Cathedral Round-Up #20: The Ideological Cult of the SJW

Let’s talk about cults.

I. In Educating Teachers: Harvard gets serious about training its graduates to teach in the classroom, Sophia Nguyen writes:

This is something that’s interesting about HTF,” Quan Le ’15 said. “We literally cry every day.” …

Note: Quan Le is male.

Sometimes the crying became infectious. On one morning in early June, the fellows sat in a basement classroom for their daily “teaching lab,” where they studied and rehearsed classroom management strategies that they could try out on the high-schoolers later that day. They broke up into two discussion groups, and, while debating last night’s reading on cultural sensitivity, one-half of the room broke down. Voices rose: I just want to push back a little on what you said. I think this is very problematic. I’d like to ask you to unpack this point. I don’t think that’s the culture of low-income people—I think that’s a deficit-based model. The fellows, freshly graduated from the College, were fluent in left-leaning liberal-arts classroom etiquette. Yet the conversation grew tenser, then tearful, even as everyone insisted they had no real conflict. Someone burst out, frustrated, “I agree with you!”

“It’s not like class,” one of them said, finally, face in hands. “It really matters to me. I feel really attacked. I care so much about this stuff, and when the whole group disagrees with me, I can’t take it.”

Noah Heller, HTF’s master teacher-in-residence for math, interceded gently. “We need to work on tuning together. I don’t hear people disagreeing with you, I really don’t. We’re having a robust discussion.”

“It’s so exhausting. I’m so sorry, I cry all the time.” The fellow took a breath. “I’m getting really defensive. I think we all really need to remember that we’re all here to help kids.” At some point, everyone in the circle of chairs had begun holding hands. “There’s not always agreeing or disagreeing,” someone offered helpfully. “Sometimes it’s just—this stuff is really hard, and we’re just trying to figure out what we feel.”

The students in this article are not recruits going through Basic Training in the military. They are not doctors enduring 48 hour hospital shifts. They are Harvard grads learning to be teachers. I have a great deal of respect for teachers and know they work hard, but there is absolutely no reason they should be weeping every day.

Seriously, if anything in this excerpt sounds like your real life, please get help immediately. THIS IS NOT EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY OR NORMAL.

 

II. One of the things I appreciate about memetics is that it allows us to think about the spread and propagation of ideas independent of the intentions of the people who hold them. Or as Wikipedia puts it:

Memetics is the theory of mental content based on an analogy with Darwinian evolution, originating from the popularization of Richard Dawkins‘ 1976 book The Selfish Gene.[1] Proponents describe memetics as an approach to evolutionary models of cultural information transfer.

The meme, analogous to a gene, was conceived as a “unit of culture” (an idea, belief, pattern of behaviour, etc.) which is “hosted” in the minds of one or more individuals, and which can reproduce itself, thereby jumping from mind to mind. Thus what would otherwise be regarded as one individual influencing another to adopt a belief is seen as an idea-replicator reproducing itself in a new host. As with genetics, particularly under a Dawkinsian interpretation, a meme’s success may be due to its contribution to the effectiveness of its host.

Memetics is also notable for sidestepping the traditional concern with the truth of ideas and beliefs. Instead, it is interested in their success.[2]

In other words, “memes” (ideas) act like viruses or, as I wrote previously, “mitochondria.” (Note: unlike real viruses, most ideas you believe are probably beneficial.)

We like to think of ourselves as logical, rational beings who believe things because we’ve concluded that they make sense, but taking the example of religion, the idea that millions of people in North Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia, etc., have all independently and logically decided that there is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet, every generation, for over a thousand years–and people in Europe have decided similarly that God is a Trinity, became man, and was sacrificed for your sins; people in India have believed that your soul can be reincarnated; and people in Central America once decided that the most logical thing was to rip people’s still-beating hearts out of their chests in order to keep the sun in the sky (I mean, sure, maybe the world won’t end even if we don’t sacrifice 400 virgins, but do you really want to take the chance?)–defies logic.

If we can look at religions as memeplexes–networks of interrelated ideas–that exist over time independent of the particular people who believe in them, we can similarly interrogate political ideologies. Like your religious beliefs (or non-belief,) your professed political ideology likely has a good deal to do with factors entirely outside of “logical thought,” like genetics, social class, or the region of the country you live in (otherwise it is strangely coincidental that the Deep South has been “conservative” relative to the rest of the country for hundreds of years.)

As we discussed in the previous Cathedral Round Up, You are the Hope of the World, what we see as “modern” Progressivism existed back in 1917. 1917 is not some special year–Progressivism actually began long before then, but we’re not tracing the idea’s history; you can get your fix of that from Moldbug.

Moldbug (and many others,) also suggests that Progressivism is really a religion, just stripped of the explicit references to God. Whether or not this is literally true, from a memetics perspective, both religions and political ideologies function similarly. As Jonas Kaplan states:

Perhaps this is due to some underlying aspect of human cognition or social structure, or perhaps successful memes all share certain features that enhance their spread and temporal persistence. Either way, we can productively use the same vocabulary and concepts to discuss both.

 

III. Most people recognize that cults exist and that cults are bad, but few people who are actually in cults believe that they are in a cult. As Boze Herrington notes in The Atlantic, The Seven Signs You’re in a Cult:

For three weeks, Hannah and I had been trying to contact leaders at [International House of Prayer; no relation to the restaurant] about a prayer group that we, Bethany, and many of our friends had been part of—a small, independent community that drew on IHOP’s teachings. In February, I had been formally excommunicated, and Hannah had left in June. Looking in from the outside, both of us saw the group differently than we had when we were part of it: We saw it as a cult.

Several years ago, the founder of IHOP, Mike Bickle, created a list of seven ways to recognize the difference between a religious community and a cult. Written down, the signs seem clear:

1. Opposing critical thinking
2. Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving
3. Emphasizing special doctrines outside scripture
4. Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders
5. Dishonoring the family unit
6. Crossing Biblical boundaries of behavior (versus sexual purity and personal ownership)
7. Separation from the Church

But when it’s your friends, your faith, your community, it’s not so obvious. For several years, roughly two dozen people, all younger than thirty, had been living together in Kansas City, Missouri, and following the leadership of Tyler Deaton, one of our classmates from Southwestern University in Texas. In the summer of 2012, Tyler had married Bethany; by the fall, she was dead. What started as a dorm-room prayer group had devolved into something much darker.

You can find many different definitions of “cult” out there; obviously “Crossing Biblical boundaries,” does not apply so much to political ideologies.

Reminder: some people actually think this way

Personally, I’d say that among the critical defining characteristics of cults:

  1. Cults teach people that their self-worth (the salvation of their souls, their essential goodness, etc.,) is dependent on adherence to the cult’s teachings
  2. They use of social ostracism to punish even slight deviation from a very rigid set of beliefs.
  3. They isolate their members from everyone outside the cult.

People who have been convinced to cut off contact with friends and family end up far more vulnerable to ostracism by the cult because they now have nowhere left to go nor anyone to help them if they leave.

If you were a real SJW, you’d pay $35 for this sweatshirt

Note, though, that there is no particular thing cultists need to believe, besides in the absoluteness of the cult. Memetically speaking, cults typically do not generate their own ideologies, but rather are metastisized versions of regular ones. Cults work, in part, because the people in them already believe in the importance of the basic ideas the cults are based on–there wouldn’t be much point in joining a cult you didn’t believe in.

Christian cults therefore draw in people who already believe in Christianity; New-Agey cults draw in people who believe in New-Agey sorts of things; Islamic cults draw in people who believe in Islam. This pre-existing belief primes people to believe the cult’s message, and also makes it hard to distinguish between the cult and regular, non-cultish believers of the same memeplex. The cult essentially hides behind the legitimacy of regular believers while simultaneously attacking them for being insufficiently rigorous in their beliefs.

Let’s take Marie Shear’s oft-repeated adage, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.

Pretty much everyone agrees that women are people. I wager that even under the most female-oppressive regimes on Earth, the vast majority of people agree that women are “people,” not unicorns, glorified fungi, or inanimate objects. Talk to someone from Saudi Arabia, and they’ll tell you that their country is great for women, because they protect women from rape and sexual objectification.

(I have actually read an academic article arguing that female genital mutilation can be seen as pro-women in certain contexts.)

The quote’s appeal is two-fold: first, it implies that “feminism” is a mainstream belief because everyone who believes that women are people are feminists, and second, it implies that anyone who doesn’t identify as a feminist doesn’t believe that women are people. All sensible, right-thinking people, therefore, are clearly feminists–and feminists are sensible, right-thinking people.

In reality, though, we know that this is not a useful definition of feminism.

Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex has helped popularize Nicholas Shackel’s phrase “Motte and Bailey doctrine” to refer to the practice of using an easily defended but not very useful (to the feminist) rhetorical position, eg, “Women are people” to protect a large swathe of much harder to defend but more useful positions, like “abortion should always be legal,” or “college campuses aren’t doing enough to prosecute rape.”

A motte-and-bailey is a kind of Medieval fortress in which an earthenwork tower (the motte) is used to defend a large field with a wall around it. The field is difficult to defend, but a good place for farming; the hill is easy to defend, but bad for farming.

Cults use this same technique to portray their beliefs as reasonable–things all good members of members of Group X believe, and aren’t you a good member of Group X?–while hiding their unreasonable beliefs and the harm they do to their members.

 

IV. You have probably already figured out that I think modern Social Justice Warrior ideology is effectively a cult.

Now, there are some folks around these parts who see any liberalism as dangerous or inevitably leading in a bad direction. I tend to see both “liberalism” and “conservatism” personality types, heavily influenced by genetics, independent of the particular politics of the day. A functional society benefits from the strengths of both types, so long as everyone is behaving themselves and not behaving like cult members out to crush any and all deviation from their particular version of the One True Truth.

In his post titled “Untitled,” Scott Alexander discusses feminists’ reaction to a comment by quantum computing genius Scott Aaronson. We’ll start with an excerpt from Aaronson’s original comment:

I check Feministing, and even radfem blogs like “I Blame the Patriarchy.” And yes, I’ve read many studies and task force reports about gender bias, and about the “privilege” and “entitlement” of the nerdy males that’s keeping women away from science. …

I spent my formative years—basically, from the age of 12 until my mid-20s—feeling not “entitled,” not “privileged,” but terrified. I was terrified that one of my female classmates would somehow find out that I sexually desired her, and that the instant she did, I would be scorned, laughed at, called a creep and a weirdo, maybe even expelled from school or sent to prison. You can call that my personal psychological problem if you want, but it was strongly reinforced by everything I picked up from my environment: to take one example, the sexual-assault prevention workshops we had to attend regularly as undergrads, with their endless lists of all the forms of human interaction that “might be” sexual harassment or assault, and their refusal, ever, to specify anything that definitely wouldn’t be sexual harassment or assault. I left each of those workshops with enough fresh paranoia and self-hatred to last me through another year. …

I scoured the feminist literature for any statement to the effect that my fears were as silly as I hoped they were. … I found reams of text about how even the most ordinary male/female interactions are filled with “microaggressions,” and how even the most “enlightened” males—especially the most “enlightened” males, in fact—are filled with hidden entitlement and privilege and a propensity to sexual violence that could burst forth at any moment.

Because of my fears—my fears of being “outed” as a nerdy heterosexual male, and therefore as a potential creep or sex criminal—I had constant suicidal thoughts. …

At one point, I actually begged a psychiatrist to prescribe drugs that would chemically castrate me (I had researched which ones), because a life of mathematical asceticism was the only future that I could imagine for myself. The psychiatrist refused…

To repeat my comment from the beginning of this post, if anything in this excerpt sounds like your real life, please get help immediately. THIS IS NOT EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY OR NORMAL.

People who are not familiar with modern feminism (this includes many of my liberal friends, who are too busy with jobs, kids, friends, etc., to keep up with the Outrage du Jour,) might feel tempted to write off Aaronson’s experience as just one weird guy’s absurd, abnormal reaction–surely normal people don’t become suicidal or try to castrate themselves after reading about microaggressions. After all, feminism is just the idea that women are people, right? Surely feminists, being reasonable people, reacted to Aaronson with the explanations he’d been looking for (or at least links to them) and some compassion for his suicidal state.

Alexander quotes famous feminist Amanda Marcotte’s response:

[Aaronson’s post] is the whole “how can men be oppressed when I don’t get to have sex with all the hot women that I want without having to work for it?” whine, one that, amongst other things, starts on the assumption that women do not suffer things like social anxiety or rejection…It was just a yalp of entitlement combined with an aggressive unwillingness to accept that women are human beings just like men. [He is saying that] “having to explain my suffering to women when they should already be there, mopping my brow and offering me beers and blow jobs, is so tiresome…I was too busy JAQ-ing off, throwing tantrums, and making sure the chip on my shoulder was felt by everyone in the room to be bothered to do something like listen.” Women are failing him by not showing up naked in his bed, unbidden. Because bitches, yo.

The eternal struggle of the sexist: Objective reality suggests that women are people, but the heart wants to believe they are a robot army put here for sexual service and housework.

Alexander notes, “Anyway, Marcotte was bad enough, given that she runs one of the most-read feminist blogs on the Internet. But much of the rest of the feminist “discussion” on Tumblr, Twitter, and the like was if anything even worse,” then discusses an article by Laurie Penny in New Statesman, called “On Nerd Entitlement: White Male Nerds Need To Recognize That Other People Had Traumatic Upbringings Too And That’s Different From Structural Oppression”:

Feminism is not to blame for making life hell for “shy, nerdy men”. It is a real shame that Aaronson picked up Andrea Dworkin rather than any of the many feminist theorists and writers who manage to combine raw rage with refusal to resort to sexual shame as an instructive tool. Weaponised shame – male, female or other – has no place in any feminism I subscribe to.

Alexander responds:

I live in a world where feminists throwing weaponized shame at nerds is an obvious and inescapable part of daily life. Whether we’re “mouth-breathers”, “pimpled”, “scrawny”, “blubbery”, “sperglord”, “neckbeard”, “virgins”, “living in our parents’ basements”, “man-children” or whatever the insult du jour is, it’s always, always, ALWAYS a self-identified feminist saying it. Sometimes they say it obliquely, referring to a subgroup like “bronies” or “atheists” or “fedoras” while making sure everyone else in nerddom knows it’s about them too. …

But it’s not just that. Try to look up something on Iron Man, and you get an article on Iron Man-Child and how “the white maleness of geek culture” proves they are “the most useless and deficient individuals in society, precisely because they have such a delusional sense of their own importance and entitlements.”…

Let’s recap, because this has gotten a little long. Aaronson states that he is “97%” on board with feminism, and explains that his 3% reservation is due to feminism making him feel suicidal for the sin of finding women attractive. Feminists respond with incredible cruelty. One feminist claims that in her universe, feminists aren’t cruel. Alexander responds, with evidence, that feminists are constantly cruel, at least toward people like him and Aaronson.

Ms. Penny, I’m pretty sure gaslighting and lying are also signs of being in a cult.

Just how bad is the left? And are they actually any worse than the right? Perhaps both sides just have their bad apples…

Trump supporter beaten by protestors
protester beaten with hammer by Black Lives Matter protesters
Trump supporter attacked by protesters

Ah, those happy college days!

And let’s not forget the recent violent riots at Berkley, which according to CNN caused $100,000 in damages, (mostly to innocent nearby businesses like refugee-supporting Starbucks,) nor the recent incident at Middlebury, in which a mob of students attempted to shut down a speech by Charles Murray and violently assaulted a professor, who ended up in the hospital:

The more exclusive the university, the richer and more liberal the students. The less exclusive, the poorer and more conservative. Ironically, it’s these elite students (who benefit most from “privilege”) who are violently opposing speakers in the name of “equality,” not conservatives at little podunk-Us.

Here’s an excerpt from Help-giving and moral courage on the Internet, by Suna P. Kinnunen1, Marjaana Lindeman2, Markku Verkasalo3:

(In other words, folks like Amanda Marcotte and the instigators of online Twitter mobs are probably sociopaths. The internet has created an environment where sociopathic behavior can thrive under the guise of “morally courageous action”)

So, to answer our question… No.

 

V. Here’s some more cultish material from the SJWs:

“Everybody to the right of us is literally Hitler.”

Dozens of media outlets all using the exact same language:

Meanwhile, one of the most prestigious newspapers in the country would like you to know that Super Mario Run is sexist and bad for children.

Yeah, there’s nothing at all creepy or harmful about preventing your children from consuming completely innocuous children’s media, cutting them off from the common cultural knowledge of their peer group.

Oh, and by the way, 1985 wasn’t some Dark Age of sexism–we are talking about the era of Great Britain’s first female Prime Minister, after all.

Meanwhile, from the “bodypositivists,” “we don’t understand how attraction works”:

Meanwhile, Ivy League University Penn is apparently a hotbed of racism:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And for students whose professors are insufficiently racist, SJWs have put together a handy guide to making family gatherings as unplesant as possible:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VI. Let’s have some conclusions.

Regardless of what you think of leftists in general–and I know many leftists who are basically good-hearted, well-intentioned people–the extreme left, born of academia and particularly active on the internet, works like a cult.

This is a difficult position to explain to someone who has not experienced it personally, or seen a loved one affected by it. During the long process by which this blog came to exist, I struggled to reconcile my own morality–my sense of myself as a “good person”–with the statistical data I was reading. How could a good person believe in statistical differences between groups in criminal offending rates, or measured IQ scores? Did merely believing such a thing make me a bad person?

I tended to keep such ideas to myself; far more innocuous statements in conversation with friends and acquaintances were often responded to with anger, threats, or explicit shunning. I lost most of my college-friends due to shunning, and I’ve had it far better than some.

Since abandoning my identity as a leftist, I’ve also abandoned the idea that my morality is based in believing the correct things. If tomorrow I discovered that there are no group-level differences in IQ or criminal behavior, this would change nothing about how I see myself. (In fact, I’d be perfectly pleased by such a discovery.) Rather, I see my morality in how I treat those around me–family, friends, random strangers I meet in everyday life.

When ideas spread because they are true or useful, they make life better. The Germ Theory of Disease has saved billions of lives. Belief in Santa Claus makes children happy, even if he isn’t real.

But sometimes ideas spread even though they fundamentally lack utility. The classic example of this is the chain letter, which people spread because it tells them to, even though it contains nothing of worth. The modern version of the chain letter are Facebook Memes that say things like, “99% of people don’t love Jesus enough to repost this meme” or “If you really love your relative with cancer, you’ll repost this meme,” or “90% of people can’t answer this simple math problem!” It’s easy to see how #activism slides into pure meme re-posting.

These sorts of memes are annoying but fairly harmless. It’s when memes mutate into ideologies that judge the essential goodness of their believers on their willingness to devote their lives to spreading the meme that they become dangerous. You end up with purity spirals that end in martyrdom–self-sacrifice for the spread of the meme. The spread of such ideas through society can be see, quite reasonably, as cancerous.

One final excerpt, from the LA Times:

Easy Nofemela remembers the evening Amy Biehl died. … a mob of angry young men was looking for symbols of white rule to destroy.

Then the men spotted Biehl, blond and blue-eyed, as she drove through the township in her yellow Mazda.

“Rocks were being thrown at Amy’s car. She got out and ran, and she was stabbed right over there,” Nofemela says, pointing to a patch of grass next to a service station, now planted with a small cross.

Nofemela remembers, 15 years later, because he was part of the mob that killed Amy Biehl.

What he didn’t know then was that Biehl was hardly a symbol of apartheid. She was a Fulbright scholar studying the lives of women in South Africa, a 26-year-old Stanford graduate with a plane ticket for home the next day, from an airport 10 minutes away. …

Today, Nofemela, a compact 37-year-old with a shaved head and a quick wit, is the father of a young girl. And, in an improbable tale of forgiveness and redemption, he and Ntobeko Peni, another of the men convicted of the murder, now work for the charity Biehl’s parents founded here after she was killed. …

An engaging woman of 65 with a blond bob and a warm smile, she has grown exceptionally close to her daughter’s killers. “Easy and Ntobeko are fascinating and I really do love them,” she says. “They have given me so much.”

Linda Biehl and her late husband, Peter, launched the Amy Biehl Foundation in 1994 with donations that arrived, unsolicited, from strangers moved by the news of their daughter’s death. Today, it runs after-school programs for youngsters in Guguletu and other townships and squatter camps that took root during the apartheid era on the Cape flats, about 10 miles east of Cape Town.

Guys, if anyone ever murders me, I encourage you to murder them back.

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The Progressive Virus

Last week, I referenced the idea that Progressivism is a meme virus, rather than a meme mitochondria, an idea I want to explore in a bit more detail. How do we know Progressivism is viral rather than mitochondrial?

Simply put, because Progressives do not reproduce themselves. Mitochondria can only reproduce themselves by being passed on to your offspring, and thus are incentivised to maximize your reproductive success. (Or that of close relatives of yours who also carry your mitochondria, like siblings.)

By “reproduce themselves,” I mean “have enough children to keep their population from declining,” or about 2 kids per couple. (Technically, the average has to be slightly higher than 2 just because occasionally, terrible tragedies do occur, and kids die.)

This is the point in the conversation where Progressives jump in and insist that they really do reproduce themselves. Maybe not personally, of course, but they totally have some gay friends who are going to get on that IVF and have a whole bunch of children now that gay marriage is legal.

I have actually seen this argued.

Of course, any common idiot on the street has noticed by now that there’s no atheist equivalent of the Duggers, and that Mormons have a lot of kids. But if you can’t believe your own lying eyes, maybe statistics will help:

From Jayman's Blog, "Liberalism, HBD, and Solutions for the Future
From Jayman’s Blog, “Liberalism, HBD, and Solutions for the Future

Only conservatives are above replacement. Everyone else, especially the extreme liberals, is being replaced by the children of conservatives.

If you don’t believe Jayman, because he’s too conservative or liberal or whatever for your ad hom tastes, here’s data from NY Mag, which definitely takes a liberal slant:

From NY Mag, "Tell me a State's Fertility Rate, and I'll Tell You How it Voted"
From NY Mag, “Tell me a State’s Fertility Rate, and I’ll Tell You How it Voted

If you’re curious about time, it wasn’t always like this:

From Jayman, "The Liberal/Conservative Baby Gap: Time Depth"
From Jayman, “The Liberal/Conservative Baby Gap: Time Depth” Confusingly, conservatives are BLUE in this chart, and liberals are RED.

Mass media, birth control, abortion, etc., are all very recent inventions.

(In case you’re wondering, this is a world-wide phenomena:

Total Fertility Rate by Country (Wikimedia file)
Total Fertility Rate by Country (Wikimedia file)

Afghanistan (TFR around 7) is not known for its progressive views on women’s rights or homosexuality. In Nigeria (one of the purpleist on the map,) homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death. In the slightly less purple Democratic Republic of the Congo, same-sex marriage is banned by the constitution.

A few other maps for comparison:

Picture 8 Trafficking of Females Green 2

1280px-Religion_in_the_world 800px-Analfabetismo2013unesco

Sources: WomanStats Map; Wikipedia: Religiosity, Literacy Rates. H/t Suchanek.

At least currently, all of the “nice” countries that people want to live in or move to have below-replacement fertility.)

But lest I be accused of comparing apples to oranges, let’s go back to our own countries.

What happens when conservatives outbreed liberals? The simple answer is that liberals get replaced.

If you still don’t believe me, I’ll run through it step by step. (If you do believe me, you can skip this part.)

Let’s suppose we start with a town of 10 liberals and 10 conservatives. The liberals have a TFR of 1 (1 child per woman,) for 5 total children. The conservatives have a TFR of of 3, for a total of 15 children. The second generation is therefore 5:15 liberals:conservatives. In the second generation, Liberals have 2 or 3 kids (it’s hard to actually have 2.5 kids,) and conservatives have 22 or 23 kids. Fourth generation, 1 liberal kid, 33 conservatives.

And yet, a quick glance at voting trends in the US over the past 70 years indicates that the country has been moving steadily more liberal. Take, for example, the shift over the past few decades in favor of gay marriage.

Liberals remaining 50% of the electorate isn’t just an artifact of having a 2-party system; liberals have been convincing people to become more liberal. Conservatives, meanwhile, haven’t been convincing people to become more conservative.

Meme mitochondria propagate vertically–from parent to child–not horizontally, and are unattractive to people who weren’t raised with them. Meme viruses propagate horizontally–from peer to peer–and so must be attractive to others.

Progressivism is therefore propagating virally.

To be fair, ideas that began virally can become mitochondrial. Christianity in its early stages was viral, but later became mitochondrial. For an idea to become mitochondrial, it has to confer greater survival benefits on people who hold it than on people who don’t. Right now, Progressivism isn’t doing that.

The interesting question, therefore, is what Progressivism will do over the next 50-100 years. Remember that this situation of liberals not reproducing themselves is (most likely) a novel result of recent technological innovations. Will society keep moving leftward as Progressivism keeps spreading successfully to the conservatives? Or will future conservatives, having been born to the conservatives least susceptible to Progressivism in the first place, become, essentially, “immune”?

Or will the immigration of people with much higher birthrates and very different values render the whole business moot?

Mitochondrial Memes pt 4

The obvious difficulty with treating ideas like viruses is that while most viruses are detrimental to one’s health, ideas are quite useful; indeed, you won’t survive very long without ideas of some sort.

So while some ideas may be of the turn-you-into-an-infertile-spore-shedding-zombie variety, there must be some that actually promote human health and welfare.

This is where the mitochondria come in. Mitochondria, like viruses, are foreign invaders. But unlike (most) viruses, mitochondria are here for the long haul. They don’t reprogram our cells to reproduce them and infect others with out mitochondria; the only way they get to reproduce is if we reproduce. (I’ve never even heard of mitochondria getting cancer.)

It’s not exactly that viruses want to kill you; they just don’t really care whether you live or die. Cholera hijacks all of the liquid in your body to carry itself into the local water supply, to be drunk by its next victim. Your need for that water is irrelevant. (Cholera is therefore the kind of disease that can only thrive where water supplies are regularly contaminated with feces; remove the feces from the water supply, and the disease will have to find some new way to reproduce or die out.)

Some ideas will definitely kill you. The idea that lead makes a good material for dinner plates; or mercury will confer immortality; or that if you slaughter all of your livestock, god will drive the invaders from your lands and make more animals magically appear, for example. Other ideas impact your fitness indirectly, say, by decreasing the number of children you have. If you become a celibate Shaker, there aren’t going to be a whole lot of your children running around.

But other ideas are really good for you, like the germ theory of disease. The number of Mormons has grown quite a bit over the past 200 years, in part, because it convinces its adherents to have lots of children.

From an evolutionary perspective, it is easy to see that people whose ideas lead to survival are likely to out-compete people whose ideas kill them or render them sterile, which is why we now have more Mormons than Shakers, even though the reverse was once true. (Note that evolution does not care whether you think Mormonism or Shakerism is more “correct” or “true” or “pleasant.” It only matters that Mormons exist in greater numbers than Shakers.)

Ideas that succeed and reproduce by helping you survive and reproduce, therefore, I call “meme mitochondria”. Ideas that succeed and reproduce by getting you to pass them on to your friends I call “meme viruses.” (Unfortunately, “viral meme” is already taken.) Yes, I hashed this all out back in Mitochondrial Memes, but I’ve gotten complaints that the post needs updating, so here we are.

For the first 199,500 years or so of human history, the vast majority of information passed from parent–or local elder–to child. (We can also call this “vertical” meme transfer.) Hardly anyone was literate, and books were extremely expensive and rare. In this environment, memes had to be mitochondrial. There was simply very little opportunity for horizontal meme transfer. Any memes that didn’t lead to reproductive success tended to be out-competed by memes that did.

The mitochondrial meme, therefore, cares about your reproductive success (and, keeping in mind the details of family genetics, the success of relatives who share copies of your genes.) It doesn’t care anything about people who don’t share your genes–indeed, any mitochondrial meme that cared about the fates of people who don’t share your genes more than your own would be quickly replaced by ones that don’t.

Of course, some memes did manage to spread virally during this period–the major world religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam come immediately to mind. But within the past 500 years, the amount of information being horizontally transmitted has exploded.

And in the past 15 years, it has exploded again:

From Another Damn Blog, The Explosion of Digital Data
From Another Damn Blog, The Explosion of Digital Data

In other words, we are in a completely novel evolutionary meme-environment. Never in human history have we had so much horizontal data transmission; indeed, if we have not had more data transmission since 2000 than in the entire prior history of the world, we will soon.

Mitochondrial memes don’t have to sound good to outsiders; they just have to work for the people who have them.

Meme viruses have to sound good enough to people that they get picked up and passed on. Meme viruses, therefore, are a lot more likely to sound fun to people who don’t already believe in them.

Meme Mitochondria prioritize your evolutionary success, but don’t really care if you enjoy the process, and don’t care about anything else.

Meme viruses prioritize sounding good, but don’t care whether you live or die. Even a meme-virus that kills you will succeed if it gets you to spread it to others.

A meme virus does not have to kill you, of course, just as a meme mitochondria does not have to kill everyone around you. The germ theory of disease started off being spread virally, but it’s a pretty sound idea and you should wash your hands before eating.

Long-term, of course, people who are resistant to memes encouraging short-term enjoyment at the expense of long-term genetic success will outbreed people who are susceptible to such memes. Progressives, with their well below replacement fertility, will be replaced by Muslims with well above replacement fertility. Again, it doesn’t matter whether you agree with Progressivism or Islam.

This does not necessarily mean that Progressivism will die out. As long as Progressivism can continue spreading to the children of people who believe in having lots of kids, Progressivism can continue to exist. Catholic priests don’t generally have children, either, but Catholics still manage to convince some of their members to join the priesthood. But Progressives will be replaced.

Mitochondrial Memes (Part 3: Viruses want you to spread them)

Memetics is the study of how ideas (“memes”) propagate, using the evolution and transmission of viruses as its model. Ideas, like viruses, infect their hosts (human brains), then are transmitted to new hosts (other people.) A “successful” idea is one that spreads to lots of people, just as a successful virus is one that infects lots of people.

A new environment or technology can change the way memes propagate or the types of memes that are successful.

Note that this has nothing to do with the factual content of the idea, nor does it require humans to purposefully intend to make ideas more or less successful. More successful ideas will simply spread, whether anyone wants them to or not.

For example, as Moldbug writes on the evolution of modern Progressivism from mainline Protestantism:

The combination of electoral democracy and “separation of church and state” is an almost perfect recipe for crypto-Christianity. . . .

If you have a rule that says the state cannot be taken over by a church, a constant danger in any democracy for obvious reasons, the obvious mutation to circumvent this defense is for the church to find some plausible way of denying that it’s a church. Dropping theology is a no-brainer.

and Foseti elaborates:

The series begins by treating progressivism as a sort of infection of the mind. Assume progressivism is a virus that is solely concerned with spreading itself into as many minds as possible. We see the idea’s evolution, in which it starts as a fundamentalist religious belief and ends up discarding theism so as to better propagate itself in an officially secular system of government. Shed of overt theism, Progressivism “can be propagated by American official institutions, which are constitutionally prohibited from endorsing its ancestor or competitor [ie theistic Christianity].” The devil’s greatest trick . . . and so on.

In other words, the new environment (an explicitly non-theistic political arena) favors moral ideas that are not explicitly theistic.

Viruses are interesting things. They have a lot of the characteristics of living things–like DNA–but not all of them, and so are considered non-living or semi-living things. Critically, a virus cannot reproduce on its own–it must take over a living organism and hijack its reproductive mechanisms to begin producing copies of the virus.

800px-Phage_injecting_its_genome_into_bacteria.svg

Viruses (and other infections,) of course, do not “want” anything, because they are not sentient. But anthropomorphization is a convenient shorthand. Viruses which are spread far and wide “succeed;” viruses which infect one person and never infect anyone else “fail.” Therefore, chances are good that any virus you catch wants to be spread.

The common cold, for example, makes you sneeze, spreading the virus from your nose and mouth to all of your friends and family.

The parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which can only reproduce in the digestive tracts of felines but lives comfortably in just about any warm-blooded host, affects the brains of infected rats and mice to make them less fearful of cats, making them more likely to get eaten by cats, thereby transferring the parasite to its preferred home.

Horsehair worms infect crickets and then compel the crickets to drown themselves so the worms can reach water; liver flukes hitch a ride inside ants, directing them to the tops of blades of glass, where they are devoured by cows–the liver fluke’s destination. (source, with some interesting examples of pathogens that affect plant behavior.)

Immediately after infection, the flu virus makes people more sociable–and thus more likely to spread the virus to other people–before it floors you for the rest of the week. The awkwardly named IIV-6/CrIV virus is an STD that infects crickets, then makes them super-horny, spreading the STD to other crickets. Interestingly, the virus also shuts down the crickets’ immune systems, preventing them from having the “normal” cricket-responses to infection. Thus the crickets did not act or feel sick while going on their sex binge–until, you know, it turned their guts blue and killed them.

Alas, googling “Does AIDS make people horny” has returned zero hits I am actually willing to click on. But it stands to reason that STDs would increase their chances of successful transmission by making their hosts have more sex.

Memes also want you to spread them.

Any meme that can convince you to spread it–say, a meme that claims that it is immoral not to spread it–is a meme that is more likely to be successful than one that encourages you to keep your opinions to yourself.

“If you send this letter to 7 of your friends, you will have good luck! But if you break the chain, you’ll have nothing but bad luck for 7 years!”

“98% of people won’t repost this picture! Are you one of the 2% that’s brave enough to do it?”

One of the interesting things about the past 500 years or so of human history is that we have gotten better and better at spreading information. Not just chain letters and funny cat pictures, but also objectively valuable information like medical advice, scientific studies, cookbooks, and YouTube videos on how to get a small object out of your shower drain. (Get a vacuum cleaner, put a nylon stocking over the tube part, and suck it up.) Even thirty years ago, this blog would have been impossible–I would have had to content myself with slowly reading an encyclopedia, writing out my thoughts by hand, snail-mailing them to a few friends, and then waiting for a response.

If Voltaire were alive today, he’d write a blog instead of all those letters.

 

To be continued.

Mitochondrial Memes (Part 2: Aliens Within)

Part 1: Logos

150px-Biological_classification_L_Pengo_vflip.svgBiologically speaking, you are a member of the species Homo sapiens, (subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens.) Your genus is Homo–this includes all of our near cousins, like Homo neanderthalensis (with whom H. sapiens interbred,) Homo erectus, and the 2+million year old Homo habilis. Your family is hominidae, aka the great apes–chimps, gibbons, orangutans, gorillas, and us. We cannot interbreed with these groups. Your order is primates. The first primates probably evolved 65 million years (or more) ago; their modern members include apes, monkeys, lemurs, and lemur-like creatures like bushbabies.

Your class is mammalia–all animals with hair,[a] three middle ear bones, mammary glands, and a neocortex, at least according to Wikipedia. Most mammals have placentas and don’t lay eggs, but platypuses and echidnas have to be different. The first mammals appeared 225 million years ago.

From there, we head up to the sub-phylum Vertebrata, or all animals with backbones, then to the phylum Chordates, all animals with a nerve cord running down their back (but not necessarily any bones.) Chordates includes all birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and obscure creatures like salps, squishy, tubular creatures that look like jelly fish, and sea squirts, basically brainless tubes. Chordates appear to be over 500 million years old.

Next we have the kingdom Animalia, which includes all of the squishy things like sponges, jellyfish, octopuses, earthworms, and starfish, and crunchy things like insects, crabs, and spiders, in addition to us. The first fossil animals are 665 million years old, though older animals may simply not have been fossilized, due to being too soft. All animals are multi-cellular.

Above that, we have the domain Eukaryotes. All Eukaryotes have a nucleus and other organelles enclosed within membranes. Eukaryotes are divided into plants, animals, fungi, and protists, which are generally single-cells and include algae and the malaria parasite.

This is an animal cell, but all Eukaryotes are similar
This is an animal cell, but all Eukaryotes are similar, due to their nucleus (1) enclosed within a membrane (2) and other organelles.

There are two other major domains of life, bacteria and archaea, collectively known as prokaryotes. They have neither nuclei nor any other membrane-bound organelles. As distant cousins go, these guys are pretty distant–the common ancestors of eukaryotes, bacteria, and archaea lived over 1.6 billion years ago, possibly over 2.7 billion years ago (it’s really hard to find fossilized algae and bacteria.)

450px-Phylogenetic_tree.svg

Humming away inside your H. sapiens cells, making energy for you, are mitochondria. You might have heard that your mitochondria can be used to trace your maternal family line, because they 1. Are only passed down from mother to child (eggs have mitochondria but sperm don’t;) 2. Possess their own DNA, referred to as mtDNA or mDNA.

Why do mitochondria have their own DNA?

Because they aren’t human. They aren’t animals; they aren’t even eukaryotes. They’re prokaryotes, like bacteria.

Approximately one or two billion years ago, our ancestor–probably a primitive eukaryote cell–ate a prokaryote. But this prokaryote, by a great stroke of luck, didn’t get digested. Instead it got comfy, settled in, and stuck around. Here’s a helpful graphic to explain the process in more detail:

800px-Serial_endosymbiosis.svg

Yes, chloroplasts are prokaryotic invaders, too.

Mitochondias’ closest living relatives are the other Rickettsiales, an order of proteobacteria, which cause a variety of diseases including Typhus and Q fever. Luckily for us, our mitochondria help keep us alive, rather than kill us.

Part 3: to be named

Mitochondrial Memes (part 1: Logos)

In the beginning, there was the Word.

300px-Mitochondrion_mini.svg

On the molecular level, you are a braid in spacetime, a homeostatic system bringing in energy and nutrients, building cells, removing wastes, and up- or down-regulating processes as necessary to keep you properly warm, rested, and healthy. Homeostatic malfunction leads to chaos: death.

from Life is a Braid in Spacetime by Max Tegmark, Illustration by Chad Hagen
from Life is a Braid in Spacetime by Max Tegmark, Illustration by Chad Hagen

Your children are physical continuations of yourself. Your family, your community, businesses, your nation, and possibly the entire Earth itself are homeostatic. They live and they can die.

Thought is still a tricky matter. We don’t know, exactly, how we get from neurons lighting up in the brain to conscious thoughts, feelings, and desires. We know, for example, which parts of the brain control desire, but we don’t know how, exactly, you end up dreaming about a square of carefully crafted dark chocolate.

Nevertheless, we know that thoughts originate here, in our brains. Our ideas are the physical manifestations of the particular state of our neurons–a particular experience of a particular point in our journey through our spacetime braid. But unlike, say, the particular arrangement of molecules in my stomach, which I cannot convey to you, I can convey to you my ideas. And if it takes a certain configuration of active neurons in my head for me to experience a thought, then it takes another, probably similar configuration of active neurons in your head.

Conversation–understanding of each other–requires sharing each other’s brain states; our brains physically repeat each other’s patterns. Ideas create brain states; brain states create ideas.

The natural world => stimulus => neural activation => ideas => physical encoding => stimulus => neural activation => action => changes in the physical world.

Ideas are created by and create in turn the physical world.

Different physical environments favor the propagation of different kinds of ideas.

 

Part 2: Aliens Within