Meme-set conflicts [was Re: some U.S. observations and notes]

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Sat Dec 15 2001 - 09:50:28 MST

Rather than comment on "opinions", I would like to STRESS
a need for the most stringent adherence to the "facts"
to the degree that we can determine them.

On Sat, 15 Dec 2001, Samantha Atkins wrote:

> Please. You cannot reasonably claim that Mohammed orders them
> to kill all non-Muslims. This is historically, religiously and
> theologically false. As I have said many times it is also a
> very dangerous mis-interpretation likely, if believed widely,
> to turn this world into a bloodbath.

Spike, I tend to agree with Samantha here. I don't believe
that the Islamic faith calls for the killing of infidels.
However, making a point against Samantha, I did see a PBS
special on the history of Islam that *did* suggest that in
Islamic regions it was perfectly accepted to impose a special
"tax" on non-Islamic individuals.

Samantha's humanistic position is fine in principle (as
we extropians can sit in our lofty towers and preach how
we would like it to be) but it ignores the problem of the
aggrievances of history.

>From "Bottom Line Personal", 22(22) Nov. 15 2001, commentary
by Benjamin Weiner, U.S. diplomat for 10 years who has lived
and worked in a number of Muslim countries (so better qualified
to comment on "reality" than perhaps anyone on this list):

"What triggered the terrorist threat we face today?
  Conventional wisdom says the terrorist threat is of recent origin,
a reaction to the Persian Gulf War, the creation of Israel and the
continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  The Reality? Today's terrorism also relfects an accumulation of
humiliation and anger that has been building throughout the Islamic
world for 1,000 years. This rage is deep-seated and widely felt.
  Background: After the death of Islam's founder, the prophet Muhammad,
in the seventh century, Arab-speaking Muslim traders and warriors swept
through Asia, North Africa and parts of Europe. Then a series of events
began to erode this Islamic dominance and eventually led to the demise of
the once-powerful Muslim Ottoman Empire.
  What sorts of events and who launched them?
  Start with the Crusades. To Europeans, they were a glorious attempt
to return the holy city of Jerusalem to Christian rule. In Islamic eyes,
they represented a bloody, prolonged invasion of the Muslim world by the
Christian West.
  Muslims ruled parts of Spain for several hundred years, until they
were driven out in the late 15th century.
  The Muslim Ottoman Empire had grown into a great power--that stretched
far beyond the Middle East. But the empire collapsed early in the 20th
century, a victim of corruption, old age and military defeats by the West.
  Over the centuries, Muslims lost influence and land to the Christian
West. Their countries were subjected to the rule of Western colonial
powers, such as France and Great Britian, and then to the neocolonial
practices of the local governments that took power.
  To many Muslims, these local governments embraced Western hedonism and
corruption. The result was, again, humiliation and a sense of impotence--
and a desire on the part of some Muslims to redress this imbalance.
  What issues are feeding this rage?
  First, keep in mind that Muhammad is venerated by Muslims as the final
and greatest of all the prophets. But Muhammed lived in the seventh century.
While other major religions evolved over the centuries, many of the tenets
of Islam remain frozen in the past." [snip]

I'll comment by simply asking the question of:
  "Why is the Islamic faith now followed by ~1 billion people?"
Certainly a majority of them were taught by their parents -- but
the fundamental question becomes *what* fraction of original
converts, from Jewish/Christian/Pagan religions, were "voluntary"?

While, I do not place Islam in the box that Spike does (Kill the infidels),
I cannot ignore the fact that it seems *highly* likely that many conversions
to Islam were the result of coercion. This is particularly true if the
"tax the 'infidels'" policy is accurate.

Again, going back to the PBS special, it is clear that the rise
of the Ottoman Empire was based on "warrior princes" where ones
worth had to be proved by conquest. Cannons were invented by
Islamic warriors to conquer Constantinople. See:
The Islamic "expansion" was halted in Spain and Bulgaria.
Samantha, while "protecting" Islam, has to acknowledge that
it is questionable how non-violent its initial expansion once
was. Policies of "warrior princes" that use religions to
"dehumanize" infidel opponents are certainly of value.
A lack of "rejecting" such policies by religious leaders
is essentialy abandoning the religion into the service of aims
that require violent means to an end.

Now, while some might claim that such expansions were a direct
response to the Crusades -- it becomes necessary to delve deeper
into Islamic history to determine precisely *how* the Islamic
faith spread out of Saudia Arabia in the first place.

While the Christian "meme set" has a seductive hook (everlasting
salvation) I am unsure as to what ideas in the Islamic faith have
a "trumping" meme. If there are no trumping memes one can only
conclude that Islam has been spread primarily by violence and/or

So, IMO, Samantha, Amara, Spike, et al have a number of problems.

One can be a non-violent, pacifist, humanist, etc. but if one
does *not* wrestle with the problem of how to "convert" billions
of individuals with meme sets with 1000-2000 year histories
which are in fundamental conflict with extropian principles
(i.e. evidence is required) then a problem presents itself.

The problem is being non-violent, pacifistic, etc. is *not*
a surviving meme. In a world where some fraction of individuals
will exploit the terrain, they will extract the resources from
individuals who allow them to do so, eliminating such individuals.
Christianity or Islam may be "neutral" (highly interpretable) religions.
If they do not impose *strong* constraints against *all* acts of aggression
then they are useless from a game-theoretic standpoint -- they do not
promote increased trust and as a result increased survivability.
If Samantha and Amara choose to adopt nonviolent solutions
against individuals who choose violent solutions, their memes
lose -- simple, end of discussion. Now, Spike's more subtle
solution of "meme changing weapons" is perhaps even more
dangerous -- it is the adoption of non-rational coercive
approaches to changing "incorrect" meme-sets. It would be
an acceptence of the fact that we cannot win the battle
with reason and must resort to coercion instead. To me this
seems somewhat worse than the Islamic coercive method of imposing
taxes on "infidels". At least in that situation I could
potentially move to a non-Muslim environment.

I think this is not a simple problem for either extropians
or humanity in general. It is the fundamental question of
"when can I not protect my meme set from your meme set?"

If your meme-set allows you to kill me to eliminate my meme-set,
then your meme-set is fundamentally dangerous. If your meme-set
says you will never kill my meme-set, even to preserve your
meme-set, then it is a very noble meme-set but one that can
easily be taken advantage of, even eliminated.

This gets into some very subtle issues as to when meme-sets
may be voluntarily changed. If an individual asserts that
their meme-set is correct, can never be modified and is more
valid than yours, then I would tend to label that person as
fairly dangerous to my survival.


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