Saturday, 9 April 2016

Restraint and confinement

This post is about a topic in symbiology - symbiont restraint of host. The idea applies to both organic and cultural symbionts, so I will attempt a presentation in general terms and then give examples from both domains.

Symbionts have their own optimization targets, involving maximizing the number of their offspring. These typically conflict with the optimization target of their hosts. So the symbionts typically manipulate their host into acting against its own interests. There are many ways of performing such manipulation - but this page is about one type of manipulation: preventing the host from acting.

Restraint is one of the simplest types of manipulation. Restraint has most of the advantages of destruction over construction. Just as it is easier to destroy than create, it is easier for symbionts to eliminate host behavior than it is to create new behaviors.

High on the list of behaviors that it often pays for symbionts to reduce involves making host babies. Babies consume time and resources, that might otherwise be spent on symbiont reproduction.

In the organic realm, many parasites sterilize their hosts, or reduce their fertility. Among humans, sexually transmitted infections are a common source of infertility. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are common culprits. If you have babies, you are likely to have less sex with fewer partners. Keeping you childless is pretty clearly in the interest of STDs.

Cultural symbionts reduce fertility in much the same way. Degree of female education, is strongly negatively correlated with fertility. Cross-country comparisons show that the most educated countries have the lowest fertility. Family planning and contraceptive memes are implicated. Thanks to technological memes, many choose to have sex without paying the childcare costs.

Many symbionts share the same goals regarding preventing hosts from engaging in resource-intensive activities that further their own ends. Their influences tend to add up. The result is a bit of a war between a host and its symbonts. The symbionts don't all pull in the same direction, but their pulls are correlated in ways that restrain host activities. Even mutualist symbionts can contribute to the restraint.

The idea of restraint by symbionts is similar to Mark Changizi's proposal that memes harness human hosts. Mark's harnesses also restrain their hosts. They also typically result in resource transfers from host to symbiont. The idea here is that no harness needs to be involved. Merely caging or confining the host can be sufficient to effect such resource transfers.

Restraint of host resource expenditure on host offspring isn't the only common interest of host symbionts. Many symbionts are also interested in promoting host social behavior, for example.

This idea provides theoretical support for ideas in folk memetics about meme jails, meme bubbles and people being imprisoned by their own memes.

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