Re: Memes and War [was: Tomorrow is a new day]

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun Nov 07 2004 - 10:00:28 MST

At 06:01 PM 06/11/04 -0800, you wrote:
>Keith Henson;
>It is prudent to be aware that human mentality is not all sweetness and
>light, and you are performing an excellent service by reminding us of this
>fact. As a broad statement, your "Unhappy people with a bleak future were a
>fertile substrate for xenophobic memes..." fits some of human history very
>well. However, the explanation you provide: "psychological mechanisms into
>our brains that under some circumstances shuts off rational thinking" may be
>incomplete or perhaps even incorrect.

I am certainly open to other explanations for the stupidity one can see in
virtually every war. Something is inhibiting rational thinking of people
in "war mode." I could cite countless examples, the most recent being the
US attacking Iraq.

>The psychological mechanisms that
>implement xenophobic memes may well be the same ones that implement
>cooperative memes.

The probably are. Memes is memes. The difference is a selective advantage
for "hate the neighbor" memes in stressed populations who anticipate bleak
times ahead. We have contemporary examples where the rise and fall in the
US membership/activity of neo nazi organizations is inversely correlated
with US economics. I don't understand exactly how this works, however, the
evolutionary advantage it gave to hunter gatherers for such a mechanism to
exist insures that it *will* exist.

>Evolution is notorious for re-using existing architecture in multiple ways.

Certainly agree with this point.

>Perhaps the human meme-machine works the
>same way no matter what meme happens to be in a person's mind.

I don't think that's the case. As examples, the meme of how to tie shoes
has a rather different effect than the ones inducing suicide bombers to
close the switch.

>If this is
>the case, then your warning is even more timely because there will almost
>certainly be multiple memes that are "scary".

Tell me about it! If you didn't already know, I have a cult after me that
has spent more than a million dollars trying to shut me up. I think the
mechanisms activated in such fanatics are the same as caused a hunter
gatherer tribe to attempt to wipe out neighbors. Cults induce the "we are
under attack" feeling in their members to activate war mode/impaired
thinking and take advantage of other evolved psychological traits (capture
bonding and drug-like attention rewards). See my sex, drugs and cults
article. for more.

>You wrote: "CV could come to the conclusion that high average happiness
>required periodic population culls too." -- This statement is so strange,
>and seems so disconnected from how people think, that I cannot see how you
>arrived at it.

It depends on assumptions about physical reality that have been with us
since before we split from the apes. Chimp populations grow until they
press the ecological limits. They are reduced through periodic "wars" on
neighboring groups, sometimes killing every single one of the attacked
group (Jane Goodall and others).

>While an analysis of history might allow one to infer that
>people believe that "high average happiness requires periodic wars", it is
>unreasonable to suggest that people want the wars. A more reasonable
>inference would be that the people wanted *happiness*, and some leader
>convinced them that the way to get it was thru war. There have been leaders
>who promoted methods other than war, and have done so successfully.

Good times, times of human happiness, were when the population was
expanding, you could have lots of kids and feed them well. But that sowed
the seeds of an ecological crunch where the population shrank through
starvation or wars. "Happiness" could be defined at the derivative of
population growth, positive as the population is expanding and negative
when it is shrinking. So to keep average "happiness" high over a long
period, you want to keep the times of shrinkage short. I am not advocating
wars, far from it, just considering how a god-like CV overview of the
situation might come to this conclusion.

High tech western civilization has not exactly escaped this model, but we
have by lower birth rates and high economic growth lengthened the
cycle. It does not protect us from other parts of the world where high
population growth has run ahead of economic growth.

>Let us be vigilant, but not paranoid.

As anyone who knows much about my history will tell you that my problem has
always been not being paranoid *enough.*

Keith Henson

>Michael Roy Ames

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