I’m searching for a term, and I must apologize to any readers who have suffered through this with me: Dawkins’ “meme” is not it, that’s only part of the concept I require. Sorry to admit this, but I finally looked it up yesterday: Dawkins’, Blackmore’s, Dennett’s memes are simply ideas and such imbued with a life of their own with us as their environment. It’s about transmission and propagation, the suggestion being that ideas and such can be viewed as propagating themselves, and the analogy is with genes, and how our genes propagate themselves. If anything, what I am trying to articulate actually runs counter to that. If I’ve been impossible to understand it’s because I’ve made a terrible error by misappropriating the “meme” concept. My “meme” will show us to be the active agent in its transmission – even if we don’t know it. But the concept I need to give a name to is something like a “mimic meme,” a successful, dominant wolf meme that propagates itself in the guise of a sheep.
The “consequences” parenting social construct is certainly a dominant meme, nearly universal. It’s the idea that we can alter minds and behaviour with punishments, and that we must, or at least should, that it’s “how we learn.” Wait, too soon, too specific. A simple example of the mimic meme:
. . . researching . . .
Stop that or you’ll go blind? Wait, what’s the real reason? *
Ah. Maybe in other religious injunctions, like pork.
It’s not kosher or halal to eat pork, and one is to understand that some patriarch delivered the law direct from God, and so, many people in the Abrahamic traditions don’t eat pork (or other things), based on their religion, so maybe “God’s people don’t eat pork” is the meme that stops them – but we think there’s a real world reason too, the one that the religious injunction is situated on top of, when I was young it was worms, trichinosis. I’ve since read somewhere that the shade on pigs was government libel and slander, that nations have no use for pigs, they can’t be managed and used as easily as goats or sheep, that pigs were private, poor peoples’ livestock and the campaign against them was part of a (an Egyptian) government promotion of more industry friendly animals during their massive foreign labour building projects. These are all memes, and the truth of the matter may be none of them, but it shows the idea, a cover rationale – authority, God says, or identity, God’s people don’t – that has the effect of keeping pork out of mouths, and a real-world effect, people not getting worms, sheep taking over the world, that results from it.
Does that work?
Now that must be a known thing, certainly that story is a known one, so the concept must have a name already, right? If anyone knows it, please, remind me. It’s something like evolutionary convergence, isn’t it, where memes take completely different paths to produce the same effect? I need the word to say that these memes are true and these ones are merely expedient. I think the relativism around these ideas has all memes as expedient and truth as an irrelevant ideal, but we still need a word to differentiate the ones we’ve seen through from the ones we have not yet pierced.
I think maybe “mimic meme,” for now, pending my future education.
Or maybe I’m coining the term right now, in real time. I keep thinking I’m decades behind in all this, but as this latest error shows, sometimes I’m giving academia too much credit; I thought Dawkins’ meme was something more complicated than it really is, I assumed he was way ahead of me. As it really, is, the “meme” idea is now a no brainer, a basic building block of understanding the world. So, for all I know, the mimic meme really did need naming, I mean if the basic “meme” did. I keep letting my low self esteem get in the way of my low esteem of everyone else, but logically, just because I’m slow doesn’t mean everyone else isn’t too. Maybe the world really is in such a pitiable state that a nobody like me can have something to contribute.
So. On the off chance, here’s the mimic meme concept: sometimes we have a bogus story to explain our behaviour that is unrelated to the behaviour’s actual function, and as long as the behaviour is maintained, so is the function, despite our ignorance of what is really going on, of what in the function is meaningful. Read your Bible, remain worm free.
Ha! Now they’re coming up for me, and if “because I said so” isn’t the model for all of the mimic memes to follow, then . . . well, of course, “because I said so” isn’t what we’re supposed to learn about touching the stove or stepping into the street, of course it isn’t the real “reason” not to do those things, but it’s intended to have the same effect as the real reasons, namely keeping us away from the stove and the street. That’s a mimic meme for kids, I guess, because it’s one we learn our way out of as we grow up, or mostly, anyways.
But the consequences mimic meme, that’s one we don’t apparently grow out of.
It’s at the heart of what I’ve labelled Antisocialization Theory, my grand unification theory of abuse. Here it is again, one iteration of the text of the consequences mimic meme:
We can alter minds and behaviour with punishments, and we must, or at least we should, that it’s “how we learn.”
One observable effect of this meme is that humans beat their children, in an organized and social way. (Oh, shut up, we do too. At least we have been doing, for a long time. If there are epigenetic changes in response to abuse, and there are, then abuse has been around for a long time, it’s in our genome.)
The true function – “bio meme?” I can’t start that yet, can I? – would have some same effect, that we beat our children “regularly,” as per the old political trap/joke, in this case. All that remains to dissect this entire mimic is the true function of these beatings, in evolutionary terms – and what other kind are there – the reproductive advantage to our genes. This answer I deem to have been hidden to date, rendered invisible by the mimic meme sometime in our past. The trick of the mimic meme is to make it so . . . you can’t get there from here.
But you can get there from psychology, from social science.
Come over to the office, stretch out on the couch, and tell me: how did zees beatings make you feel?
Ah! That was it, the very instant, did you feel it? That was the moment in time when social science first had the creeping thought to stop playing coy, stop running for real and see what happens when that dirty boy, biology, catches her. I fancy that I, like Einstein, have reconciled two incompatible lines of thought, that I can see convergence, where social science and its subjects have their place in the biosphere and geneticists don’t need to avoid talk of the agency of entire organisms.
Back to Earth, or almost, social science has some pretty robust data regarding statutory abuse, and much of it includes parentage too: the documented effects and costs of child abuse appear to be safe from the attacks of the geneticists, at least from the attacks I’ve read, and I think we can pretty much agree: the parental/caregiver effects that we do see and see the science to match them with are the effects of abuse, of what we term the damages of abuse, all of the varieties, physical, emotional, cognitive, etc., etc. There are things that look bad about this “damages of abuse” meme also, and I have written and will continue to point out the things that look bad from my particular point of view about it, but we can just face this, can’t we: you beat a human child, especially regularly, and social science has established that there will be effects. More later, this is huge, but this is what we need to carry across our cognitive dissonance back to the social/biological conversation we’re having about the consequences mimic meme: documented effects of child-beating, which have always been, since Gershoff, Durrant, et al., increased incidence of: developmental problems, cognitive problems (poor grades in school), addictions, violence, crime, self harm, and all manner of disorders.
There is a confound, that what is “statutory” is not peer reviewed science, but it’s also clear that more children are beaten than there are parents busted for it. In a discussion of science, we all need to know we’re talking about biology when we say “beatings” and not law, that it’s a physical definition of “beating” I’m using and not some higher-level abstraction about it, including the threshold required for action by the law. The truth behind these statistics is better than the statistics can ever be. So now, again, the reproductive advantage gained from this human behaviour, from these clearly “negative social effects?”
Here I will respectfully suggest that “increased incidence of violence’’ is only a bad thing for your enemies generally, and that this is where the advantage is to be found: not so much in the mate market as on the battlefield.
This increase played out most tellingly in our species’ developing situation, with our little human or proto-human troop in sometimes violent competition with the neighbors, and plays out forever in our aboriginal, hunter gatherer groups and today in our larger, more complex ones. From long experience, and I hope not to insult anyone, but I feel the need to stop and remind us all at this point that we’ve said nothing new, nothing extraordinary here, in fact nothing controversial. This is all still in the realms of ‘everyone knows’ and ‘scientists know.’ Let’s recap.
1. We all know the “consequences” meme, humans raise their kids with it
2. The meme has us all hitting our kids (maybe until now)
3. Hitting kids has known effects, among which are antisocial behaviours, violence, and crime
4. Persistent, selected for behaviours (meaning, humans hitting their kids, documented since at least the Bronze Age) should have a net reproductive advantage, or be tied to one
5. There is a majority consensus among scientists that something in that scenario, our long, aboriginal group competitions was what created our outsized craniums and all that goes with it
I imagine the ways in which “aggression” gives organisms a reproductive advantage are well documented, so that I shouldn’t have to show how “an increased incidence” of it (by any other name) would bring an “increased incidence” of its advantages. Suffice to say, we have probably not out-competed the rest of the apes by being nicer than them, and deep roots of war or not, there have been battles and many lines have not survived. Never mind the apes, there are at least five human species that have disappeared just in the last fifty thousand years, and those are only the ones where we’ve found the bodies. And yes, for the biologists, it does suggest a tournament sort of mindset, groups in competition, driving one another to be stronger, by any and all means. Including, and this is the central thing here: creating abuse where there was none in order to leverage our epigenetic response to it. The deep roots of war thing is not a given, it is an option that we exercise.
I’m not sure anyone has considered this piece of the puzzle, our conscious, very much active role in creating our own natures in this way.
I’ve seen it the other way around, war causing stress, causing an horrific documented rise in abuse of all sorts, parental included – as though something other than humanity were imposing this war business on us, as though culture created Man, as though the causality in it all were exactly backwards, as though the chicken came before the egg. Which, by the way, is not a riddle to a biologist, to someone who believes in evolution, someone who knows that there weren’t always chickens.
It seems self evident to me, that the increased violence and antisocial feelings and behaviour are the most likely relevant effects that the consequences mimic meme supports and camouflages by having us beat our children “to teach them manners.” To point out the disparity, what the mimic meme means, note that if one beating doesn’t create the manners we wanted, and if ten doesn’t either, then our consequences don’t work to teach manners – but to keep trying is not pointless, not to the true function. The kid may never say his ‘please and thank you’s, but if you persist, the true function will be accomplished, at least at a far greater frequency than the false one. **
Again, the true function being to produce antisocial feelings, much of what we WEIRD folks today think of as our damage, the negative outcomes we associate with abuse. To understand it, we need to imagine our evolving proto-human and aboriginal situation, the one we evolved in and for, before we found a way to live among thousands and millions of strangers in relative safety. I found the clue in The Nurture Assumption, something Harris had gleaned regarding primitive warrior societies, that while making her point about the children’s group being the relevant social group, where society is taught and learned, she told of how passive boys are teased and goaded to fight, to the point of being killed if they never do fight back. Aboriginal warrior society groups are small, and all the men are warriors, there are no resources for slackers. Violence is always the cure for a lack of it, and fight or die as a passive kid will have to do, there are no slackers and the tribe is strong.
That’s not the consequences meme in action, but it proves the point that abuse is how you make a soldier of a human who isn’t one, or enough of one, and that is antisocialization. It works straight up like that too, it doesn’t require self deceptions or unconsciousness, it only requires the beatings. The mimic meme, that just prevents us from stopping it even when our goals have changed, keeps the behaviour safe from tampering by our fickle, conscious minds. (Probably for the solid reason that just because my family, my group sees it and decides to stop – and I did in fact – doesn’t mean the neighbors all had the same insight at once. This would amount to a lethal meme mutation, perhaps.)
I am imagining that our goals are changing, have changed, at least most of ours. I think it’s time, since many of our goals are moving already, to examine in what realm and direction it is we are hoping to move. I know my personal parenting goals changed long before I had worked out what the “normal” parenting practises were in support of. I offer this insight, my view, for knowledge, for posterity, not because I have a plan for us, not because I think we should change what we’re doing now, but just to put it out there, get it into our heads, and maybe in small ways, maybe a little more often we start to remember that abuse in any measure is to make us soldiers in some measure, and that it really isn’t necessary to show a kid how the toilet works.
Maybe when we see the horribly antisocial act of some criminal, we can stop imagining that society did not nearly intentionally mandate that the criminal and all of us be antisocial to some degree, and consider that rather than that our parenting and social efforts upon them have failed, that our conflicting efforts to antisocialize them have simply succeeded too well. I’m sure a case can be made for the selection of berserkers, that until we WEIRDs took over, they had their place in our aboriginal societies, in our warrior cultures.
When a better meme inhabits our minds, things will begin to make sense. I imagine, if the idea can even get started (it’s probably a lethal mutation, so possibly unlikely), then we’ll have a better idea what to do about it in another generation or two.
I feel I’d be somehow lying to us all if I don’t address this about it, the non-viable mutation aspect.
This stuff is dangerous.
I’m not a hundred percent sure of this, but the existence of this pervasive meme suggests it’s something that we at least think is mission critical, that our child-beating behaviour is something we have set up and then built this protective cover over, because it’s a survival mechanism, one we at least think we shouldn’t have access to, like we think elected officials shouldn’t have the power to change voting laws. Any human group who thinks to stop doing it is at dire risk from the neighbors who have not, we think, so the human groups who are still here to talk about it have locked that door and lost the key. Forbidden fruit, this sort of self-knowledge? Perhaps. Again, an obfuscating meme that protects a behaviour that controls for aggression – and this is what I’m trying to describe – there is some lifetime achievement Darwin hubris award for the fellow who messes that up, isn’t there?
OK, fine. I’ll do it.
Hold my beer.
June 7th., 2017
* I guess biology does offer one. We say “stop that or you’ll go blind,” and if any of us do stop, then even more young ladies get pregnant, maybe.
** insert a rapidly growing list of epigenetic effects that function based in adversity of environment in childhood, and the general idea of genetics and epigenetics somewhere in here. I’ve considered it as a given.