Gene / Culture Devolution

Culture – memetic variation and selection – is the medium of Lamarckian evolution. Culture is the way that humans pass along acquired characteristics – learned ideas – to their fellows and heirs. And ideas have consequences. Our ideas shape how we live, and thus where, when, and how long we live, how many children we have and how we raise them, or not, how we coordinate our activities, and so forth. The structure of social coordination evolves.

As factors of prosperity and reproductive success, ideas have genetic consequences. And those genetic consequences feed back into the selection of cultural memes.

So there is coevolution of genes and culture. Men prosper in cultures to which they are physiologically well fitted, and cultures prosper among men who are physiologically equipped to enact their memes. Their physiological equipment includes the structure and organization of their nervous systems.

Men and women of a given thede, then, are likely to be better adapted physiologically to the cultural forms historically predominant in that thede. This is why Swedes do better than the Ik at Social Democracy.

Those who are anywise poorly fitted to the terms of a culture – who are odd, or weird, or defective – do poorly. They are poorer than average, so that they die earlier, and with fewer issue; or else are killed outright, or banished. Foreigners likewise have a harder time anywhere than natives do.

In seeking to do well, it is only natural that foreigners should seek both to shape themselves to their strange cultural environment, and – as humans always do – shape that environment to themselves. Foreigners introduce memetic dissonance to the transactions of a thede.

Introduce enough foreign memes into a culture, and memetic noise begins to mask its signals. More and more of its quotidian transactions are hampered by the need to translate signals from one language and cultural memeplex into another, and to practice due diligence with all counterparties. Trust – confidence among interlocutors engendered by their perception that diligence is satisfied – is less and less pervasive. The friction, cost, and physiological stress of the business of life then compound. As they more and more devour the marginal value of social transactions, society is more and more impoverished: there is less value to be gained by transactions, so there are fewer of them, and they are both smaller and shallower. At the margin, capital formation of all sorts suffers, and with it the social capacity to respond to challenges or exploit opportunities via capital investment in the provision for its future activities: in plant, equipment, real estate, education, research, exploration, and development. The poorer society gets, the poorer will it get.

As foreign influences increase upon it, a culture will sooner or later begin to decohere. Its memeplex will no longer predominate in the body politic. And then the memetic population that had once evolved symbiotically with its original genetic host will become more and more antagonistic to its progenitor. The genes that evolved to support the culture that has now been deranged by invading memes will begin to suffer something like the graft versus host disease that always threatens bone marrow recipients.

It is then for such a culture as it is for an organism beset by a parasite or virus: performance degrades, there is disease – lassitude, inflammation, fever, nausea, diarrhea, purgation. Or, if these procedures are ineffective at eliminating the invader, death.

It’s all very simple.

30 thoughts on “Gene / Culture Devolution

  1. Pingback: Gene / Culture Devolution | Reaction Times

  2. Talking of culture and ideas in terms of memes implies that ideas have no truth value in themselves. That ideas are not true or false, merely useful or harmful.
    Indeed, a successful meme is not even necessarily useful to the host. It is merely a successful parasite.
    This kind of reductive thinking is better left to the libertarians.

    Counter-example: The pagans, Greeks and Romans and other Europeans adopted a lot of Hebrew ideas. It did not do them harm. You could say that the influx of Hebrew ideas led to the loss of coherence of the pagan society. I do not think this would be historically tenable. .

    • Talking of culture and ideas in terms of memes implies that ideas have no truth value in themselves.

      I don’t see the implication. Memes can be true, false, or nonsense; can carry lots of information, or little. They can propagate through a population because they are true, or because they work, or because they are pleasant, or because they are silly fun, or for any number of other reasons. The assumption that memes as such are essentially meaningless is what you object to, rightly. But this assumption derives, not from the idea of memes in itself, but from the prior metaphysical assumption that material reality – in and by which memes and genes are encoded – is meaningless. It is not. Being per se *is* signification; in no other way could any concrete actuality signify anything.

      If you begin with materialism, you cannot but understand memes – and everything else whatsoever – as fundamentally meaningless in and of themselves. If you don’t, then what you find is that memes – and everything else whatsoever – somehow signify.

      The pagans, Greeks and Romans and other Europeans adopted a lot of Hebrew ideas. It did not do them harm. You could say that the influx of Hebrew ideas led to the loss of coherence of the pagan society. I do not think this would be historically tenable.

      Conversion did not, it is true, lead to the deletion of the peoples who had mediated pagan culture. Indeed, it saved them, and many valuable aspects of that culture, from impending demographic collapse. But it certainly *did* lead to the decoherence of pagan culture, qua pagan, and its replacement by Christendom.

      • Why not just call them “ideas” if that is all you mean?

        The word “meme” has connotations and a history entirely within the materialist camp. Even there, it has been controversial with some scientists and philosophers disputing its utility and even whether it is a sensible concept or just another fancy word for “concept” or “ideas”.

      • I think there’s a useful distinction to be made between “idea,” “meme,” and “concept.” An idea may or may not yet have been implemented materially; a meme is an idea or form that has been implemented materially; a concept is an idea that can be consciously entertained.

  3. Things seem much more complicated to me. If we use such organic metaphors, I suppose we may liken the current situation to gangrene, and we may liken outbreaks of extreme nationalism to an autoimmune disorder, in which the protective mechanisms of the body cease to tell the difference between foreign contaminants and differentiated tissues living in symbiosis. It becomes much less clear where the balance is between these two phenomena.

    In terms of thinking where two societies can be genuinely incompatible, the main example I can come up with is in the area of moral teaching. It is clear that there is an objective moral law; however, the problem is that its fulness has been revealed in the Gospel, and it’s something that mankind, unaided, is never going to adhere to perfectly this side of Heaven. (The more perfect even a saint becomes, the more clearly they are able to see just how far there is to go.) And anything less than this standard, must be sorrowfully confessed to be a compromise with evil.

    Therefore, societies trying to order themselves in a fallen world, are not going to manifest perfect Gospel morality — instead, their rulers are forced into varying degrees of compromise with evil, some of them long-term sustainable and tolerated by God, and some of them swiftly and obviously destructive.

    The societies that survive thus look warily on each other, as all have made different and incompatible compromises. What is a necessary evil in one nation, which can be seen as forgivable due to the inertia of tradition, is an abomination to another; and in this area the nations can in no wise borrow from one another. (The one is enslaved to that particular evil, and it will take great effort to overcome it; the other rejects that evil utterly, and should not take it up — for who knows, perhaps adding that evil to the mix will destroy the nation utterly?)

    Thus, the key requirement for a functioning society is that there is a common ‘natural law’ which specifies an actually enforceable and sustainable moral standard, which can be defended and upheld via unambiguous earthly means. The key requirement for a ‘diverse’ society (diversity is a genuine value, which the leftists have perverted into one of their idols demanding heinous sacrifices), is that this ‘natural law’ or ‘common law’ cover exactly the right areas; supporting, as the famous saying puts it “in the essentials, unity; in the doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.” When the common law is either so lax that it threatens the unity of society, or so strict that it imposes an absolute judgment onto doubtful things, or threatens charity, then we get various dysfunctions.

    This is rough reasoning, more provocative than I’d prefer it to be. In particular, it seems to contradict the notion that there is exactly one objective ‘natural law’ adapted to the fallen world. I would be interested to discuss this with someone more versed than I am in what natural law is, and isn’t supposed to be (when we contrast it with the absolute standard of moral behaviour set out in the Gospel commandments).

    • I don’t think the fact that different cultures adopt diverse samples of the comprehensive body of natural law does actually contradict the notion that there is exactly one such comprehensive and objective natural law adapted to the fallen world. Not all the precepts of the exhaustively comprehensive objective natural law are pertinent to every predicament a thede might encounter. There are often furthermore many lawful ways to respond to a given predicament, and no matter which of them a thede might choose in the heat of the moment, the choice will have consequences for its future cultural evolution.

      • Right. However, when I look at particular fringe issues, it becomes less clear what the natural law is on certain matters.

        These thoughts were, in particular, prompted by the volume of posts on Edward Feser’s blog which are dedicated to arguing the death penalty from a natural law perspective (Feser is arguing that the death penalty is always valid for certain crimes, against people who are arguing that the death penalty is never valid).

        The Beatitudes state that it is best to turn the other cheek and not seek to punish someone who has wronged you; this is inapplicable to running a criminal-justice system, so some kind of natural law needs to be consulted. If the death penalty is an absolute abomination or absolute requirement according to natural law, then some functioning justice systems are inevitably defective on this point; so either countries who have the death penalty must abolish it, or countries which do not have the death penalty must reintroduce it (which is even stranger).

        Likewise, there needs to be a clear reasoning as to why polygamy and divorce were permitted in the Old Testament dispensation, and are categorically rejected in the New Testament Church. If polygamy and divorce are against the natural law, why would God at any point in time have sanctioned a set of laws which condone behaviour in direct contradiction to it? If polygamy and divorce are not against the natural law, why is the Church arguing that these things are invalid even for people outside the Church?

        Likewise the infamous question of usury, which is interesting because it is one of those areas where modern society obviously compromises more than comparable ancient societies (and the laxity in this area is identifiable as an actual, longtime foundation of the modern economy, not just the incidental product of a death spiral into societal collapse).

      • The Beatitudes state that it is best to turn the other cheek and not seek to punish someone who has wronged you

        No, they don’t.

      • “No, they don’t.”

        Right, my mistake; I should have said the Sermon on the Mount, specifically e.g Matthew 4:38-41

        38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:

        39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

        40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.

        41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

        As far as I can understand it, Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount also frowns on swearing oaths, and specifies that anyone who calls another person a fool has transgressed the commandment against murder, and is worthy of Gehenna. These are not maxims that could be enforced as part of a functioning society in the fallen world — these are instructions to be “perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect”, and perfection cannot be threatened and mandated (even as an unspoken custom), only exhorted.

  4. From Science & Faith (1990) by Eric Gans (exposition of the “originary Scene,” the punctual and “evenemential” inception of the inextricable congeries of language, consciousness, and culture):

    A group of pre-humans (following a hunting expedition) surround an object that strongly excites their appetite (a large edible animal that has just succumbed to their blows). Everyone is preparing to move toward the object. But each, noticing the appropriative movement of the others (intimidated by the scene’s potential for violent conflict), aborts his gesture. This aborted gesture, directed toward the central object, and consequently reinforcing the attention that all already bestow on it, functions as an ostensive designation of it. For as soon as everyone notices that, for a certain time at least, no one will seek to appropriate the object, each understands the others’ gesture as “meaning” the object. The scene will remain in their memory as centered on an object that so excites their appetite that it paradoxically becomes for that very reason untouchable. The aborted gesture of the individuals on the periphery, which is prolonged in the kinetic imagination of each toward the object, becomes the sign of the object. The reproduction of this sign not only evokes the object but designates it to the other participants of the scene. This gesture is thus the first act of representation, and its collective performance constitutes the originary group as a human community bound together by its common observation of the ethical constraint realized in the substitution of the gesture/sign for the act of appropriation.

    The very Imago Hominis is a meme. So is the Tenth Commandment.

    • The aborted gesture of approach-so-as-to-grasp being that of pointing, yes? So that to indicate, symbolize, or mean is to grasp with the cerebral cortex, but not with the motor cortex.

      • Yes, although the two-cortex dichotomy could lead to a reductive misunderstanding. The originary moment, in addition to being all the things that I ascribe to it above (or that Gans ascribes to it in his theory, variously elaborated), is the birth of desire and of the entire realm of representation, beginning with language. I would characterize the impulse to seize the central, hence also sacred, object as appetitive rather than motoric; in the scene, appetite becomes desire, which is closer to being an institution than it is to being an instinct. (Girard, who had a formative influence on Gans, asserts that nearly all our desires are imitated from other people, who also imitate them from other people. The hypothesis of the “originary scene” solves the problem, left open by Girard’s mimetic analysis, of how the cycle gets started.) I mention the Tenth Commandment because it addresses, not appetite, but desire, or “covetousness,” as the archaism puts it. By the way, the Forbidden-Fruit story in Genesis is fully understandable in Gans’ terms, right down to the Serpent’s resentment against being excluded from the taboo, which is the equivalent of being excluded from culture.

        Josh: Suppose while out walking in the park you see a twenty-dollar bill lying on the pathway. You think to yourself, My good fortune, and you advance towards it to pick it up. But then you notice that someone else has also seen the twenty-dollar bill and is approaching it from the direction opposite yours. Think through what will happen, and you will grasp why the central appetitive object comes under a taboo. BTW: In Gans’ scenario, which requires only a minimum of specificity, the object need be described as no more than something of appetitive interest. If the object were an animal, you should think of it as already having been killed and as ready-to-be-eaten.

      • I didn’t mean to suggest a dichotomy between the cerebral and motor cortices. They are integrally involved in both grasping and refraining from grasping, in just the way that the motor cortex is involved in reading – so that, until relatively recently, it had never occurred to anyone that reading to oneself need not involve speaking the words aloud; and many readers still move their lips; and all reading generates efferent signals from the cerebral cortex to the motor circuits controlling the lips and tongue, whether or not these signals are allowed to reach their intended muscles.

        But even if we were to stipulate such a dichotomy, it could lead to a specious reductive account only under a presupposition that the motor cortex, or its constituents, are somehow in themselves devoid of intention or meaning. Paraphrasing what I said to Vishmehr above:

        The assumption that [the activity of the motor cortex is] essentially meaningless … derives, not from [the actual characteristics of its circuitry], but from the prior metaphysical assumption that material reality – in and by which [neural circuits] are encoded – is meaningless. It is not. Being per se *is* signification; in no other way could any concrete actuality signify anything.

        From “x is y,” it does not follow that, “x doesn’t actually exist, but rather only y.” Reduction properly construed then is not per se eliminative: it is eliminativism that is eliminative.

        I don’t think for a moment that you are laboring under a presupposition of materialist eliminativism, of course.

      • I’m confused. Why don’t they kill the animal? Because of the “appropriative movement of the others”? And why does the abortive gesture become a designation for the animal? And why does the desire for the animal make it untouchable, or is only the symbol for the animal untouchable? How is this a better story than just saying, a tribe made up a symbol to mean a buffalo by putting their fingers on their head to look like horns?

      • Depressing. I got to understanding that Gans has to be talking about how some physical gesture got to be understood as a signifier with the animal as the signified. But the physical gesture I saw in my mind’s eye was stepping towards the animal. Which makes pretty much no sense, so I gave up.

  5. Pingback: This Week in Reaction | The Reactivity Place

    • That’s awesome. What a nasty SOB he is. As long as we take the word “meme” to be about what teenage girls and neckbeards do on the internet, “meme” is a dandy word. For those tempted to use it seriously (to mean brain-parasites), he says:

      We might just as well claim that high-calorie foods are parasites that use us to multiply their numbers


      Not that this is what Kristor is doing. Gene-culture co-evolution is not or need not be Dawkinsian dribbling.

  6. Eric is right to criticize the consumer-version of “Meme Theory,” as he does in “The Meme Revisited”; he rightly notes that standard “Meme Theory” fails to deal with the anthropological specificity of imitativeness. Nevertheless, what Kristor says in his original post is not incompatible with GA. Far from it.

    GA affirms Kristor’s claims in another way: Insofar as culture is “meme-like” and insofar as the foundation of culture is a ban on appropriation, then any drive, like the modern drive, whose goal is the abolition of all the thou-shalt-nots, is definitionally anti-cultural.

    • However attenuated its real connection with our biological prospects, the limit of the cultural taboo always mediates and signifies, and is therefore somehow experienced as, the dreadful limit of death: “thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” We horripilate at approaching the taboo so that we can feel the movements of the air caused by the approach of our predator, who lurks within the precincts of its fanum; horror at its violation is horror at impending certain doom. Avoiding the taboo, we avoid death, if only by a bit, or for a time. The advantage thereby conferred may be minuscule, but the course of evolution is shaped at the margin.

      Moral nominalism, then, being the notion that cultural limits are merely conventional, so that they have no salience to life as lived except to constrain it artificially – and thus, ex hypothesi, wrongly – really is the cult of death.

      • Observing the taboo, not touching what it forbids to touch, does what you say and thereby prolongs the life of the community by deferring violence. “Thou shalt not,” reviled by all modernists since De Sade and Nietzsche, is the most stupendous survival-adaptation ever. Observe that neither De Sade nor Nietzsche left any descendants.

        In the beginning was the Word.

      • Yes. To believe, “anything – whatever, it doesn’t matter,” is to believe in nothing. To believe in nothing is to care about nothing, to love nothing; and to care about nothing is the zero of vim. If there is nothing you value so much that for its sake you would willingly die, why then you are as good as dead already.

        If the gods are all dead, so is man.

  7. Conversion did not, it is true, lead to the deletion of the peoples who had mediated pagan culture. Indeed, it saved them, and many valuable aspects of that culture, from impending demographic collapse. But it certainly *did* lead to the decoherence of pagan culture, qua pagan, and its replacement by Christendom.”

    Perhaps a slight change of topic, but I’ve always found it interesting how rapidly and decisively Christianity obliterated any other faith it touched. For thousands of years, the Egyptians prayed to their own “gods”, building for them magnificent temples and statues, with elaborate rituals and feasts and celebrations and all manner of pomp and -*pphfft!* – all gone. It’s all gone. Completely and totally, it’s all gone. Not a one person believes in Ra or the deification of the pharaoh/emperor, no one evermore gives the slightest consideration to Zeus to Athena. Not a one.

    The Norse gods? Gone. The Sumerians? They too had their own gods, a whole pantheon of them. All gone now. Here in the Americas, the Aztecs also had their own gods, and they too had temples and rituals devoted to these gods, whom they feared so much that that they sacrificed their own people to them in grotesque and horrible “celebrations” … that is until Europeans arrived with Christianity and *pphhft!* -all gone. Completely gone. No more sacrifices to violent and bloodthirsty deities, they must have either been disproved as hoaxes or whatever demons had been impersonating God must have packed up and hastily fled in a panic. Their descendants build churches and cathedrals now.

    All this in what seems, relatively speaking, like a blink of an eye.

    I actually cannot think of any religion, excepting perhaps a small amount of Jews, (which was a religion founded by God, although they later rejected Him), that Christianity has not wiped out or changed. Every other competing religion comes after, everything before was completely wiped out or forced to mutate. Hinduism had to adapt or die, and so now believes that Jesus is one of the representations of the Creator God. Buddhism “survived” in Japan (Japan, like China, I hear, is rapidly becoming predominantly atheist) because the Christians there were put to the sword, due to the ruling Shogunate’s fears (most likely accurate) that Christianity would quickly overtake and eliminate Buddhism. Indeed, he had to ban not only the religion, but all interactions with foreigners completely, even forbidding his own people from leaving the island and reading foreign books. And even still there is reason to believe that Buddhism was also altered irrevocably by Christianity.

    Anything it [Christianity] touched was either completely obliterated, or else was forced to adapt, having to twist and contort itself around Christianity.

    Weird. Or perhaps, depending on one’s beliefs, not so weird at all.

    I am reminded of the scene in 1 Samuel:

    “When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon. And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again. 4And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him.”

    • “Hinduism had to adapt or die, and so now believes that Jesus is one of the representations of the Creator God”

      I have seen plenty of Hindu temples but have not seen one with an idol of Christ.

      • I have not seen any Hindu temples in real life, but I take your word for it. My thoughts were coming from a discussion I witnessed on an internet Christian board regarding whether or not to allow Hindus (in India) to light candles, place flowers, and pray before the icons of churches. Apparently this was a common enough occurrence to start the discussion. An Indian Christian jumped in to defend letting the Hindus continue under the case that they (the Hindus) believed Christ to be God, or “god” or a representation (or whatever it was they thought God is).

        And also personal experience with Hindus in the U.S. has led me to many are universalists, in the sense that they believe all religions are true, and they work this out in their heads logically (or as logically as they can) by believing that they are all representations of a single creator God. Of coutse, this may just be American Hindus, and universalism does run strong in liberal countries across all religions.

        And I have also heard of Hindus persecuting Christians, so that obviously does not apply to some.

  8. A quick google search “do hindus believe in jesus” brings up alot of liberal hindus saying “yes, but not in the same way Christians believe” (apparently, there seems to be some common rumor amongst some Hindus that Jesus traveled to India, not Egypt, or perhaps after Egypt, where He spent the time learning lessons from Hindu gurus before He started His own preaching), a couple of arguments between Hindus about the issue, and a few Christian sites that say no (of course, they are responding to the question in a different way, as they are trying to dissuade Christians from becoming Hindu, or persuade Hindus to get off the fence and become Christian), but it was this one reply to the question on a message board that caught my attention, in which the poster replies to the question by stating: “At our local Indian restaurant, they have Jesus pictures right next to Ganesh and Vishnu.”

    This has been my experience with Hindus in the U.S.

    I knew a girl whose mother would get very sad around Easter-time, as she spent the day crying, watching movies like “The Passion” with a box of tissues next to her. I actually went on a date with this girl, to the movie theater… and we saw the movie “The Nativity” which premiered a few years back. A very standard and traditional Christian movie. She picked it.

    (And please don’t ask why I was on a date with a Hindu girl, it was just… for a lack of words… silly…)

    And if they do not believe Jesus to be some sort of avatar or representation or at the very least some sort of enlightened one, I would be very curious to know why Hinduism survived while the Greek, Roman, Sumerian, Egyptian, Germanic, Norse, Aztec, etcetera, Gods, nay, more, their entire pantheons religions and institutions and traditions to which they wrote, sang, worked, and lived for and around, why were they so utterly demolished so quickly, sometimes within the time-span of a mere century. Hinduism must have done something different, or it must be unique somehow, to have survived, because no one, and I mean ABSOLUTELY NO ONE ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH, believes in any of those other gods anymore.
    (I think)

    (and yes, I know, there are some groups that claim they are pagans, and even that they hold celebrations/get-togethers/whatever at the ancient temples, but that’s not what I’m talking about. No one actually fears these gods, takes them seriously enough to worry about)


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