Re: How Memes Work

Anders Sandberg (
Wed, 13 Aug 1997 18:55:34 +0200 (MET DST)

On Mon, 4 Aug 1997, JD wrote:

> Anders Sandberg wrote:
> > On Sun, 3 Aug 1997, JD wrote:
> > > But it wasn't important! "Kilroy" imparted no important
> > > characteristics to Western Culture.
> >
> > OK, what about Copernicus theory? It was not supported by the rich
> > and powerful, yet it spread and eventually became dominant.
> What? It never occured to you that rich and powerful
> factionsof Society wanted to overturn the intellectual oppression of the
> Catholic Church? Of course, it was such groups that spread the
> Galileo-Copernicus theories!

Sigh. Do you subscribe to the postmodernist view that scientific
theories are only accepted and spread due to the desires of the power
elites (and not due to any inherent correctness), by any chance?

What rich and powerful groups were trying to overturn the
intellectual oppression of the Church? There were plenty of people
chafing under it or circumventing it, but given what I know of the
early spread of copies of his work it was not deliberately spread by
some special group trying to use it as a tool to undermine the church
but rather by people having an intellectual interest in cosmology.
Compare this to Luther, who definitely had the support by the rich
and mighty.

> Ask the Traditionalist Catholic conspiracy theorists, some of whom
> actually still claim Copernicus is "unproven"!!!!

Interesting. Does these actually exist?

> > I was ignoring that, since I don't have the time to make a realistic
> > model right now. But the model can of course easily be extended to a
> > finite population, with resistance gradually building up. See any
> > standard epidemologic textbook.
> Yes, but you are ignoring (again) how early resistance generated by
> the Establishment can and will stop a new vigorous meme dead in its
> tracks if there is enough at stake.

Can you show any example where the Establishment has actually
significantly increased the resistance of any meme, rather than
decreasing its spread by prosecution, enforced ortodoxy and similar
means (which does not really increase the resistance, rather the
transmission)? I suppose a good counter-meme could help this.

> > what is the evidence that the estabilishment
> > cracks down on conspiracy theories more often than other memes?
> The Establishment cracks down on conspiracy memes because
> theycan lead to revolution. Two examples that immediately come to mind:
> 1. The anti-John Birch Society hysteria whipped-up the the
> Establishment in the late 1950's and early 1960's. This campaign
> bore its fruit in the Goldwater defeat of 1960.....
> 2. The recent media induced witch hunt against conspiracy theorists and
> all anti-Statists following what Clinton admits was the fortuitous OKC
> bombing.
- - -
> Really....there is no problem coming-up with evidence, though
> designing a controlled experiment is pretty difficult.

Yes, it is surprising how much history there are and so little usable
*data* (I would really like to have a database where I could ask
questions like "list all military conflicts between democratic
nations" or "plot a histogram of the lifespans of all

Your above two examples are interesting, since they are both american
modern history (maybe your thesis only applies there?) and both seems
to involve a government crackdown on fring groups on the right. But
we need to compare this to other government crackdowns to see if
conspiracy theories are more persecuted than other theories ("compare
the (government crackdowns on conspiracy theories)/(number of
conspiracy memes) with (government crackdowns on memes)/(number of

> Evidence looks clear to me that the powers that be to remain
> so, must and do control memetic infection when the chips are down.

Would you please list this evidence? That the powers that be usually
*try* control the spread of some memes is obvious and well known (I
think there have been *no* nation anywhere, at any time, where it
was allowed to freely spread the meme that the downfall of the government
was a good idea). But your claim is stronger, you claim they actually
have a very firm memetic control.

> Just follow the activities of the great Foundations...they spend
> most of their money promoting Statist memes! Just an irrelevancy I
> suppose?

How do you become a great foundation? By having great backing. A
revolutionary foundation would not be backed by the government or
other groups profiting from status quo, no need for active memetic

> Actually, I used to carry the same pluralist memes as you until I
> looked at some of the undeniable evidence of ruling class
> existence, activity, and dominance around 1967.

I think you are missing my point. Of course there are ruling classes
trying to remain dominant, as an european I am quite aware of that (I
even have some limited insight into their activities through various
sources). But what I disagree with is your view that they are doing
memetic engineering very well, and that they are the dominant factor
in memetic evolution. So far I have not seen you present much
evidence for that.

> The feed back loop through which certain memes increase the
> politico- financial power of certain segments of society thereby
> increasing the resources available to propagate that meme should be
> key in any model of memetic infection.

Now we are getting somewhere! This is just a small extension of
Dawkins model, and it makes a lot of sense. But notice that it is
very different from your initial thesis that the powerful groups are
dominant in memetic evolution; in fact this extension seems to
suggest that they would become memetically unchanging (as they
reach the top, they will not be able to change their memes since
that would decrease their fitness/power) while less powerful groups
would continue to develop new basic memes, co-evolving with each
other and the memetic background of the powerful groups.

> Society has very effective defenses against new memes. These
> defenses are financed by big money. Why do you avoid this aspect?
> Huh?

Could you explain what these effective defenses are? The most obvious
defence would be censure, which is the traditional way of a
government to prevent the spread of dangerous memes in certain areas
(and new is often considered dangerous by static societies). But
censure has been ineffective in the long run, as we all know.
Persecuting certain views have usually promoted them. Not teaching
certain memes have done nothing to prevent their spread. So what are
these effective defences?

Anders Sandberg Towards Ascension!
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y