Sunday, 7 July 2013

The evolution of egalitarian memes

Egalitarian memes have made great strides during the last few thousand years. Consider the rise of memes suppressing:

  • Nepotism;
  • Slavery;
  • Racism;
  • Sexism;
  • Ageism.
...and favouring:
  • Monogamy;
  • Democracy;
  • Gay marriage;
  • Taxation.
It should also be pointed out that other memes are simultaneously promoting inequality. Wealth inequality is still enormous - bigger than ever before in some areas. I think what's going on there is pretty obvious - progress is unevenly distributed and provides elites with the means to keep their wealth out of the hands of others.

The pro-egalitarian memes are a little more puzzling. It seems as though the memes of the down-trodden majority have been progressively getting the upper hand over time - at the expense of the memes of the elites. But why? The elites control a lot of broadcasting machinery. They can hire propaganda experts. They can build churches and educational institutions. Why are their memes doing so badly?

I don't have a complete answer. Part of the answer may be that progress happens to disproportionally favour networking and social technology - which helps the masses to organize. Part of the answer may be that humans have genetically-encoded egalitarian preferences, and cultural progress has resulted in memes pandering to these preferences - much as cultural progress has resulted in greater satisfaction of our preferences for ice cream and chocolate gateau.

Memetics suggests asking the question: "what's in it for the memes?" Especially in such cases such as this - where the reproductive interest of genes of human hosts are being systematically suppressed.

In this case, it looks as though the pro-egalitarian memes are mostly just being used by one group of humans to manipulate other humans for their own benefit. In other words, this looks like one of those cases where the meme's eye view doesn't buy us too much.

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