Re: Predators and Prey

Anders Sandberg (
Sat, 28 Dec 1996 15:11:32 +0100 (MET)

On Fri, 27 Dec 1996, Chris Hind wrote:

> >Their memetic epidemology was surprisingly
> >similar to the current wave of worry about sexual abuse (not to mention
> >satanic ritual abuse); the Stockholm witch trials were uncomfortably
> >similar to some of the hysteria against pedophiles right now. Such
> >memidemics seem to attack people with weak social connections, i.e people
> >with less-than-average social intelligence or no strong ties to the
> >in-groups.
> Ummm. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you. Are you condoning pedophilia?

Yes, you are misunderstanding me. What I am trying to point out that the
same psychosocial mechanisms are active now as they were then, and quite
definitely with negative consequences for both individuals and society.
It is a chilling but interesting area of group psychology.

Some similarities between the witch trials and modern pedophile trials are
quite striking, such as basing the verdict of hearsay, the idea that
children cannot lie (Urban Hjärne ended the Stockholm witch trials 1676
when he managed to demonstrate that this was not true. Some self-appointed
"experts" still claim small children cannot lie today), defending the
accused is viewed with great suspicion, the fact that just being accused
is enough to warrant a trial and rumors about evil conspiracies (sabbaths,
pedophile networks, the world communist conspiracy).

The problem is that the diffuse fear and hate of people crystallize
against what is perceived as a truly evil enemy (witches or pedophiles),
and a largely irrational witchunt ensues that wrecks many innocent lives
and forces the juridical system in a draconian direction.

I think we should be aware of the danger that this kind of memetic
epidemic could turn against us; it is not the most likely threat, but it
could be very damaging.

The conditions for a witchunt seems to be an atmosphere of fear,
self-appointed experts that can profit from the spread of the meme, an
enemy that is seen as utterly evil by everyone but still exists hidden
inside society; the enemy is both impossible to identify with and could be

Suggested counterstrategies to prevent us from being targeted:

1. Somehow reduce societal tensions and the zero-sum meme. Hard.

2. Make sure we are present in the debate and media from the
beginning, arguing with the "experts" and destroying their
arguments. This both reduces the alienness of extropianism and
prevents the "experts" of gaining a memetic monopoly.

3. Make ourselves somewhat visible. Not necessarily obvious, but
enough visibility to make people realize that we are people too
and do not hide what we are doing.

4. Spread counter memes, such as self-ironic jokes.

Sounds paranoid? You bet. But better safe than sorry, and besides many of
these strategies are good PR anyway.

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