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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Taking Memes Seriously

Mark Signorelli (New English Review): Taking Memes Seriously; an excerpt:

... what word can we find to adequately characterize our illustrious philosopher after he confesses, in a footnote, to citing a quote from Mozart which he knows to be counterfeit, simply because he finds it so congenial to his theory: "I persist in quoting it here, in spite of Kivy's correction, because it not only expresses but exemplifies the thesis that memes, once they exist, are independent of authors and critics alike."[12] What should we say about a man who relies on blatant equivocation and word-play to advance his argument, such as when he writes that "genes are invisible...memes are also invisible..."[13] though of course, genes are invisible only in the sense that they cannot be perceived without the use of advanced instruments, whereas memes are invisible in the sense that they cannot be perceived at all. Or later, when he writes that "as with genes, immortality is more a matter of replication than of the longevity of individual vehicles,"[14] which of course is not what the word "immortality" means at all; it is exactly like asserting that freedom is a matter of having a taste for dark chocolate. And what words of obloquy are sufficient to evaluate the following passage:
Dawkins points out that in our explanations we tend to overlook the fundamental fact that 'a cultural trait may have evolved in the way it has simply because it is advantageous to itself.' This is a new way of thinking about ideas, but is it a good way? When we have answered this question, we will know whether or not the meme meme is one we should exploit and replicate. [15]
Apparently one of the first things dissolved by the "universal acid" of Dennett's Darwinian fanaticism is the law of non-contradiction, since he can so casually, in the space of a mere three sentences, insinuate that memes are at once things which unconsciously manipulate men, and things which are consciously manipulated by men. And after all, what in the world does it mean to say that a "cultural trait" seeks its own advantage? Cultural traits cannot have an advantage, any more than artistic movements can have preferences. Such passages would be a scandal to all standards of academic integrity, were it the case that a single university upholding serious academic standards remained in the western world.

Of course, what makes the absurdity of the whole meme scam so especially delicious is that these two loudmouths, Dawkins and Dennett, have achieved a considerable notoriety over the last several years by parading about their atheism, and maintaining that there is no evidence for a belief in God. In the sense which they attribute to evidence - that is to say, purely empirical evidence - then it is quite obvious that there really is no evidence for this belief, since God is, by the common consent of all sensible persons, an unphysical entity. But then again, no sensible person ascribes a purely empirical significance to the word evidence, or believes that purely empirical evidence is the only type which is rationally compelling. Yet Dawkins and Dennett have propounded the existence of a physical entity, without providing the least shred of empirical evidence, and this is ten-thousand times more superstitious than anything which they ignorantly mock in the doctrines of their religious adversaries. It is a belief, to use the appropriate term of David Stove, that is strictly "demonological," and all arguments based on this belief are, in the words of the great theologian David Bentley Hart, arguments "based on an assonance." Even Michael Ruse, who has made a living for himself apologizing for all of the wilder speculations of Darwinian theorists, has drawn the line at memes, declaring that "one is really just taking regular language and putting it in fancy terms. No new insights. No new predictions."[16] The rest of us then need waste no more time with these charlatans and their fraudulent science; there are no such things as memes, and anybody who believes in their existence is a blithering fool.

So the injunction implied in the title of this essay, to take memes seriously, most certainly does not mean that we ought to take their existence to be a serious proposition. Rather, we ought to seriously consider why Dawkins and Dennett had to resort to such an overtly stupid trick in the first place. Both men are as committed as any men have ever been to advancing the imperialist ambitions of Darwinism over the whole sphere of intellectual activity, including all those disciplines which treat man in his various capacities and practices. Unwilling to explicitly commit to Steven Pinker's ridiculous dictum that "in principle you could explain all behavior without reference to subjective states,"[17] they tacitly concede, what all unbiased men take for granted, that men are motivated by beliefs through an enormous range of their behavior, and that therefore no explanation of human behavior is complete which omits the efficacy of belief from its account. In any Darwinian schema, this means minimally that beliefs must be capable of transmission from generation to generation, with the most "fit" beliefs performing that transmission at a higher and higher frequency among the "population" of beliefs. According to the prevalent "evolutionary synthesis," the only available vehicle of transmission for traits are genes; accordingly, beliefs, if their proliferation is to be explicable in Darwinian terms, must be transmitted by genes. But of course, it is arrant nonsense to suggest that beliefs can be carried and transmitted by segments of protein, and this fact must have seemed evident even to minds as fortified against common sense as those of Dawkins and Dennett. Thus, the quixotic expedition into the fairy-land of memes and memetics. Their resort to this fabulism is of enormous consequence, however, since it constitutes an unspoken, unwilling, but altogether unmistakable admission that Darwinian theory, in its exclusively genetic form, can never account for the human propensity to act according to belief, and therefore can never account in any satisfactory manner for human behavior in general.

And this is testimony which needs to be reiterated over and over again, "line upon line, and precept upon precept," because it just so happens that in this matter the great majority of Darwinians do not follow Dawkins and Dennett, and do not show very much enthusiasm for the hocus-pocus of memes. Rather, the vast majority of Darwinians speak and write as though beliefs were transmittable via genes. That is to say, the vast majority of Darwinians subscribe to the conviction that beliefs can be transmitted by segments of protein, which, of course, was the position that was obviously too absurd even for Dawkins and Dennett to embrace! As incredible as it sounds, the transmission of beliefs by memes is actually the less absurd of the two notions, and yet most confessing evolutionists do in fact reject it in favor of gene transmission. So as preposterous and discreditable as were those pages on memes penned by the two Darwinian chieftains, they are sense and lucidity themselves in comparison to the reams of paper devoted to maintaining the pretense that beliefs can be transmitted by segments of protein, which the great mass of Darwinians do in fact churn out year after year.

To be sure, few Darwinians will state such a conviction outright (then again, few Darwinians state any of their convictions outright, or without contradiction and equivocation). What they will claim is heritable via genetic sequences are not beliefs, but varying traits of the structures of the brain and nervous system, which manifest themselves in varying behavioral tendencies. Of course, an explanation of behavior in terms of hormones and synapses is not an explanation of belief-motivated behavior, but of the appearance of belief-motivated behavior; such explanations betray an implicit acquiescence to the Pinker principle, "that in principle you can explain all behavior without reference to subjective states." Here is but one more example of the ambiguity between reality and resemblance which plagues all aspects of Darwinism. The case remains, however, that one may flip almost at random through the pages of any significant sociobiological theorist and discover passage after passage in which the genetic heritability of beliefs is assumed and implied, without any attempt whatsoever to "translate" such assumptions into the language of physiology. ...
... [examples] ...
Darwin’s present day acolytes are in the possession of an enormous mass of genetic theory, which they put to use in constructing arguments of the same variety as those we have seen in Darwin. But of course, the specification of the mechanism of inheritance does not make any less ridiculous the notion that beliefs can be transmitted by bio-chemical means. ...

This excerpt is quite lengthy (and, as usual, I recommend the whole article to Gentle Reader), but it seemed to me necessary to quote so much so to convey the argument Mr Signorelli is making.

It must be pointed out that some folk who explictly declare their anti-Darwinianism have, in fact, actually fallen for the Darwinistic false claims and false reasoning that Mr Signorelli is discussing (for example: Lawrence Auster, with his obsession about race, when it is really culture on which he should be focusing).

By the way, Tom Simon has recently uploaded an excellent essay to his Essays site, which deals with the true issues here, which are the reality of human moral freedom and not only the utter inability of atheism to account for it, but the fact that the reality of human moral freedom is contrary to atheism: The Terminal Orc - Middle-earth and the theology of evil.