We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“The trouble with cults is that they aren’t actually about the parts that are true. They’re about using the true parts to hook you, to condition you into an becoming an eager little propagator of their memetic infection. For that to happen, your ability to think critically about the doctrine has to be pretty much entirely shut down. Fortunately the behavioral signs of this degeneration are quite easy to spot – I would have learned to recognize them back at the dawn of the New Age movement around 1970 even if I hadn’t gone to Catholic schools before that.”

- Eric Raymond.  Read the whole way down to the punchline at the end. You will not regret it.

 

23 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I’ve always found the concept of “memetic infection” highly distasteful. It is usually bandied about by Dawkinsian Atheists who like to feel superior when compared to religious types because they think they believe what they believe for good reasons, whereas everyone else believes what they believe for bad reasons.

    There’s one big problem with it. You cannot know why another person believes the things they do. You can guess, but it can never be elevated above the level of the playground insult “You’re just saying that because….”.

    There is only one “memetic infection” that we need trouble ourselves with – the idea that my opinions should somehow give me rights over how you live your life.

    Beyond that I don’t care what you believe. Unless invited to make it my business, it is none of mine.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    JV, I strongly disagree. The idea that ideas can spread like a virus is a useful one since it highlights how they spread without people even always conciously realising it at the time.The spread of things through imitation and the like is a good example (study of crowd behaviours, and the like). It is not, in my view, saying that people do not also consciously think about the beliefs they hold. No need to be so touchy.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Fair enough Jonathan, perhaps I should back-peddle a bit say say that it is not so much the idea I object to in and of itself, it is what it is typically used for (i.e. to ideologically disenfranchise your opponents be they political or religious). I do still find the images it generates worrying. The idea of disease, contagion and putrification all come to mind when you describe an idea as a “virus”.

    If a statist came to me and described individual liberty as a mental virus, I’d be appalled.

    Now you could say that it is virus for purely descriptive reasons such as charting an ideas spread through a population, but that isn’t what Dawkins meant when he popularised the concept. What he meant was that religion is a cognitive plague, and that he and his ilk are the cure.

    That is a line of thinking not so very far from one espoused by Lenin, Stalin and Mao.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    JV, from what I recall, Dawkins talked about memes in a broad sense. His use of the term to say how religion spread was not the only use he made of it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme

  • Paul Marks

    I am so dumb that even “conventinal religion” can fool me.

  • Gib

    Actually memes are analogous to genes, and not viruses. They’re quite different.

    Anyone saying memes are like viruses is mistaken. When Dawkins introduced the concept he was definitely making an analogy to genes, in particular referencing the attributes of:
    1. Replication. Memes are passed on by word of mouth etc. Genes by some type of (a)sexual reproduction.
    2. Memes change and get combined with others as each person tells it. Genes can mutate when the DNA has mistakes during replication and combine with others during sex.
    3. Selection. Memes are selected as to whether they come to prominance in a population based on lots of factors. Genes too, but often the survivors are called the “fittest”.

    You say “What he meant was that religion is a cognitive plague, and that he and his ilk are the cure.”
    You’re over-reaching with that comment. As much as either of us can determine what he “meant”, I am pretty sure it’s not as you wrote. He’d like religion gone, I agree, and is trying to reduce its influence, but he knows he won’t win, at least not for a long time yet.

    “That is a line of thinking not so very far from one espoused by Lenin, Stalin and Mao.”
    Well, at least you didn’t go Godwin on us. I don’t think you’ll find Lenin, Stalin and Mao trying to advance their cause through promoting critical thinking and rationality.

  • veryretired

    Gnosticism has a very powerful attraction to the human mental/emotional construct. The idea of being one of the insiders who are “in the know” has a strong emotional element as well.

    A great part of marxism’s appeal, or any ideology, for that matter, is its pseudo-religious aspects of true believers, secret reasoning methods, and “truths” that outsiders are unable to grasp, being captives of false consciousness, etc., etc.

    Peer pressure is an under-recognized force in any society. Nobody wants to be the guy sitting outside the cave because he couldn’t agree with the rest of the clan inside by the fire. It’s primal.

  • Richard Thomas

    VR, indeed it can be quite palpable. I think it goes even deeper than “not wanting” anything. When I feel it, it’s definitely not a conscious process (though it is subject to conscious control).

  • [...] Samizdata I came across this Eric Raymond bit that almost ends [...]

  • Nobody wants to be the guy sitting outside the cave because he couldn’t agree with the rest of the clan inside by the fire. It’s primal.

    Well in actuality there are always a few. So why would there be that propensity as well? For the obvious reason that it had (has?) survival value.

  • Julie near Chicago

    If a trait has persisted in some members of a species, it does not follow that the trait “has survival value.” It may, or again it may not. It could be that that trait neither helps nor hinders survival, but it happens to be found in enough members who are well-fit and who therefore do survive (and reproduce) that it’s carried on. It may also be a trait that detracts from fitness-for-survival, but not enough to override the positive traits.

    However, in the case of “loners,” provided that they’re sturdy enough to survive physically themselves and also to attract partners with whom to reproduce, it seems to me they serve a purpose within the species. They’re in a position to bring in new knowledge, such as that there are enemies about (they might make good watch-critters, I mean), or such as new scientific discoveries; or new music or art; or…. All of which have the potential to benefit the species (by benefitting its members, which is the only way in which a species can be benefitted).

    Of course, if all humans were like that, and nasty-tempered as well, you’d have a society of badgers (per Discovery Channel, anyway). But strangely enough, even badgers have been around for quite awhile. :>)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Still, what Very said is true, I think:

    Nobody wants to be the guy sitting outside the cave because he couldn’t agree with the rest of the clan inside by the fire. It’s primal.

    (Alan Drury in his “Advise and Consent” series back in the 60′s said of a certain type of person in politics, or in journalism, that it wasn’t really that he was “evil,” exactly; it was just that it was “so much nicer to be In than Out.”)

    The emphasis is on the “wants.” “Nobody wants to be….” But the people who never can find a social set where they feel genuinely accepted — mostly learn to function as loners…and after awhile, I suppose most come to feel it’s their natural state of being. Perhaps for some it is; but for some it’s just the way they learned to be.

    And in that sense, there might even be survival value for the loner in being a loner–maybe something about him tends to seriously annoy the crowd, and the safest thing for him to do is to disengage.

    But I tend to agree with Very also that for nearly everybody, it is indeed primal.

  • Very interesting comments, Julie.

    And in that sense, there might even be survival value for the loner in being a loner–maybe something about him tends to seriously annoy the crowd, and the safest thing for him to do is to disengage.

    Indeed. Nature, in the global scheme of things, may be concerned with species and their survival as such, but the mechanism it uses towards that end is the individual member of each species, and its own survival as individual. Although I believe that no human can survive to the extent of his natural lifespan without at least some contact with other humans, it is obvious that different humans require vastly different levels of such contact in order to thrive.

    I am way OT with this, sorry. BTW, do read Raymond’s post to the end for the punchline – it just may make your day. Thanks, JP:-)

  • Dom

    Raymond was talking about the Landmark Foundation. I have two friends who are constantly asking me to attend their meetings, with the usual “how do you know” type of come-on.

    The odd thing about LF is that it doesn’t seem to do anything. My friends say it teaches you to become and not to be. They are filled with stories about sudden revelations. “Suddenly I realized …” and so on.

    LF people are prone to other cults. My friend is a food faddist who thinks protein is hard to digest so she eats just carbs. 200 lbs now, and she wants to hold seminars for LF about the responsibility of eating.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Johnathan and Alisa, now that I’ve finally *blush* read the piece, thank you very much for the posting and the nudge to stay the course. The punchline is indeed priceless! (Not to mention encouraging. :) )

  • Julie near Chicago

    And, Alisa–thanks for the kind words. :>)

  • Anonymous

    I was expecting the punch-line to be about Ayn Randians.

    obligatory link: “Cult of Personality” video by Living Colour

  • Paul Marks

    Anonymous.

    I have never known Randian Objectivists to be wrong about any major issue of policy – and I am old fashioned Christian (although a bit of a Pelagian heretic), and they are atheists, so I certainly have no automatic bias in their favour.

    Also Objectivists, in my experience, tend to people of high ethical standards.

  • Jacob

    Reminds me of the cult of Global Warming.
    ” How do you bait a soul-trap for people too smart to fall for conventional religion? With half-truths, of course.”
    Of course.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Humans seem to have a profound need to feel clever, or at least cleverer than most other people.

    It is interesting to me that the statement “How do you bait a soul-trap for people too smart to fall for conventional religion? With half-truths, of course.” can be made without a hint of ironic self reflection.

    It posits a world where religious people are less intelligent than Landmark Forumers and Landmark Forumers are less intelligent than Mr. Esr (the author of the quote). This sort of hierarchical linear stratification does not reflect reality in so far as I have observed it.

    It has been my experience that the shrewdness of a person’s world-view has absolutely nothing to do with how intelligent they are. I have met extremely clever fools in my life, and some objectively “stupid” people who were really quite wise. As far as I can tell, it isn’t the horsepower of your engine, it is how you drive the car.

    I find all of this “I’m smarter than you” point scoring extremely childish. It’s the kind of thing that really does give rise to cults. A lot of the aggressive “Scientific” cults of our time largely function as a way for dumb people to feel clever. Global Warming is a good example. For most people the argument seems to boil down to the following “The Earth is catastrophically warming up. You are much too stupid to fully understand why this is, but these really clever folks over here all say so. If you agree with them, you’ll look clever by extension. And you’ll gain the privilege of calling everyone who disagrees an idiot, but ‘the consensus’ trumps debate.”

  • Julie near Chicago

    It is interesting to me that the statement “How do you bait a soul-trap for people too smart to fall for conventional religion? With half-truths, of course.” can be made without a hint of ironic self reflection.

    Indeed, JV.

  • Jacob

    With Global warming, it’s not only this:
    ” If you agree with them, you’ll look clever by extension.”

    It’s much more, same as with other cults. You’ll feel virtuous, you’ll feel entitled to command other people, dictate their life styles, take their money. You’ll get enormous satisfaction from feeling that you save the planet. It gives a meaning and purpose to your life. It achieves (or tries to ) the same purpose as all other cults and religions.

  • Ed Snack

    ESR is definitely cult like, but it has, IMHO, some important differences. First and foremost, you can leave when you want to, and they won’t (normally) make more than one effort to ensure that you are OK about that. Second is, as the article comments, it can be a definitively positive experience for many of those who do it. Third is that they are (or were when I went through it) quite open about their motive to make money; that is they don’t try to disguise how and what they do.

    I walked away years ago, but I still think it was a very useful bit of training, 99% more effective than the usual training courses. Perhaps the key was making yourself responsible for your experiences.

    I’d actually recommend it for some people as a useful experience, it changed me and I think for the better. They do get a lot of people with emotional problems, that’s just what happens, some go to therapy and is that very different ? It was an issue I thought I saw them attempt to deal with honestly, seriously troubled people were steered to professional medical help. But I can see how some people would find them creepy.