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The Memetics of Good and Evil


One way to experience the presence of the memetic soup stewing inside your mind is by imagining its absence.

Imagine being a castaway, washed ashore on a deserted island, having no other humans within your completely unmediated perceptual well. Separated from the society of your peers and your kin. You have no idea what is happening in the rest of the world, either to strangers or to loved ones. You are alone, and will probably remain alone for the rest of your days.

No books, television, internet, radio, or conversations.

Only you, your own body, and your own mind.

You'd have to figure out how to provide yourself with shelter, food, and water, while defending yourself against the forces of nature.

Under these conditions, what is good? Your own continued survival, meeting the biological needs and drives of your body, and somehow maintaining your sanity. What is evil? Pain, starvation, death. When you are separated from other humans, separated from your culture, all that matters -- if anything matters -- are your own personal needs.

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Now, place yourself back into the memetic soup of your human society. You've probably been trained to believe certain things are good or evil, regardless of whether they serve or injure your personal interests. Perhaps you believe in a reciprocal social contract, such as the Golden Rule -- that all individuals (including yourself) should treat each other with the kindness, compassion, and discretion they wish to receive from others. Perhaps you believe in the rule of law -- that laws are written by duly elected representatives who consider the greater good of all who live within your legal jurisdiction, so you are obliged to follow such laws or face the required punishment. Perhaps you believe in a faith-based way of life -- that God has revealed a set of moral teachings, so you struggle within yourself to follow these teachings despite the temptations surrounding you.

If you had been born in the wild, without human society, and had lived on your own, you would not have learned any of the above mediated systems of morality. These systems of morality govern human interactions, and are taught to humans by other humans via the constantly arrayed forces of memetic socialization and behavioral conditioning.

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Each of these moral systems requires occasional sacrifices. Sometimes the sacrifice is justified as part of a trade-off -- you win some and you lose some. Sometimes the sacrifice is justified by mutual prohibition -- nobody is allowed to do such a thing, not even you, for the good of all. Sometimes the sacrifice is justified in terms of eternal reward or punishment -- a short period of circumscribed behavior will bring you eternal bliss in the afterlife.

But why should we go along with moral systems that require us to sacrifice our own interests? We only do so when we've been convinced, via propaganda, that a not-good-for-me is actually good. Good is thereby removed from the individual and made into an absolute-other which must be served. Good becomes a disembodied master -- an internalized master. The pleasures and pains of the body have been (at least partially) overridden by the mind's meme complex.

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There are also times when we defer gratification for our own greater good. We may believe that we'll get more sex (or live a longer, healthier life) if we skip dessert and force ourselves to exercise. We may believe we'll have a wealthier future if we work hard now to get a good degree, a good job, a good promotion, etc. We may believe that our personal relationships will be happier in the future if we sacrifice now for those we love.

These are logical efforts by the mind to invest in the future.

However, moral systems also require us to sacrifice now simply because this sacrifice is good for others, or good for the system, or ... simply labeled "good" by some arbitrary memetic junk.

And even our logical efforts to improve our own lot might be incorrectly aimed because of incorrect beliefs. Maybe eating that dessert won't affect your appearance, sex life, health, or lifespan. Maybe skipping today's aerobics class won't either. Maybe you'll get a good job even without a degree. Maybe you'll be happier if you turn down the promotion. You can't always know that your current efforts will pay off ... or that your beliefs are truly helping you to prosper.

Sometimes your beliefs were designed by others to fool/convince you. Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent each year in the United States on advertising ... hoping to convince you that certain behaviors are bad or good ...


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