Recombinant Memetics

Meme complexes, "memeplexes", are groups of memes that are passed on together. Like genes, memes often coexist in groupings that further their collective survival and replication. The memeplexes with the fittest and most synergistic memes and are the ones that flourish in the memetic ecosystem, i.e. the collection of human minds.

One well adapted memeplex is the Mormon church I grew up in. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is one of the fast growing religions in the world. What about the Mormon faith makes this possible?

For one, a collection of kick-ass memes. Mormons have lots of offspring, most of which adopt the LDS faith. Mormon doctrine and culture emphasizes marriage and encourages large families. Mormonism also encourages behavior that facilitates financial stability and accumulation of wealth. The church glorifies the small businessman and inculcates bourgeois values like saving money, getting and holding jobs, and low time preference. By avoiding the debt and divorce that attend financial hardship, Mormonism increases the fidelity with which the faith is transferred to offspring, makes Mormons respected and enviable members of the community--aiding conversion, and encourages satisfaction with the Mormon lifestyle status quo and the belief that the Mormons really are favored by god--thereby reducing apostasy and back-sliding.

In addition to powerful memes, the church also benefits from the multitude of ways that these memes work together to amplify their effects. The memes for financial success combine with the tithing meme to finance proselytism around the world as well as institutions like the Mormon welfare system that encourage organizational allegiance. The financial memes also help make possible Mormonism's most impressive meme: missionary work. Mormon families pay out of pocket for their young men to put their careers and educations on hold and devote two years of their lives to work more than full-time recruiting new members. These, and other elements of the Mormon memeplex, gives it a leg up against other religions--like the celibate, and unsurprisingly moribund, Shakers--in the competition for human mind space.

One comparatively poorly adapted memeplex is the libertarian movement. Much of this is our fault. We have bundled our ideological memes like "Don't initiate coercion." with incompatible and ineffective praxis memes like the Libertarian Party and electoral politics in general. In all fairness, libertarian memes also start out with several inherent disadvantages. The whole point of libertarianism is to combat a number of particularly virulent and pernicious memes. Richard Dawkins showed how genes, not organisms, are the basic unit of evolution and that the sole interest of genes, reproduction, does not always line up with the interest of their carriers, i.e. organisms, hence the title of his book “The Selfish Gene.” It's the same way with memes. The meme "The state is indispensable." is bad for the well being of individuals and societies, but it has achieved dominance because those with power and wealth accumulated through plunder have used these resources to disseminate it and have made holding it as a prerequisite for social advancement and some semblance of a normal life. By rejecting statist memes we renounce use of the reproductive power which made them such a common problem in the first place. The anti-politics political movement faces obvious challenges just as an anti-technology movement would have trouble getting its ideas heard. As a result, libertarian ideology, no matter how ironclad its arguments and beneficial its potential effects, languishes on the margins of the marketplace of ideas.

I think the solution to these problems for libertarians lies in superior memetic engineering.

Diabetics used to depend on insulin extracted from cattle and pig pancreases. In the late 70s, scientists figured out how to produce insulin by splicing animal insulin genes into bacteria that would then produce insulin as well as more insulin producing bacteria. Today most artificial insulin is produced with modified E. coli bacteria or yeast at lower cost and higher quality. This is called recombinant DNA.

E. coli genes co-evolved to create a highly efficient system for their rapid and accurate expression and reproduction. All scientists had to do was piggy-back another bit of evolved genetic machinery onto this complex and the resulting chimera would reproduce and express the desired genes for them.

If someone could put together a neutral carrier--a collection of memes that, like the E. coli genome, was an effective machine for reproducing itself--he could splice in whatever ideas he liked and set it loose. The recombinant memeplex would then, barring mutation, spread the message for him.

This already happens all the time. The basic self-reproducing ideas behind the chain letter or pyramid scheme have been used again and again in the service of many different ends. As our knowledge of how memes work improves, even more powerful and complex "recombinant memetics" should become possible. By swapping out different memes for L. Ron Hubbard's ravings, the Church of Scientology, stripped of its crazy-ass belief system leaving just the mechanisms used for churning out zealous Scientologists could be used for producing zealous vegans, zealous Pastafarians...or even zealous libertarians.

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I'll try a) Coercion is

I'll try

a) Coercion is wrong
b) The state is not a special moral actor, taxation is theft, conscription is slavery
c) Sex rocks but contraception and abortion is wrong

Of course those things mean

Of course those things mean nothing in and of themselves. They are assertions. They might be good for an introduction to the concept but they are not convincing statements. Also they seem be very reliant on a particular form of deontology that not all libertarians agree with.

For example, the old sentiment that it's wrong to steal no matter whose doing it (what it seems you are referring to in number two) is a statement that the act of stealing is wrong in and of itself. This is means justify the ends or deontology. A utilitarian might say that theft does more harm than good or can never be an effective instrument for doing good.

Also I think a big problem that many libertarians have is the concept of coercion. What constitutes it and why doesn't it apply to the concept of wag slavery or certain types of persuasion.

I've seen libertarianism argued for with precision, but not often. Often times I see fundamental concepts taken as given and then the value-specific judgements (like non coercion) spoken of as if they were value neutral. I'm just trying to help create a more sound presentation of libertarianism.

Libertarian deontology is

Libertarian deontology is value neutral, or at least it claims to be.

Most people favor policies which enforce their values onto the general population. Some people have a set of value such that they generally favor libertarian policies, but they are not truly libertarians. They will for example oppose employer-mandated drug checks. These value-libertarians are actually much more likely to oppose "wage slavery" than deontological, value-free libertarians.

The simple difference between "wage slavery" and slavery is that in the first case, the employer provides something the laborer want, in the second case something he does not want. In the first case, the alleged injustice is caused by nature which makes the worker poor, in the second case it is caused by a man. Injustice is a human concept it is absurd to talk of the injustice of weather or gravity.

Hey, I see what you did

Hey, I see what you did here.

But I think the "meme" metaphor is usually more likely to mislead than help. The idea that minds are essentially some kind of soup for ideas to reproduce in is pretty obviously nonsense. The idea that you can arbitrarily group unrelated ideas and cause them to reproduce together is perhaps even more absurd.

Don't like the idea of memes that much but ...

"The idea that you can arbitrarily group unrelated ideas and cause them to reproduce together is perhaps even more absurd."

... are you kidding me? Ever hear of something called religion? What could be a more arbitrary grouping of ideas than that a guy lived in a fish for three days, the entire world was flooded by a hateful diety, that flaming bushes and snakes can talk, that wafers turn into human flesh and wine into human blood?

Just put them in the same book, call it holy, and by magic they reproduce together on the printing press.

... are you kidding me? Ever

... are you kidding me? Ever hear of something called religion?

Or politics. The contemporary, idiosyncratic, and ever-changing alignment of policy positions distributed across the left/right spectrum is a pretty obvious example of the idea that you can arbitrarily group unrelated ideas and cause them to reproduce together.

Ever-changing

If they're ever-changing alignments, that diminishes the degree to which they can usefully be described as reproducing together.

Perhaps ever-changing wasn't

Perhaps ever-changing wasn't the best word choice. Malleable? Much of the coherence of policy positions is a result of intra-party compromise for strategic advantage (i.e. get the gun nuts, the religious nuts, the national greatness nuts, and the free-market nuts all together under one tent even though they may not have much in common with each other). The constitutive elements can and do change over time, nevertheless the team remains relatively stable.

Some Reasons I Don't Buy Memetics

BTW, one of the reasons I was not impressed by memetics is precisely because it was not a developed scientific model, but merely an sketchy analogy.
1) It was not falsifiable. What evidence would count against it?
2) It did not explicitly list the mechanisms by which it could occur.
3) It didn't even properly define what counted or didn't count as memetics. If I fart and the the next guy over farts and chuckles, and then I chuckle, is that a meme?
4) It ignored the fact that humans have preexisting mental filters. Our minds aren't that open to replicators.
... and so forth.

Meanwhile it doesn't seem to me that one could develop in this direction but the poor progress kinda points to the probability (not certainty) it isn't a fruitful area of study.

I haven't read Dawkin's on this in a while so any memeticists feel free to beat me up. Perhaps I'm completely wrong about the progress or whatever, but this comment is more about my state of mind than the state of any science.

I see value in sketchy

I see value in sketchy analogies. Not everything in life has to be a well developed scientific model.

Yeah but scientific theories should be

"Not everything in life has to be a well developed scientific model."

This is supposed to be science. So I'll take it with a grain of salt till it is more developed.

I came across this in the last chapter of "The Selfish Gene". I personally liked many of the ideas but thought it was over-reaching to an embarrassing level. It's been twenty years. I thought it would be further along by now.

Theophanes' post doesn't

Theophanes' post doesn't stand or fall based on whether or not the concept of a meme is sufficiently scientific to meet your standards of demarcation. Nor, for that matter, does the usefulness of the concept itself in general.

Brian's skepticism about

Brian's skepticism about memetics seems entirely understandable to me. I still have hope for it, but I would not say that there is much out there to silence the skeptics. Memetics - still inconclusive after thirty years. Also, he started his comments on memetics with "BTW" and specifically talked about "Memetics", not about Theophanes's post. You don't have to take his comments as an attack on the post, unless you believe that an expression of skepticism of the scientific status of memetics constitutes an attack on the post. But you just got done denying this - since you say the post does not stand or fall based on that.

Note my last sentence. The

Note my last sentence. The usefulness of the concept doesn't stand or fall on its scientific status either.

The usefulness is also inconclusive

The usefulness is also inconclusive I mean usefulness usefulness, not "make an interesting blog post" usefulness.

Usefulness

Usefulness as in being used by someone ?
(I kid, I kid :) )

That's fine, but if you want

That's fine, but if you want to argue against the usefulness of the concept, you will need an argument beyond scientific demarcation. Not that I am conceding that the concept is "unscientific," whatever that might mean; only that science is not the only criterion of value.

I believe it is. The issue

I believe it is. The issue is not here scientific vs unscientific but rigorous against sketchy. This is about how confident we are that there is scientific truth. In that case, being roughly confident is good enough.

The demarcation

There is a demarcation between science and nonsense which I think derives ultimately from the demarcation between truth and error. There is not so much of a demarcation between science and sense. If you don't understand what a scientist is saying, it is probably more because you haven't learned the terminology of his particular specialty than because you haven't learned how to reason scientifically. If you truly cannot understand scientific reasoning, then you cannot understand reasoning, since that is what scientific reasoning is. People who are interested in stuff like Popper aren't so much interested in distinguishing science from everyday sanity as they are interested in distinguishing science and sanity generally from pseudoscience and rubbish generally.

Here's an apt quote, I think:

He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense. - jmc 1970s or 1980s

Another quote:

Science is simply common sense at its best that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic. Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-95) English biologist.

Another quote:

Science is just organized common sense, cooperatively pursued, not white coats and authorized journals. Thus there is a continuum between science and any competent pursuit of knowledge. [James A. Donald]

These are offered not as evidence but as varying expressions of the same point.

People who are interested in

People who are interested in stuff like Popper aren't so much interested in distinguishing science from everyday sanity as they are interested in distinguishing science and sanity generally from pseudoscience and rubbish generally.

And that is a great interest to have, but falsifiability doesn't cut it. Further, there is no reason to think that some simple rule or algorithm exists which, when followed, will spit out a binary answer like "science or pseudoscience" or "sanity and rubbish". We might just have to take ideas on a case by case basis and evaluate them independently, using whatever tools of reasoning we may have available.

Unfair characterization

there is no reason to think that some simple rule or algorithm exists which, when followed, will spit out a binary answer

That seems an unfair characterization of Brian's argument above, and is surely no characterization of my argument.

We might just have to take ideas on a case by case basis and evaluate them independently, using whatever tools of reasoning we may have available.

That seems to be what Brian has done. I've also done this and found memetics so far underwhelming, though I still have hopes that something will come of this.

And sketchy analogies aren't

And sketchy analogies aren't helpful?

1) It was not falsifiable. What evidence would count against it?

http://cfpm.org/jom-emit/1998/vol2/lynch_a.html#HEADING18

2) It did not explicitly list the mechanisms by which it could occur.

It's true that there are obviously many ways that behaviors and beliefs can be transfered--my head to Youtube to your imitation to your cousin's email etc. It is also true we don't have a lot of theory about how memes are stored, copied, manipulated in the mind like we do with genes.
But all that's fine. Scientists learned a lot of useful things about genes before we even knew DNA.

4) It ignored the fact that humans have preexisting mental filters. Our minds aren't that open to replicators.

Same goes for the natural environment that genes inhabit. A pond has a specific pH level, oxygen mix, and temperature. These conditions also change.

Cheer up sleepy meme

'"Meme complexes, "memeplexes", are groups of memes that [like memes] are...' a pseudo-scientific bucket of hogwash passed around by the semi-educated to show off how "scientific" they are.

That Will Work!

"I think the solution to these problems for libertarians lies in superior memetic engineering."

Yes, let's just put these "memes" (which we have chemically isolated) into a centrifuge of some sort, and spin them around until the "neutral carrier" organic meme molecules clump up together and can be separated from the optically active meme molecules, and then we'll just distill the whole mixture until libertarians win!

Or something like that.

That Will Work!

"I think the solution to these problems for libertarians lies in superior memetic engineering."

Yes, let's just put these "memes" (which we have chemically isolated) into a centrifuge of some sort, and spin them around until the "neutral carrier" organic meme molecules clump up together and can be separated from the optically active meme molecules, and then we'll just distill the whole mixture until libertarians win!

Or something like that.

My Apologies

For the double post... the first attempt hadn't appeared through several attempts to refresh the page, so I thought it must not have "taken" -- perhaps the environment had not favored its memetic survival!

Oh, and Dawkins didn't "show" that genes are the prime unit of evolution and that they have "interests," Dawkins idiotically contended that genes have "interests."

Dawkins

Oh, and Dawkins didn't "show" that genes are the prime unit of evolution and that they have "interests," Dawkins idiotically contended that genes have "interests."

You might want to elaborate. At the moment it seems as though you are accusing Dawkins of anthropomorphizing genes, which he did not do. It's mildly amusing that his accuser is a gene. Anyway, I gather that your attack is based on superficial contact with Dawkins's notion of the selfish gene.

Dawkins and selfish genes

"At the moment it seems as though you are accusing Dawkins of anthropomorphizing genes, which he did not do."

I concur.

"Anyway, I gather that your attack is based on superficial contact with Dawkins's notion of the selfish gene."

I agree with this also. He got stuck on the word purpose for some reason and provided counter examples that were not valid analogies for what Dawkins was doing.

He missed Dawkins pointing out that individuals are too ephemeral to act as units of selection, that genes truly create bodies but bodies don't create genes, that genes are prior to bodies, etc.

In his example with cars and trips, cars are not units of selection. Cars didn't come first and cars didn't create trips.

Genes act with self interest only because those that don't tend to get eliminated. Self interest being defined as behaving in a ways that result in increased survivability by fecundity, persistence, or accuracy in copying. The word 'purpose' in this context is not meant to say that they have desires, set goals and work towards those goals. Merely that the have self-reinforcing behavior, often very complex behavior in their genetic and physical environment.

In that sense we are truly their survival machines and not vice versa. I don’t expect genes to create any new copies of Brian Macker anytime in the future. Brian Macker does however have the effect of creating new copies of the various genes that inhabit him.

From the perspective of that "purpose" we are indeed vehicles to get genes into the next generation. Of course, Dawkins would agree, that from the perspective of the human mind, our genes are expendable. Especially if that mind uses birth control, practices absence, is gay, or masturbates. In fact, I remember Dawkins explicitly pointing one or more of these out.

Now I thought Gene was an economist so I'm wondering why he was chiding Dawkins to "leave philosophy to the experts".

Who's the idiot

Callahan writes:

Dawkins idiotically contended that

This really goes a long way toward discrediting Callahan, I'm afraid. The ratio of arrogance to competence is too high.

Discrediting

Well, discrediting his view on Dawkins. I'd agree. I think it to harsh to say it discredit the man entirely as your wording implies. I pretty sure you didn't mean it that way.

I didn't much like the way Popper was dismissed, as you can imagine. I'd like to see some philosophy to back that up. Especially with Bartley's corrections in mind. Newton's old hat too unless you are actually working at less that anything approaching light speeds, which is pretty much everything.

I see plenty of ways one can establish falsifiable theories in economics even with the complexity, and inability to control experimentation.

Discrediting

Well, discrediting his view on Dawkins. I'd agree. I think it to harsh to say it discredit the man entirely as your wording implies. I pretty sure you didn't mean it that way.

If someone were proven to be a serial liar, then he would be thoroughly discredited. But that would not stop me from believing things that he said if he offered me an argument that did not depend on my taking his word for it. An example of this would be a mathematical proof.

So a discredited person has not lost the ability to persuade. He has merely lost the ability to use his own authority as an argument. Nothing more.

Discredit comes in degrees. A partially discredited person is one whose authority is reduced but not eliminated.

A comment like the one made about Dawkins gives me general information about Callahan: that he is the sort of person who is apt to make supremely confident, even arrogant, but most importantly unreliable statements about subjects that he knows nothing about. Rationally, I have no choice to apply the information I learned from the Dawkins comment, to the Popper comment.

he is the sort of person who

he is the sort of person who is apt to make supremely confident, even arrogant, but most importantly unreliable statements about subjects that he knows nothing about

Hum yes but don't we all ? Don't we ? Don't we (shit)

Maybe

If we do, then people can't rely on what we say. Ergo, we discredit ourselves. It's not a question of being fair or unfair. Since I write anonymously I try to present arguments, so that my credibility or lack thereof isn't all that much of an issue.