2):

Why would anyone believe these things? Threats of hell fire
and damnation are an effective and nasty technique of persuasion.
From an early age children are brought up by their Catholic
parents to believe that if they break certain rules they will
burn in hell forever after death. The children cannot easily
test this since neither hell nor God can be seen, although He
can see everything they do. So they must simply live in life-long
fear until death, when they will find out for sure, or not. The
idea of hell is thus a self-perpetuating meme.

Did I say *test* the idea? Some religious beliefs could be tested,
such as whether wine really turns into blood, or whether prayer
actually helps; hence the need for the anti-testing meme of faith.
In Catholicism, doubt must be resisted, while faith is nurtured
and respected. If your knowledge of biology leads you to doubt
the virgin birth -- or if war, cruelty and starvation seem to
challenge the goodness of God -- then you must have faith. The
biblical story of Doubting Thomas is a cautionary tale against
seeking evidence. As Dawkins puts it, "Nothing is more lethal for
certain kinds of memes than a tendency to look for evidence" and
religions, unlike science, make sure they discourage it. Also,
unlike science, religions often include memes that make their
carriers violently intolerant of new and unfamiliar ideas, thus
protecting themselves against being ousted in favour of a different
religion -- or none at all.

>The BEST view probably is ambigious, accepting both as true at the
>same time. Faith is useful and faith is a kind of infection. Faith serves
>us in some contexts and cripples us in others.

OK, if we can agree that <faith> is not necessarily good, that in fact
it is a dangerous and parasitic meme, then I'm willing to consider the
idea that it may be possible to put it to good use. Agreed?

>The REALISTIC view is to admit that we all live with a woefully
>incomplete ontology...that each of us entertains a number of a priori
>axioms of all the types (and more) you have described. Furthemore,
>we have a tendency to see the axioms we hold as "reasonable assumptions"
>and the axioms others hold (especially when they conflict with our own)
>to be "blind faith".

I agree we have a woefully incomplete ontology and that we have
bad tendencies. I don't see why that means we must take a fatalistic
view. Don't you think people in general can learn to act more
intelligently? If they can, don't you think that would create
a better future? If not, why not?

David McFadzean       
Memetic Engineer      
Church of Virus