THEO: Purpose of God, etc.

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Tue, 2 Mar 1999 09:57:52 -0800 (PST)

SJ>> With kids, it is much more difficult to explain why they >> need to wash before meals than to just issue the command, >> then shriek "Because IM the MOM, THATS why now DO IT!"

HN> Hmmm... I'm now wondering if etiquette and polite society
> memes are similar to the God meme. It's too complicated to
> explain why we have to do these things... I think like
> religion, most complicated etiquette rules evolved from some
> real function, which purpose has become forgotten over time.

This is similar to what Friedman calls "rational ignorance": if the cost of acquiring accurate information exceeds its value, it is rational to settle for a cheaper approximation of the truth. Even if we /know/ that some norm is only an approximation, it may still be rational to accept it if not accepting it requires us to memorize a lot of special cases or make complex computations. For example, some uses of the word "nigger" might be perfectly appropriate and useful (in literature, discussions of prejudice, etc.), while others will get your nose broken. Since the "good" cases are few and not that valuable, and knowing them might be tricky, it is probably quite rational to make the choice simply never to use the word. That's a very rough approximation of the correct strategy, but it's useful enough.

Fortunately, the cost of knowledge acquisition, communication, and computation all decrease with time and technology, so there is hope that we will be able to abandon some of the old norms. "Politeness" is definitely one of my peeves, and I'll be glad when we can have discussions unencumbered by the silly idea (which I can see is useful in face-to-face interaction to keep violence to a minimum, but which gets in the way online).

Lee Daniel Crocker <> <>
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