Re: Meme: A call for help

Eliezer Yudkowsky (
Sun, 19 Jan 1997 20:20:34 -0600

[Saith Dan Fabulich:]
> I don't like any of this. But this has been a problem that I've been
> fighting with for most of my life. I'm not here to argue that religion
> is better than healthy criticism and spontaneous order. I don't think
> that. But in the face of what's out there, how can I, and others like
> me, fight a meme of centralization which may be fundamentally more
> powerful than the one I'm trying to spread, simply by virtue of the fact
> that the meme I'm spreading can never be a dogma? Can this meme ever
> surpass authoritarianism?

[Trans (?): Authoritarian memes have better survive/rep chances than
Extropianism, because Extropianism consciously rejects many memetic
survival strategies.]

It depends. Suppose Extropian memes start receiving nationwide
attention, without any attempt on our part to control the memetic
evolution. People will take the parts of Extropianism that appeal to
them, such as immortality and material omnipotence, ignore the parts
that they don't like, such as intelligence enhancement or
Libertarianism, and *add* parts of their own, such as a belief that the
Universe is divided into "Extropic" good-guys and "Entropic" bad-guys,
and that the good guys (us) are being victimized by some group
(lawyers?), and so on.

What I'm trying to say is that memes *mutate* over time. If
unadulterated Extropianism isn't popular, it *will* mutate into
something that is. Not, perhaps, in stages as drastic as those depicted

Can Extropianism win? From my perspective, no, frankly, because like
the Marxists, you offer nothing to replace the energies you have
removed. In Marxism, they took away the profit-motive and didn't
replace it, so nothing got done. If you remove all moralizing and
self-righteousness and coercion and victimization and resentment and so
on, nothing is left to propel the meme forward. Extropianism isn't
quite so morality-free, which is why it survives, but it still has
nothing to replace the power-engines it has forsaken.

I believe that the best strategy is first (step one) to elevate the
truth, small "t", above everything else. This step is equivalent to
getting the member of a disliked religion to be willing, emotionally, to
stake his beliefs on a a matter of fact. Quote from an unpublished

> It's sort of like the attitude we take in science, when we aren't
> afraid to test our theories, and we don't make up excuses in advance
> for when they fail. Because our theories won't fail. They are right.
> Why make excuses for them? A scientist who is afraid to perform an
> experiment because he thinks the evidence will come out the other
> way doesn't believe in his theory. Science requires a faith even
> greater than that of religion. Science requires that we believe in our
> theories so strongly that we can happily stake our beliefs on the
> outcome of an experiment, because we know it will come out our
> way, and if it doesn't come out our way, then we're wrong and that's
> all there is to it.
> A lot of supposedly religious people don't believe at all. Suppose that
> a time camera was invented, capable of looking into the past. If
> you're a religious person, you would probably claim to believe that
> certain events took place at 1 A.D. or 3200 B.C. or whatever. Suppose
> that an atheist hands you a time camera and says, "Let's settle this
> once and for all. We'll look back at Mt. Sinai and see if Moses really
> received the Bible there. If Moses is there and he receives the Ten
> Commandments from God, I convert to your religion, and if there's
> just a mountain, you become an agnostic." I'm sure that most
> atheists would be happy to make such a bargain, because they're
> sure they won't have to pay up, and if they do have to pay up, they
> were wrong anyway.

[This argument is not itself morality-free. It challenges the reader by
saying: "You don't really believe." But, the argument is *true*: Many
people *don't* really believe, and they *wouldn't* stake their faith on
a prediction of their religious theories. I may object to morality as
an integral part of *theories*, but I don't object to it as part of
arguments used to wean others from morality-based theories. As long as
the arguments are true! As long as some readers really will be guilty
of what you accuse them of, or as long as a genuine wrong *is* being

Step two: Try to convince them that morality-based arguments are
inferior to rational thought. This may take some doing. Point out that
science is the denial of morality; that all morality-based soft
"sciences" never work, that morality is the foundation of politics, and
so on. Above all, attack the foundations of morality through cognitive
science; explain what the moral emotions are and why they're there and
why we shouldn't trust them.

Steps three through seventeen are left as an exercise to the reader.

--       Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.